This multi-faceted Marine Conservation project allows those with a love of the ocean and its inhabitants, to gain experience with not only Whales, Dolphins, Sharks and Penguin research and monitoring but also community education, environmental issues, ecology and ecotourism with a skilled team of experts, including marine biologists, in the field- both on land and on sea.

Starting daysSundays start and Mondays finish
Minimum Requirements2 weeks and longer subject to visa requirements. A minimum age of 18 years old.
Cost£1300 for 2 weeks and £400 for each additional week
What is included2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch) while on the project base or boat, shared accommodation, arrival Sunday overnight stay at a designated hostel in Cape Town, Cape Town International airport collection and drop-off, branded clothing, donation to the project, pre-departure support, in-country staff, 24- emergency help and more. Volunteers that stay 4 weeks and longer also have an artificial penguin nest sponsored on their behalf.
What is not includedFlights, visas, travel insurance, dinner while on the project, meals while in Cape Town and spending money
Best forGappers, career breakers, families, post-retirement gappers, couples, animal lovers, marine biology students, environmental, conservation and zoology students and qualified professionals

Project Description

This multi-faceted Marine Big 5 (Shark, Whale, Penguin, Seal and Dolphin) Conservation project is the perfect opportunity to make a difference with marine conservation both on land and sea, ecotourism, research, and community development. There is a huge variety of work that you will be doing, and this will largely depend on what work is being done at the time you are there and the whale migration season.

The Marine Big 5:
• Shark – The Great White, Bronze Whaler, Blue, Seven Gill and Mako.
• Whale – Southern Right, Humpback and Brydes’
• Penguin – African
• Seal – Cape Fur
• Dolphin – Bottlenose, Common and Humpback

Add of course sightings of Skates, Rays and even Sun Fish (Mola Mola).

Areas Marine Conservation volunteers may get involved in:

  • Support guests and operational support on the whale watching (seasonal) and shark cage diving boats
  • Cleaning, fish preparation and assisting at feeding time at the penguin rehabilitation facility
  • Assembling, cleaning, and monitoring of fishing line bins
  • Shark egg collection
  • Data capturing on the boats especially with various species of sharks and rays and species of whales in migration season and support of other research activities. This is the only project in the area whose marine biologist is permitted to tag Great White sharks.
  • Environmental education with local students
  • Participate in community educational shows
  • Beach clean-ups and capturing data afterwards
  • Taking part in lectures of Shark biology and research, African Penguins, marine mammal species, company and conservation overview, rocky shores ecology, boat safety and more. Please note to experience all the lectures, a full 4 weeks is needed.

Volunteering with Sharks

The feeding, migrating and behavioural habits as well as various other aspects of the various species of sharks are researched by recording sightings, tagging, dorsal fin identification and taking photos for an ongoing database in conjunction with various national and international academic research institutions. Their superior immune system and wound healing capabilities, parasites found on sharks, as well as their interaction with other marine species, are part of the comprehensive and ongoing research.

Duties will vary depending on each person’s skills set and those involved in the active study of marine biology are likely to be more involved on the research aspects. Volunteers assist with observational data capture and photographic data and may be involved with water sampling, temperature testing etc. If you stay for a minimum of a month and are fortunate enough to go out on the research boat, you may observe tagging of a shark or learn how to track an acoustically tagged shark. On land you can capture data and may learn how to match fins for population counts.

Your day will start off with prepping the boats and the tourists for their trip. Much time will be spent with the tourists educating them about the sharks , assisting the tourists, as well as observing sharks, possibly taking part in cage dives, if time allows and maybe helping out on the daily research projects on the vessel, by assisting with data recording. After the trip you will help wash down the boat and equipment before attending a presentation or conservation activity (1 -2 times for week) or having much-welcomed relaxation time.

During the late spring/summer time (November, December, January and February), the Marine Conservation project is very involved in tourist trips and dives which fund the research and community development projects, and it is a very busy time.

Best shark sightings are May to September. The chances of seeing sharks are 90% or more. During winter stormy weather is a fact of life, and this can prevent you from going out to sea.

With wildlife- or the weather- though there are no guarantees.

When at sea it will not be feasible for you to dive in the cage every trip, or you may not even want to – lots of people choose to observe the sharks from the deck instead as the viewing is also brilliant. If you do wish to dive that day please inform the Marine Biologist or Skipper, and we will do our best to accommodate you.

Volunteering with Whales

The many sheltered areas of the bay provide the breeding ground for the Southern Right Whales that migrate here from the sub-Antarctic islands between June to December each year. The area is also visited by Bryde’s and Humpback Whales as well as various dolphin species – mostly common, Indo-pacific bottlenose and the endangered humpback dolphins.

During whale season the boat runs several trips a day in search of the iconic Southern Right Whale. Out of season, eco-trips are run on demand.

Your duties on the whale-watching boat will includes assisting with life jackets for clients, guiding, data capturing, helping with any sea sick passengers (not as common as on the shark cage diving boat as the whale watching boat does not anchor and is on the move a lot), preparation and cleaning of the boat

The whale watching season is from the 1st of June to the 31st of December. You will be able to assist the onboard marine biologist with monitoring and data capturing of Southern Right and Humpback whales

On your “no-sea days” (when weather is unsuitable for boat departures) you will be involved with other activities:

Beach Clean-ups and Fishing Line Bin Project


The Marine Conservation project supports recycling and is aimed at involving local schools and the community in beach clean-ups, marine education and placing unique fishing line bin disposal units along the coast. It was recognised by WESSA and the Blue Flag beach programme nationwide.

You may have the opportunity to work with children´s groups or other volunteers in doing beach clean-ups. Data from these exercises is collected for the project on marine pollution and logged on a special application. You may also make up unique fishing line bins or help clean the fishing line for recycling. By being involved in removing fishing line and other litter off our beaches you are quite possibly helping save birds, seals, sharks, dolphins and even terrestrial animals from injury and an agonising death due to entanglement.

African Penguin facility

The African Penguin facility is a state-of-the-art centre for the rehabilitation of seabirds in distress, with a particular emphasis on conserving the African Penguin, which is endangered and has been undergoing a shocking decline in population numbers. Injured, oiled and sick birds are collected or brought in for care and recuperation and when they are fit and healthy again, will be released back into the wild.

You may be involved in cleaning their pens, crates and living areas, assisting with preparing medicated fish, recording medical records and data, and telling visitors about what work is being done. Two volunteers are assigned daily to help with penguin feeding times at 8am and 3pm.

If you are staying a minimum of 4 weeks and you want to volunteer with the penguins regularly during your project time then you may be able to learn how to handle the birds yourself, if the rehabilitator feels that you show an aptitude for this. There is also the opportunity to read blood slides on the microscope and enter data onto the computer.

Shark Egg Case Monitoring Project


This project collecting shark egg cases on designated beaches helps identify shark species distribution and breeding timing of smaller shark species. You will help to hunt for these empty egg cases amongst the kelp, collect, identify, and measure them. Shark egg cases or capsules as they are also known by, are the casings that surrounds the eggs of oviparous sharks, skates and chimaeras and are strikingly beautiful in their uniqueness.

African Penguin Nest Project


This multi-award-winning project to research and curb the worrisome decline in the African Penguin population on Dyer Island (90% decline in 30 years) is aimed at protecting this endangered species indigenous to South Africa from environmental factors and natural predators since the removal of the guano -which they burrow and next in- on the island by man, left them vulnerable to the elements and predators. Artificial penguin nests have been designed (which are sponsored and if you stay for 4 weeks or more, you automatically sponsor one) and manufactured and more than 1000 have been placed on the island and at other breeding colonies to provide the penguins with sheltered homes to protect the eggs and chicks from heat stress and predatory birds such as the Kelp Gull.

An example of a typical day

…please remember the daily schedule is affected according to the seasons and the weather. For the days that the weather is not advisable to go out by boat-for example due to high swells- there are still plenty of duties and activities to take part in:

5am to 8am- Time to wake up, wash have breakfast and get ready for the day. Remember you are dealing with the public so make yourself presentable. Head to the meeting point for the boat trips. Boat trips can be 2 to 3 times a day

8am to 12pm- Assist with the boat preparation and logistics for the trip. Welcome guests and help them with their life jackets. Once on the boat assist the guest when required, support the marine biologist/s with data entries, photographs, or environmental monitoring. This is always a great time to gain knowledge from these highly qualified professionals.  If the opportunity allows- which it often does- enjoy a shark cage dive. You may also be on the whale watching or eco boat tour and need to assist with guests and data entry.

12pm to 1pm– Break for lunch

1pm to 4pm- Presentations on marine species, boat safety, conservation work etc. This is also the time other conservation activities takes place.

4.30pm- Time to head back to the volunteer accommodation to prepare for dinner- maybe a South African style braai or maybe a pizza night in- or if you have energy after the early morning start, head out to a local restaurant for a good meal out…lots of lovely seafood restaurants being so close to the sea

Two volunteers are also assigned to help each morning and afternoon with the penguin feeding times which are 8am and 3pm.

Marine Conservation Internship

For those studying related fields, we do offer a marine internship which is far more comprehensive and intense on research for marine interns and has set dates. It is 4-week skills-based experience that offers high level academic and field-based skills training modules for marine science undergraduates and recent graduates within the natural science, and biology fields and can be extended. Between ecological studies and utilisation of technology, our emphasis is on providing students with experiences that will help further them along their chosen career paths.

Monday’s to Friday – Intern specific tasks. 

Weekends – Interns help on the commercial vessels as assistant biologists with data collection and photo ID responsibilities, and assist with rescued penguins and pelagic birds . There is a fleet of vessels from which research is conducted and animal rescues take place if needed. 

The Marine internship is definitely a good option for all students studying biology with an interest in the marine life and only applications from students and postgraduates in the field are accepted. This is a skills-based training program, providing those involved with the marine environment with a range of field-based experiences, designed to enhance their employability. Most of our students are able to gain academic credits if needed for their studies.

The project cost for the Marine internship also includes your airport pick up and drop off from Cape Town, an overnight stay in Cape Town, travel to the project site and back from Cape Town, breakfast and lunch, accommodation, lectures, training modules, branded clothing and more. You would need to arrive at Cape Town International Airport on a Sunday and your finishing day would be a Monday where you would be taken back to Cape Town. 

The internship has set 4-week dates.

  • bedroom
  • lounge
  • bathroom
  • new lodge
  • lecture room and cardio equipment
  • franskraal beach clean up

Accommodation

Accommodation is at the volunteer centre. There are four cottages in the style of fisherman cottages for volunteers shared between 4 to 6 volunteers and a newly built lodge which can accommodate more volunteers in twin shared bedrooms with kitchenettes, lounges with smart TV’s (for those who have Netflix or other steaming acounts) and bathrooms. All the bedrooms are a shared sleeping arrangement. Bedding is provided and the water is safe to drink.

The volunteer cottages and volunteer lodge have mini kitchens, but most prefer to gather in the central kitchen in the main house. There is a lecture room and workspace as well as a garden with a pool in the main house and a braai (South African BBQ). There is an activity hall with cardio machines, weights and table tennis. Volunteers also enjoy a pool table and foosball and there are a variety of board games. Wi-Fi and satellite TV are also available. Between the main house, volunteer cottages and volunteer lodge is a fire pit that volunteers can spend relaxing around on summer evenings- or winter nights too.

Laundry is offered by an external service provider twice a week for a small surcharge.

The lodge is just 1,4km from the harbour where many of the operations take place and whilst there are two minibuses that move volunteers daily, it is also an easy walk or cycle away.

Recycling is a priority at the lodge.

Food

There is a fully equipped communal kitchen in the main house as well as kitchenettes in each volunteer cottage and the lodge plus a braai (South African barbeque) in the outside courtyard area. South Africa is famous for its braais and it is also a great relaxed way to also get to acquainted with your fellow volunteers

Breakfast is “help-yourself” with eggs, bacon/vegetarian sausages provided, cereal, bread, milk, coffee and tea.

Lunch is provided on the boat – cheese and tomato rolls, fruit, crisps; the same lunch is available on “no sea days”, but most volunteers decide to cook for themselves in this case or they go out for lunch.

Dinner is your own responsibility (don’t forget to budget for this)– some volunteers cook together, others go it alone and sometimes they go out to eat or grab pizza takeaways and watch the sunset from the rocks. There are some great seafood restaurants too in the area thanks to the nearby fishing industry.

Please make sure to bring seasickness tablets with you though as you may not have much need for food otherwise 😊

Location

The Marine Conservation project is based outside of Gansbaai, a 2-hour drive from the city of Cape Town, on the southeast coast of the Western Cape province. The area is called the Overstrand, and it is particularly beautiful known for its “fynbos’ vegetation, whale migration …and its large seal colony which of course attracts lots of sharks!

As it is a smaller town it is very easy to find your feet and explore the area and your coordinators wil make sure you get to do lots in your free time.

Some of the attractions in the area:

Wine tasting at local wine farms which the area is famous for… we love the Sir Robert Stanford wine farm but there are plenty in the neighbouring areas to visit.

Visit the Klipgat Cave just outside De Kelders in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve the early home to ancient homo sapiens some 70 000 to 80 000 years ago

Visit the most southern geographical tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas where a marker indicates the official dividing line of between the Atlantic and Indian ocean.

Zip lining

Quad biking

Horse riding

Visit to a nearby ethical predator sanctuary to meet their beautiful lions, tigers, leopard, serval and caracal and hear the stories of how they were rescued.

Visit the Stony Point Nature Reserve penguin colony

Hiking

Craft beer tasting at local breweries or wine tasting at local wine farms.

“This was one of the best experiences of my life. I got to meet amazing people from around the world. The staff from the program were exceptional. I couldn’t have asked for better people to take care of me while I was there. And getting to be out on the whale and shark boats was incredible. Saw so many amazing marine animals on a daily basis. Working at the penguin facility was a real joy as well. You can’t help but fall in love with them. A big part of this program is eco-tourism, and getting the chance to be a part of that was so rewarding. I couldn’t have asked for a better time. I would highly recommend this program to anyone, not just those interested in marine biology. But I would suggest that you do at least 3-4 weeks if you have the time in order to get the full experience. I was there for 6 weeks, and the time just flew by.”

Barry Brown, USA, July 2023

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