There’s a paradox that comes with marine tourism: While experiences with the ocean can inspire a desire to conserve the planet, they can also put it in harm’s way. From coral breakage of Egypt’s reefs to pollution destroying the coasts of Thailand, it’s no wonder respondents from a 2022 Reef World survey found that 95% of people think the dive industry should be doing more to conserve reefs.
Creating and sustaining awe-inspiring—and ethical—tourism opportunities won’t be answered by one entity. Instead, sustainable ocean experiences come from many responsible operators who want to preserve these journeys for generations to come. Here are seven from around the world.
Snorkel in Indonesia
The Oceanic Society provides more than 20 snorkeling tours around the world, including a 12-day trip in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands. Based aboard a motored schooner, up to 10 participants travel to Batanta Island, Waigeo Island, and other spots in the archipelago as they explore waters home to more than 1,500 species of fish and marine mammals. Participants learn about conserving the species found in the area from naturalist guides, who use sighting data to contribute to the region’s conservation plans. From $11,700
Help conserve the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
Off the coast of Cairns, travelers can complete their Open Water Diver certificate and take a marine conservation tour with Australia-based No Limit Adventures. During a 12 day trip, participants might do everything from work on coral health surveys to count species in partnership with the Australian government’s Eye on the Reef coral monitoring program. The itinerary also offers beach cleanups and visits to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. From $2,454
Sea kayak in Antarctica
Travelers on Aurora Expeditions’ Antarctica cruises can add guided sea-kayaking expeditions to their adventure. The Australian company’s main ships are designed with reduced fuel consumption in mind, and the one- or two-person kayaks allow guests to access smaller bays and iceberg pathways that bigger Zodiacs can’t get to. Surcharge from $900
Scuba dive in Iceland
Explore North Atlantic waters with a Reykjavík-based tour from Dive.IS, an Icelandic dive center that’s been given a Green Star Award by PADI for its commitment to conservation. A three-day journey takes drysuit-wearing participants through sites on the Reykjanes Peninsula and around the Golden Circle to see flatfish, wolffish, and other marine animals. One of the unique stops on the tour is Silfra, in Thingvellir National Park—the only place in the world where you can dive between two tectonic plates. From $1,069
Participate in citizen research in Mexico
The U.S.-based Vermilion Sea Institute leads the six-day Stars to Sea trip in the Gulf of California, bringing travelers to a field station in Bahía de los Ángeles to help with whale shark research. Activities include underwater photography and uploading whale shark data. From $1,300
Scuba dive in Malaysia
From its base of Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands, a designated marine park, Sea Voice Divers operates diving trips that range from beginner discovery sessions to PADI Rescue Diver courses. During the scuba season from March to October, good water visibility can reveal blue-spotted stingrays, blacktip reef sharks, and hawksbill turtles among the corals. Sea Voice Divers is also certified by the Green Fins initiative—which measures the environmental impact of marine-based tourism operators—and ranks in the program’s 10 best for low impact out of 116 members that have been assessed in person. From $40 per person
Snorkel with dolphins in Portugal
For its two-hour dolphin snorkel offering, tour company Lobosonda adheres to stringent regional marine tourism rules, designed to protect the more than 25 cetacean species that move through the waters of Madeira. The tour brings up to eight snorkelers aboard its Zodiac boat, where a buoyed rope guides snorkelers as they float past species including the Atlantic spotted dolphin and short-beaked common dolphin. From $95