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Marine Conservation and Ecotourism: Sharks, Whales and Penguins - Gansbaai


Marine Conservation and Ecotourism: Sharks, Whales and Penguins - Gansbaai

Project Highlights

- You will work with professionals and clients in a world-class ecotourism environment, learning all about how responsible ecotourism and conservation learning all about how responsible ecotourism and conservation work hand-in-hand
- You will learn about the behaviors and biology of Great White Sharks and the other species in our seas
- We will help, support and encourage you to get the most out of your stay
- Every volunteer gets involved in our ecotourism (cage diving) and conservation work throughout their stay
- Everyone spends the majority of time at sea aboard Slashfin - our cage diving vessel - or our newly commissioned research boat Lwazi ("seeking knowledge"). Research trips are fully weather dependent and performance of volunteers are rated on our shark cage diving vessel, for the chance to go on our research boat. These trips are rare, depending on which project is on the go, so do not assume that you will go out on 2-3 presentations on conservation, research or marine safety every week.
- The opportunity to help out at our African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary which is a world-class centre for the rehabilitation of seabirds in distress, with a particular emphasis on conserving the African penguin
- We research the feeding, migrating and behavioural habits as well as various other aspects of the Great Whites by recording sightings, tagging, dorsal fin identification and taking thousands of photos for an ongoing data base in conjunction with various national and international academic and research institutions. Taking a closer look at their superior immune system and wound healing capabilities, their interaction with other marine species, as well as the parasites that are found on sharks is all part of the comprehensive and ongoing research we do.

Welcome Orientation - Cape Town

Day 1: Welcome to South Africa
You are collected from the airport and taken to your volunteer accommodation in Tableview where you can check in and get comfortable before your welcome orientation and dinner. You will also receive your arrival package which includes a little bag, t-shirt and welcome book.

Day 2: Orientation Tour of Cape Town
You will head in to Cape town with a member of staff who will take you on a walking tour of Cape Town together with the other new arrivals.

After the walking tour you can take a bus or walk to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Sit back and sip a cocktail, enjoy some fresh fish and watch the ships in the busy working harbour or walk around taking in the shops, markets and musicians on the sidewalks. Alternatively, you can take the cable car up Table Mountain and enjoy breathtaking views of the city, or visit the famous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held in prison during the apartheid era (own expense).

In the evening head back on the local bus to Table View. Sunday dinner is a DIY evening, allowing volunteers to show case their local meals or join in a bring and BBQ.

First Project Day - Gansbaai (Day 4)

You will be picked up by our driver at your accommodation in Cape Town and brought to the Great White House. On arrival, you will the team, the local coordinators, volunteer(s) who will be on your boat trip and marine biologist. After the safety briefing, you will board the boat as a customer. The coordinator will also give you basic seamanship and an orientation of the boat and the cage so that you are ready to experience shark cage diving. Breakfast/lunch for you and customers are included. On your return, your co ordinator will be waiting to answer any questions.

You will then be taken to the accommodation where your luggage will be waiting and you can unpack and relax with fellow volunteers. You will receive a lodge introduction by the coordinator and receive t-shirts, a cap, a jacket and a key (jacket and key to be returned after the program). Afterwords we will take you into Gansbaai to go shopping and buy food to prepare your evening meals. Enjoy the welcome barbeque on the first evening (normally Mondays).

Project Description

This project covers several aspects of marine conservation. Below are some of the things that the volunteers will get involved in.

1) Great White Sharks
We research the feeding, migrating and behavioural habits as well as various other aspects of the Great Whites 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.

Your duties will vary depending on your skills set, for example 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.

2) African Penguins
Our 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 on the island left them vulnerable to the elements and predators. We have manufactured and placed more than 1000 artificial nests on the island and at other breeding colonies to provide them with sheltered homes to protect the eggs and chicks from heat stress and predatory birds such as the Kelp Gull. In addition to this, the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) has been built 2 min walk away from the International Marine Volunteer Centre and is a true feather in the cap for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. APSS is a state-of-the-art centre for the rehabilitation of sea birds in distress, with a particular emphasis on conserving the African Penguin, which is endemic to southern Africa and has been undergoing a shocking decline in population numbers. Injured, oiled and sick birds are collected or brought to us for care and recuperation and when they are fit and healthy again we release them back into the wild.

You may be involved in cleaning the birds’ pens, crates and living areas, assisting with preparing medicated fish, recording medical records and data and telling visitors about what we do. If you will be staying a minimum of 4 weeks and you want to volunteer at APSS regularly during your time here 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.

3) Marine Pollution
This project supports recycling and is aimed at involving local schools and the community in beach clean-ups, marine education and placing specially made 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 when we do beach clean-ups. We separate and weigh all the garbage and enter the data into a database. You may also be involved in making up our unique fishing line bins or help by cleaning the fishing line for recycling. By removing fishing line and other litter off our beaches you are quite possibly helping save another bird or animal from injury, as well as helping to prevent plastic from entering the food chain, causing animals to starve or become poisoned.

We have a 4-wheel drive vehicle that allows us access to remote sections of the coast where our help is really needed to remove litter from the beaches, attend strandings of dead animals and search for animals in distress such as injured or oiled penguins.

4) Marine Animal Strandings
Sometimes we receive calls from the public about stranded animals in distress, or already dead animals. They may be sick, entangled, oiled or injured. When we are doing beach clean-ups we always keep our eyes open for animals and check that they are okay, and sometimes we do special patrols to look for oiled penguins. Occasionally the animals are dead, in which case we will check for leg rings, flipper bands or flipper tags, and depending on the species we will record data and collect samples.

You may assist to search for and retrieve animals, record data, assist in dissections, record GPS positions, help with body measurements and if it is a shark or dolphin then you will assist in dissecting it and taking samples for passing on to scientific institutions.

5) BRUV Studies
The BRUV is a baited remote underwater video collection technique. Using this technique we collect data on the habitat, species diversity, abundance and behaviour of marine species in the Greater Dyer Island Region.

You may go out to sea to assist in deploying and retrieving equipment. Once back in the office, you could go through the video footage, recording the marine species that swim past the bait station.

6) Endemic Shark Species Project
As the opportunity arises we collect shark egg cases that have washed ashore as part of a larger project in the area looking at the species occurrence, abundance and distribution of smaller shark species. Potential nursery grounds can also be identified in this way.

You will search along the shoreline for egg cases that have washed ashore, collect, measure and identify them and input the information into our database.

7) Environmental Sampling
We use a YSI unit (Yellow Springs International) to sample water temperature (°C), barometric pressure (mbars), dissolved oxygen (%saturation) and oxygen (mg per litre) every day on the shark cage diving vessel, in order to capture environmental data in white shark aggregation sites. We have a second unit which we use to sample adjacent areas in the bay where the cage diving boat is not present, as well as in the estuarine area of the inshore region. These data will be collated with the data from tags deployed on white sharks that sample real time water temperature and depth, providing us with an overall picture of the Greater Dyer Island Region.

You will use the YSI to sample locally at the estuary and possibly a few times a week from the whale watching vessel or research vessel. You will help to record data and carefully maintain the highly sensitive equipment.

8) Other
We have other projects such as providing wood for heating and cooking to a nearby community, occasionally helping out at old age and children’s homes and the local animal rescue center.

You will load and offload wood, assist with weighing and sorting recycling, help children in the shop, spend time with older people and children from the homes and help to clean and improve the rescue center and spend time with the animals there.

Volunteer Tasks

1) Trips to sea
You will be able to go out to sea every other day. For example, a month's stay enables you to go to sea at least 15 times. Please note that this will be the minimum (depending on no-sea days and weather), but it could be more. When on sea it may not be feasible for you to dive in the cage every trip, or you may not even want to. If you do wish to dive that day please inform the marine biologist or skipper and we will do our best to accommodate you.

2) Lectures
As part of your program you will be given lectures (depending on the length of your stay). They will be conducted when time permits, with regard to sea conditions and the number of trips.

3) Duties on the Boat
Whilst on the boat you will be able to do the following:
- Assist inlaying and retrieving the anchor
- Assist putting in the cage and attaching it to the boat
- Help prepare bait
- Help with the chumming
- Assist the customers on the boat - answering any questions they have, informing them about the white sharks, helping them with their wet suits, offering help to any people suffering from seasickness
- Assist divers in getting ready for the cage, and helping them in and out of the cage - providing them with masks, weight belts and towels
- Collecting data on the sharks
- Helping prepare the cage if we have a second trip
- Viewing the sharks and taking pictures

4) No Sea Days
If the weather does not allow the boat to go out to sea, we will start the day with breakfast and then you will be taken on one of the following excursions:

Hermanus, Stanford - shopping, wine tours
Betty’s Bay - penguin colony
Cape Agulhas - meeting of the two oceans

If there is something else you would like to do on these days, you are welcome to talk to your coordinator to arrange something else. Please note that South Africa does not have a geat public transport system and getting around can be a bit tricky sometimes so we would need to go with the majority.

5) Evenings
The evenings are free and you can relax at home, make food together, watch television or go out to the local restaurants and pubs.

Safety Management

With every new arrival we have a safety and orientation briefing where we discuss issues such as general safety in South Africa for example, what to do in the settlements, where not to go, what to do in case of an emergency, sea currents, HIV AIDS and crime. There is a volunteer co-ordinator with our volunteers at all times while on project to ensure the safety of the children and volunteer. We offer all our volunteers 24/7 support and assistance.


Airport pick-up
2-day orientation in Cape Town
Breakfast and lunch on working days
24-hour support and supervision
Donation to the project (bookings for 4 weeks or more)
Transfer from Gansbaai back to Cape Town, provided you travel back on a Monday
Certificate of appreciation
Diving equipment, jacket, and boots are provided.

Mandatory Volunteer Requirements

Minimum age of 18
Basic level of competency in English
Acceptance subject to availability
Ability to swim/Volunteers should be physically fit
It is Highly recommended to bring seasickness tablets as there are a lot of hours at sea

What Makes a Good Volunteer?

Volunteers need to be flexible and keep an open mind concerning their placements as situations can arise beyond our control which could require you to be placed at a different project than the one you have initially chosen. We will of course always do our utmost to fulfill your initial wishes but do remember that where you are going is quite different from where you are coming and as such one should be prepared for things not always going according to plan.

Volunteering and intercultural travel share a common trait: the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. This program is designed for proactive individuals and groups that are prepared to adapt to the local environment and its current needs. Naturally, the scheduling and activities of our program are subject to change. Alterations in activities are mainly due to changes in local conditions, which we believe is part of what makes overseas programs the interesting adventure and incredible learning experience that they are.

How Long Should I Volunteer?

It is important to remember that we are working with wildlife and nature, both of which are unpredictable. We cannot guarantee sightings of any specific species. For this reason and in case of bad weather days, when we can’t go to sea, we recommend a 2-4 week mimimum stay. If you join for a one-week stay, you might be very disappointed if you miss several days on the sea due to the weather conditions.


Hvað er innifalið?


Accommodation is at the Marine Volunteer Centre, which has four cottages anda new building that can accommodate 40 persons with a shared sleepingarrangement. Bedding is provided and they are cleaned weekly. All facilities have a mini kitchen, but cooking is done in the central kitchen with adjacent dining room and sitting room. There is a lecture room and work space as well as a pool. There is an activity hall with some weights and table tennis. Also enjoy a pool table and foosball and there is a variety of board games. Wi-Fi and satellite TV are available. Note that recycling is a priority at the lodge.The lodge is just 1,4km from our operation and whilst we have transport that move volunteers daily, it is also an easy walk or cycle away. The lodge is directly opposite the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary project. Recycling is a priority at the lodge.

Staðbundnar samgöngur

Airport pick-up from Cape Town International Airport: As you exit the terminal at the airport, our driver will be waiting for you with your name on a board. If for any reason you can’t find the driver please make your way to the Cape Town Information Desk and contact us at +27 21 556 9369 or +27 73 3334338

A return transfer from Cape Town to Gansbaai is included. The departure transfer will take you to your accommodation in Cape Town or the airport, but please plan your flight schedule to depart earliest at 20:00.

The volunteer accommodation is about a 10 to 15 minute walk from the project offices and there is a minibus for the volunteers for all program activities.


Welcome BBQ is included on the first night of your welcome & orientation package.
Breakfast and lunch are only included on working days when you are out at sea, all other meals at your own cost. Shops are within walking distance and a self-catering kitchen is available. The water at the accommodation is safe to drink,

Please advise us on your dietary needs when filling out your application form. Participants with very specific dietary needs may be required to supplement their meals at their own expense.

Frekari upplýsingar

Visas, Insurances & Flight Tickets
Visas and insurances are the responsibility of the intern. Travel insurance is compulsory. You are also required to present a copy of your return flight itinerary when entering South Africa.

Winter in South Africa
Please note that May through to September are our winter months and it can get quite chilly with an average temperature ranging from 5 degrees Celsius at night to 15 degrees Celsius during the day. So please make sure to pack enough warm clothes if you plan your trip in that period.

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