Use your spring break to advance your professional and personal skills. Take on the role of a marine conservationist for a week on the Mesoamerican reef, the world’s second largest reef. The area is full of marine diversity including sea turtles, tropic fish, manta rays, and over 60 different types of hard coral species.
The week-long program will be tailored towards critically examining marine conservation topics and research techniques relevant to the field. Time will also be allocated to earning your PADI Open Water Certification furthering your access to the underwater world.
The program will also allow you time and provide an opportunity to discover more of the exciting culture of Mexico. Side trips will be tailored to introduce you to the natural beauty of the area with possible visits to the areas cenotes, and historical sites.
Earn your PADI Dive Certification which opens you up to world of potential diving opportunities.
Engage in critical conversations surrounding the world of marine conservation. Reflect on your experience and personal development throughout the course of the week, giving you a chance to develop both personal and professional awareness.
Gain insight into Mexican culture and explore the diverse and stunningly beautiful location where the program is located.
"Life at Pez Maya has an odd tendency of filling itself with very rich and otherworldly experiences that one would be lucky to encounter in a year. Our work here is primarily for the purpose of preserving the biodiversity of a region with forests, lagoons, mangroves, and coral reefs, all within a few miles of each other, an area extremely valuable in natural capital. More specifically, we are working to achieve a stable balance between the built and the natural world. Given that we at least share a significant awe and admiration for the wilderness, it is natural that we also find ourselves enjoying other, tangentially related experiences: The mellow strumming of a guitar, the fresh taste of a good meal after our hard work, a riveting conversation, a cold beer, some good body surfing. People here seem very alive, every hour full with activity and learning, often proactive and always positive. It is a good place to be. The days here are simple but busy, natural, and held together by the ideal we believe in to restore the natural world."
What's Not Included
Your experience will begin in Cancun, after your flight arrives, you will be met by our staff and the rest of the group. From here you will hit the ground running, after making your way south to the volunteer house you will jump into orientation surrounding the projects that GVI runs in Mexico, conservation issues affecting the area, and a general culture class and introduction to Mexico.
Days will be spent in and around the ocean. Initial training will begin for the PADI Open Water course with confined water training, once you are comfortable with the equipment you will move on to scuba diving in the ocean. The course will end with an official certification in scuba diving that will allow you to continue diving after your spring break week is over. Working alongside experts in the conservation field means that you will get top-notch training!
Educational activities will be focused on developing a more general understanding of marine conservation. Emphasis will be placed on relevant research techniques, pertinent issues facing marine biologists, and viable solutions that are currently being implemented.
Evenings will be comprised of an exciting variety of cultural activities and excursions around the area. Activities may include; regional cooking classes, salsa lessons, visits to nearby Mayan ruins, or swimming in some of the spectacular cenotes that this region is famous for.
What's Not Included
GVI’s work in the region consists mainly of collecting data in the northern section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. We work with local partners with the aim to form a comprehensive overview of the ecological health of the reef, determine the species and breeding success of marine turtles in the area as well as develop an ‘Ecological Research and Awareness Centre’ with education and awareness programs for the local community.
Overall, our monitoring program in Mexico aims to provide a long-term record of coral and fish species abundance over time to contribute to the long-term survival of the reef.
From a personal perspective, being able to experience this region and having access to local examples of the principles and techniques, will provide you with confidence and a clear understanding of important concepts such as best practice principles. You’ll develop effective teamwork and leadership skills and be prepared for working in remote and challenging locations. Fish and coral identification, the threats facing reefs, as well as the hazards of conducting reef-based research will further prepare you.
The new life skills you’ll develop will improve your understanding of the relationship between environmental sustainability and communities, a key understanding when working in the field. Your ability to live and work in a foreign country as a part of an international team and manage individual and team responsibilities with good communication and collaborative skills will be invaluable in your career.
Pez Maya's short, mid, and long-term objectives:
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualize their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfill our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Learn about the long-term objectives you will be contributing to in Pez Maya:
1. Provide data to our partners on the overall health of the reef, to be used for coastal management within the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, and to have a better understanding of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system.
2. Raise environmental awareness within the reserve.
3. Minimise the environmental impact that Pez Maya visitors and other people have within the reserve.
4. Increase in-country capacity within our partners and community members in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
What's Not Included
Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate in programs assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems, but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your downtime or further afield either before or after your program. Many decide to travel after volunteering, solidifying the lifetime friendships established during the program.
Our long-term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI. Our Yucatan field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Mexico!
Optional Side Trips
As a large and vibrant country, Mexico can seem daunting at first, but here are a few ideas to get you going in the Yucatan Peninsula on your weekends off:
In this region, you are spoilt for choice in the number of opportunities to try out different dive sites away from the expedition. You could start with snorkelling with turtles of all sizes in Akumal bay, where they are protected and come to feed; dive or snorkel within the unique cenotes (underwater river systems); dive Cozumel, where the wall dives along the island have been voted as part of the world’s best top ten diving locations; or, for a full weekend, try Isla Holbox, a small island off the north of the peninsula. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place, great for a quiet weekend away. Whale sharks (the world’s largest fish) migrate up near the island from June to September and snorkelling alongside them while they filter feed is a truly breathtaking experience!
Alternatively, if you are looking for a break from the water, make your way to Río Lagartos where flamingos flock and river crocodiles abound; visit Bacalar – known as the lake of seven colours due to the various shades of blue; or visit prime breeding areas for the hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and green turtle (May to October).
Immerse yourself in the surviving Mayan culture of the area and visit remote and untouched Mayan archaeological sites, such as the famous and easily accessible sites of Tulum and Coba, or visit the beautiful and majestic Mayan ruins of Palenque in the Chiapas region. And finally, the colonial city of Mérida is the peninsula’s cultural capital and the local artisans of Izamal will be sure to offer you some souvenirs of your trip.
Further Travel Opportunities
If you want to travel throughout the rest of Mexico either before or after your time with us, there is more than your fair share of interesting places that are well worth a visit. Take a trip to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and experience lowland tropical forests and have an opportunity to try and seek out threatened species; the island of Espíritu Santo offers kayaking with whale sharks (seasonal) and sea lions; if you are keen to try surfing, Puerto Escondido is rated as one of the world’s best surfing spots.
Oaxaca is a beautiful city to visit on the Pacific Coast, a colonial city with some of the nation’s most magnificent architecture, also offering several archaeological sites including the Zapotec ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further south, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, is definitely worth a visit. Colourful buildings, historical architecture, and impressive nearby ecological sites with fun activities will easily keep you entertained for days.
Neighbouring countries to the south, Guatemala and Belize offer something different yet again. In Belize, island hop all the way down the coast, stopping to dive the Blue Hole, another world-class dive site. Guatemala can be reached easily by bus and offers everything from the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Antigua, to volcanoes, the beautiful Lake Atitlan, adventure sports such as mountain biking, and the majestic Mayan ruins of Tikal.
If you do decide to spend time travelling through Central America, make sure to allow yourself time to take it all in, because this region will pull you in and not let go!
Meet Daniela, our awesome base manager in Playa del Carmen. She is passionate about working with kids and being involved in education in Mexico, her home country. Daniela has a degree in psychology and obtained her Masters in psychoanalysis, which facilitates her with the interaction with kids and volunteers.
Her volunteering journey started out when she joined GVI on our National Scholarship Program and now she has returned to the field to continue making a difference. Daniela worked as a therapist with adolescents with addictions and as a teacher of a special need school and being with other human beings is her speciality. She has travelled to many places abroad and she also used to be a professional dancer for a few years of her life to pay for some of her studies. "I trained in a circus, from acrobats to juggling, I wasn’t really good but the family you get to know there is amazing."
Meet Olivia, our fantastic community officer in Playa, Mexico. She was a volunteer in a Animal Shelter in San Antonio, Texas. She then started working as a Intake Coordinator for the City.
She loves traveling, learning new things, being on the move and meeting new people. Her favourite part about working with GVI is helping others, making a difference in the world, meeting new people and the opportunity of traveling to another countries.
Meet Friso, our sensational science officer in Pez Maya, Mexico. He has backpacked through Australia for 6 months, travelled in South-East Asia for a total of about 3 months. He's spent 5 months on Curacao, Dutch Antilles, and 3 months in Indonesia (Sulawesi and Borneo) for research projects. He Lived and studied in New-Zealand for 6 months and spent another month as a volunteer in a resort in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
He has a Bachelor degree in Earth Sciences and Master degree Limnology & Oceanography at the University of Amsterdam. He is also a PADI Divemaster and thus member of PADI Pro’s.
What he loves the most about GVI is firstly, the people, who he works with at the moment and secondly, practically living on a beach and having an amazing coral reef right on his doorstep is pretty great!
Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven director for all our projects around the world. She has two honours degrees, one in Industrial and Organisational Psycology, and another in Developmental and Education Psycology. Shayle also has over 10 years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating environmental and community programs across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
She is well-practiced in facilitating meaningful and effective intercultural engagement and this makes her the perfect person for overseeing our operations in the multicultural country of South Africa.
When not attending meetings or planning her next endeavour, Shayle can be found spending time with her family or taking part in some or other exciting outdoors activity!
Community Field Staff
Meet Kopa, our Kenyan born Community Field Staff Member in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This ambitious African studied Community Health and Development at the African Institute of Research and Development studies. It was GVI’s objectives and sustainable projects that first attracted him to join our team.
Kopa joined GVI in 2012 as a valued staff member in Kenya. Here he put his skills and knowledge to work and managed to upgrade a new health project to a standing one. Kopa, or Doctor as his friends call him, also worked with PSI (Population Services International) for 15 months and with the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health for 4 years.
Kopa is crazy about Zanzibar’s golden beaches and apparently he is quite the multitasker - he can make sounds from his mouth and whistle at the same time! Living in Mexico, he is having the time of his life, meeting different people with different cultures from all parts of the world!
Meet Kerry, our IDC Staff Instructor in Pez Maya, Mexico! Kerry's diving adventure began in 2008 in Coffs Harbour, Australia, where she managed a hostel with an onsite dive shop. After attempting a 9-5 lifestyle, Kerry decided the ocean was calling and joined our Divemaster Internship in Mexico. She completed her work placement at XTC, which led onto her completing her Instructor Development Course as well!
Kerry went on to use her qualifications to work as an instructor at a PADI Career Development Centre in Vietnam, where she progressed to an IDC Staff Instructor whilst managing two of their dive centres.
Since leaving GVI it was always Kerry's aim to return as a staff member and we are thrilled to have her back! "I am excited to see many new Divemasters and Instructors as a result of these internships and see them on the road towards an exciting and rewarding career path."
Meet James, a certified Dive master, EFR Instructor and a graduate in Environmental Science. James is our base manager and a very skilled boat driver, teacher and maintenance guy at our Marine conservation program in Pez Maya, Mexico!
Before joining GVI James worked with various NGO’s around the World and has even lived in Madagascar! “It’s such a massive country! There’s so much to do and see and the biodiversity on land and in the ocean is incredible!”
What’s James’s favourite aspect of his job? “The point when volunteers have been here for a few weeks and start to remember the names of things in the sea, seeing that extra bit of excitement when they see something and can name it – that’s when I know I’m doing my job right.” The most interesting discovery up to date was when he found an anchor which they have lost a few months previously, with a fairly large octopus attached underneath.
Random fact about our James, he can sing All The Countries of The World by the Animaniacs! Make sure you request a rendition when you visit our Pez Maya hub!
Meet Alejandro, our logistics coordinator in Playa del Carmen. He started out with GVI as one of our National Scholarship Program participants in 2007. With a degree in Tourism Management and a passionate commitment to improving our world, we just had to keep him!
Alejandro’s favourite aspect of his job? Our Partners. “The opportunity to partner with organisations that share our goal to make the world better is amazing, also seeing the way volunteers connect with the children and the huge effect they have on their development, even over a short period of time. They’re a great resource for the children’s education.”
When he’s not working, Alejandro likes to explore the local area, visiting the Mayan ruins and national parks, or relaxing at the beach.
Meet Lluvia, our Country Director for Mexico. With a history in environmental education, she initially joined GVI as a participant in our National Scholarship Programme, and we just couldn’t let her go!
Lluvia is a qualified Dive Master and Biologist, who she spent 3 years working as field staff and base manager in Pez Maya.
Her favourite experience since she joined GVI? Diving with dolphins. ”We were on our way to a dive site when a pod of dolphins came along and started jumping in and out of the water alongside the boat. They stayed with us for the entyre dive, getting really close and were looking at us. It was of course, my best dive ever!”
What does Lluvia think volunteers contribute to the projects? “The work that the volunteers do is extremely important; if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be able to run the projects. The different activities they do like collecting data on the reef, delivering environmental education lessons, helping out running the toy libraries, all help our partners to achieve their goals.”