Save Baby Turtles & Coral Reefs on These Meaningful Eco-Tours

Do your part to save the ocean.

As reports about the rapid progression of climate change and other earthly afflictions continue to increase (as do our nights spent doom scrolling), it may often feel like there’s nothing we can do to prevent the degradation of the planet—especially if you’re a traveler. But remember that there’s power and influence in numbers. This Earth Day, here are some Green Travel tips to lessen your impact and join the millions of people doing their part to make preserving the planet priority #1.

I’ve visited the Florida Keys many times over the years, road tripping through the interconnected islands that have welcomed all sorts of characters from Ernest Hemingway to Jimmy Buffett. I’ve gone scuba diving, explored reefs off the coast, and gotten up close and personal with many types of fish, all in between slices of Key lime pie. But I'd never given much thought to the value of the area's ecosystem until

I volunteered with Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation. The third largest barrier reef in the world and the only one in the US can be found in the Florida Keys. It stretches for an expansive 360 miles and supports thousands of marine animals. But this delicate ecosystem hangs in a delicate balance, as it's been negatively impacted by environmental changes that cause coral to die off.

That's the whole reason that the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF)—the largest reef restoration organization in the world—exists. Originally launched in 2007, it now operates the largest ocean coral nursery in the world. “We developed something called the coral tree," explains Alice Grainger, Communications Director of CRF. "It's a very cheap, cost-effective technology that enables you to grow coral.” And, she adds, “It's an in situ nursery, so it's ocean-based.”

The CRF’s coral trees—internationally-used, publicly available pieces of tech that resemble Christmas tree frames—grow coral in seven different offshore nurseries, the largest of which covers more than an acre of ocean floor. These nurseries produce thousands of coral pieces to be transplanted into the reef every year, in 11 different varieties.

If it all sounds a little confusing, worry not: you can get to know the tech up close. The CRF runs a volunteer program where travelers can go diving to help remove biofilm from the trees and transplant mature coral into the reef.

“We work with local dive operators. It's a one or two days program, education in the morning and some kind of hands-on practice,” says Grainger. “Then we actually take people out into the water alongside our team, and they can actually work to do the work with our staff and interns. Snorkelers can also get involved.”

But the CRF is just one way to get involved with saving our seas. Whether you’re into marine biology, environmental activism, or straight-up scuba diving, these six tour companies will help you have an adventure, earn your sea legs, and make a difference.

Two men perform maintenance on coral tree
Dive underwater into the coral tree nursery to assist with clean-up and planting new coral. | Coral Restoration Foundation

Scuba dive to restore coral reefs

Key Largo, Florida
With the Coral Restoration Foundation, you can participate in weekly dive programs with local dive shops who’ll help you do your part to restore coral reefs off the coast of Florida. You’ll start with an educational session at their Exploration Center, dive underwater into the coral tree nursery to assist with clean-up and planting new coral, and end your day by earning a PADI Coral Restoration Certification.

The rate includes a two-tank dive and donation to the foundation. If your plans allow for a longer stay, Coral Restoration also brings on volunteers who will be in the area for at least two months. If you participate as a dive volunteer, you'll find yourself working in the coral nursery, outplanting new coral on the reef, or monitoring the coral that's already been outplanted. If you'd prefer to volunteer on dry land, that's an option too.

small turtle moving across the sand
Platanitos Turtle Camp is just one of the organizations working to ensure baby sea turtles are able to hatch and safely make their way to the ocean. | Platanitos Sea Turtle Camp

Help baby sea turtles reach the ocean

Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Counted among the smallest of the world's sea turtles, Olive Ridley turtles are found in tropical regions worldwide. But while they're widely distributed, their population has actually gotten quite small due to fishing and turtle harvesting. These turtles are considered a threatened population across the globe, but the breeding colony population of Mexico's Pacific Coast is listed as endangered. That's why there are so many groups in this area banding together to help the turtle population bounce back.

The Platanitos Turtle Camp at Villa Tortuga is just one of the organizations working to ensure baby sea turtles are able to hatch and safely make their way to the ocean in Riviera Nayarit between July and December. The government-operated camp collects eggs from the nearby beach and releases them into the sea. For a $10 donation, visitors can assist in this work; just book your experience in person with the turtle camp staff.

Man holding lionfish
Invasive lionfish produce quickly and have insatiable appetites, leaving little room for other species to thrive. | Ocean Strike Team

Hunt (and eat!) lionfish off the Florida coast

Pensacola, Florida
Lionfish have become an invasive species in the last few years—especially off the Florida coast where they have no natural predators. It’s uncertain how they arrived, but the general assumption is that some were dumped from a personal aquarium. The fish reproduce quickly and have insatiable appetites, leaving little room for other species to thrive.

To combat the damage, dive outfitters and fishing charters now offer lionfish hunting trips, teaming up with local restaurants in Pensacola to provide fresh fish and better the ecosystem. Travelers can join Ocean Strike Team, a local conservation group, for one of these trips, where you can carefully spear the fish or collect them in special devices to avoid their venomous spines.

The four-day trips include all the gear you need, along with a chef-prepared dinner of the lionfish you caught.

People cleaning up invasive algae at Maunalua Bay, O’ahu
The Great Huki Project is a monthly community event to remove invasive algae from Maunalua Bay. | Malama Maunalua

Aid in the restoration of Hawaii's Maunalua Bay

Honolulu, Hawaii
In Maunalua Bay on the island of O’ahu, Mālama Maunalua spearheads a number of projects to protect marine life. In the 1950s, population growth and pollution caused Maunalua Bay to suffer, but the organization’s various programs seek to restore it to its former glory.

For example, there’s the Great Huki Project, which is a monthly community event to remove invasive algae like gorilla ogo, prickly seaweed, and leather mudweed—and incorporate it into soil for local farms so nothing is wasted. There's also Hana Pūkoʻa with Restore With Resilience, which helps the community monitor and restore the bay’s coral reefs. If you're interested, you don’t need any prior experience to lend a hand.

Two men tagging a giant bluefish tuna on a boat
Tag a Giant brings travelers aboard a fishing boat to catch, tag, and release the enormous creatures. | Tag-A-Giant Foundation

Embark on the search for bluefish tuna

Pacific Grove, California and worldwide
Visitors to the Monterey Bay area can don some yellow waders and join a one-day research and fishing adventure on the Pacific Ocean with Tag a Giant (TAG). Founded over 25 years ago by Stanford and Duke University scientists, the organization tracks and researches giant bluefin tuna, a major predator in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans whose population has declined in recent years.

TAG brings travelers aboard a fishing boat to catch, tag, and release the enormous creatures, all with the goal of collecting data about migration patterns. It’s quite the unique way to get out on the open sea and satisfy your inner science nerd all at once. TAG has, well, tagged over 2,000 Bluefin tunas in the last 20 years, and the organization now leads trips all over the world.

nurdles and other debris on a beach
You can submit photos and descriptions of plastic pellets on the beaches of Sri Lanka and the Maldives on a nurdle tracker page to help with clean-up efforts. | Images by KT/Shutterstock

Take photos to protect paradise

Sri Lanka and the Maldives
Plastic in the ocean is an increasingly devastating problem, but especially in Sri Lanka. In the weeks following the 2021 shipping container fire, debris spread throughout the ocean, plastic resin pellets (or nurdles) began washing up on beaches, and countless marine animals died.

Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organization, is one of the groups combating the issue. They’ve established a Nurdle tracker page where locals and visitors can submit photos and descriptions of plastic pellets on the beaches of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. If you’re in either place, you’d likely be snapping pictures anway—so there’s hardly an easier way to help clean up the environment.

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Caroline Eubanks is a contributor for Thrillist. You can find her work at