Explore the World’s Oceans on These 7 Eco-Friendly Trips

Here’s how to get out on (and under) the water sustainably.

A man with a selfie stick suba diving near the Great Barrier Reef.

The success of marine tourism depends on healthy ocean ecosystems.

Photo by Tunatura/Shutterstock

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.

Pollution, development, and unsustainable fishing practices threaten Indonesia's unique coral reef systems.

Pollution, development, and unsustainable fishing practices threaten Indonesia’s unique coral reef systems.

Photo by Denis Moskvinov/Shutterstock

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

A turtle and small fish swimming in the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef environment in the world.

Photo by Vlad61/Shutterstock

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

People kayaking off of the Antartica peninsula

Thanks to the protective shape of the Antarctic Peninsula, the White Continent is actually an ideal place to kayak.

Photo by jeremykingnz/Shutterstock

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

Four people scuba diving in an underwater canyon in Iceland.

Despite its cold climate, scuba diving in Iceland is available year round.

Photo by Hoiseung Jung/Shutterstock

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

A sea lion swimming in the waters of Baja California

Baja California is home to five distinct populations of sea lions.

Photo by Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock

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

A school of fish off the coast of Malaysia

Malaysia’s Layang-Layang island is popular with scuba divers interested in deep dives.

Photo by Johnny Africa/Shutterstock

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

Dolphins off the coast of Sao Miguel Island, Portugal

There are 26 different species of marine mammals that can be found off the coast of Portugal.

Photo by Evgeni Fabisuk/Shutterstock

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

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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