Travel Hack – Explore the Great Barrier Reef for FREE

Posted May 7, 2013 by Charli Moore in Budget Travel

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. Made up of over 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs there’s plenty of opportunity for the adventurous traveler to explore. While the beauty of the reef captures the imagination of scuba divers all over the world, the price tag attached to a trip exploring the diverse marine environment leaves much to be desired.

So how can you see the reef on a limited budget?

Why not volunteer on a work/experience exchange program?

Great Barrier Reef For Free anemone-fish-great-barrier-reef-wanderlusters

Deep Sea Divers Den, Cairns

If you’re in Cairns call into the Deep Sea Divers Den and sign up for their volunteer program. Operating a day boat and overnight live aboard trips you are able to join their team as a temporary ‘hostie’ in exchange for a few dives each day on the inner reef.

Brush up on your hospitality skills and polish your smile as you’ll be expected to cater to the needs of the guests onboard.


You must hold a relevant work visa allowing you to be employed in Australia.

You must be a certified Open Water Diver and have a minimum of 20 logged dives.

You will be expected to purchase your uniform.

Mike Ball, Cairns

For the more adventurous scuba divers Mike Ball offers a volunteer program aboard Spoilsport, a 5* live aboard dive boat, that charters trips to the outer Great Barrier Reef and Osprey Reef some 85km from the coast.

Committing for 14 days at sea you will work on the dive deck assisting guests or in the galley with the hospitality staff. In exchange for your hard work you’ll be treated to the best diving the Great Barrier Reef has to offer.

Visiting the world famous Cod Hole, Steve’s Bommie, the Ribbon Reefs and taking part in the shark feed dive out at Osprey Reef this is an experience you’ll never forget.


You must hold a relevant work visa allowing you to be employed in Australia.

If volunteering to work on the dive deck you must be a qualified Divemaster, however galley volunteers need only be Open Water certified and have a minimum of 20 logged dives.

You will be expected to pay for your uniform.

Great Barrier Reef for Free cuttle-fish-great-barrier-reef-wanderlusters

Orpheus Island Research Station (OIRS)

Just north of Townsville lies Orpheus Island. Fringed by the Great Barrier Reef and covered in lush national park the island incorporates over 1,300 hectares of unspoilt paradise.

ORIS offers volunteers the opportunity to travel to, and live on the island in exchange for 4 hours work each day. While your free time is your own to explore the island, your daily chores can include assisting with wildlife census and surveys, weed eradication, cleaning duties, painting, and feral animal control (catching cane toads).

It’s worth noting that volunteers are not usually permitted to join the research teams that scuba dive around the islands shores, however if you have your own wetsuit, mask, and fins, snorkeling is permitted at your own risk.


You must be over 18 years of age and should be physically fit as most tasks involve manual labor.

Environmental Research Volunteers

Along with the above list of permanent placement opportunities there are an ever changing mix of positions with various environmental projects. A quick search online will produce a list of the latest assignments.

Research teams regularly advertize for volunteer scuba divers to assist with marine research on the reef. If you’re on a budget and are prepared to exchange some elbow grease for the chance to experience the Great Barrier Reef for free, this is the travel hack for you.

Great Barrier Reef for Free pipefish-great-barrier-reef-wanderlusters

About the Author

Charli Moore

Travel writer and blogger Charli is a digital nomad currently travelling the world with her other half Ben. Whether backpacking through Central America or road tripping around Australia they embrace each and every opportunity for adventure. Read more about their insatiable wanderlust on their blog, Wanderlusters.

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