Marine Conservation

South Africa

Learn to dive or improve whilst contributing to whale shark, turtle and manta ray research in Sodwana Bay; one of the world’s prime dive locations. Join an active research team and assist their contribution to global marine conservation.


Key Info

key info
  • Location: KwaZulu-Natal Province
  • Start dates: 1st of each month
  • Duration: 2 – 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+
  • Availability: Spaces available
  • Cost: From £1195 / €1435 / $1615 - see fees table below

Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

Volunteers assist with several research projects within the iSamangaliso marine park, these may include:

  • Reef surveys
  • Data collection on megafauna populations
  • Whale shark identification
  • Turtle and manta ray monitoring
  • Uploading photographs of individual sightings to global and regional databases
  • Contributing to Citizen Science ID databases

Volunteers learn various skills while in the marine camp, including the use of underwater camera equipment for photographic databases and identification techniques.

If you are a beginner diver you will complete your PADI Open Water training during your first week. Qualified Open Water divers are given the opportunity to complete a PADI Advanced Open Water course. Advanced level divers can choose to complete one course from a range of dive specialty courses (e.g. Deep Diver, Nitrox, Peak Performance Buoyancy, etc) or the Rescue Diver course.

Working days and hours

You will volunteer for 5 days per week. Generally volunteers conservation work at 7am and finish at 2pm with breaks throughout the day. Evenings will often be spent in ecology lectures or training for dive courses.

Other volunteers

There are usually 4 – 8 volunteers at the project at any one time, with a maximum of 8.

Volunteer reviews

Read about volunteer experiences and challenges in our South Africa Marine Conservation reviews.

Why are volunteers needed?

Research and data collection is labour intensive, so volunteers are an essential part of the project.

Volunteers help to document various types of megafauna, as well as assisting in the collection of basic environmental and behavioral data. Volunteers contribute to Citizen Science ID databases which is a platform used to centralise knowledge about the biodiversity of southern Africa’s fauna and flora.

Volunteers also upload all data and photographs and personal sightings they collect to global databases.

"As well as being essential for data collection, volunteers are future conservationists who are being exposed to the wonders of the underwater world and raising awareness on marine conservation."Johan, Project Coordinator

How is the Marine Conservation project making a difference?

The project’s primary objective is to monitor the fauna and flora of Sodwana Bay, part of the iSamangaliso Wetland Park which is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The project collects biodiversity data and monitors species distribution on the reef. This data is used to identify migratory patterns and population densities in the area. Research is also focused on whether environmental conditions affect sighting rates. Turtles, rays, sharks and groupers make up the majority the research, however volunteers also record sightings of endemic, iconic and rarely seen species.

The project also work with the local community to teach them about the importance of protecting these marine ecosystems.

Where will I be living?

Sodwana Bay is one of the world’s prime dive locations and its world-renowned coral reefs are frequently rated in the top five global dive destinations.

The volunteer house is in the local village, 10 minutes away from the beach. Volunteers stay in a cabin which may be shared with 1 other volunteer. There is a fully equipped kitchen in the main house, food is provided by the project, but volunteers cook their own meals. The house has an indoor lounge area with TV and DVD player and there are large gardens and a swimming pool on site for volunteers to relax during their free time.

There is internet available for a small additional cost.

During your free time you are encouraged to explore the local area, which includes some of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches. You may also wish to explore the variety of tourist attractions in the area, these include bird sanctuaries, game and nature reserves, whale watching, bungee jumping, surfing, sky diving and much more.

What's Included?

Before you go:

  • Carefully selected and vetted volunteer project
  • Support from our friendly and highly experienced Pod UK team
  • Single point of contact - Ellie is your dedicated placement manager
  • In-depth Volunteering Guide on your volunteering placement
  • Travel information - visa, health and safety advice
  • Access to specialist travel insurance at exclusive rates
  • Recommended travel agency for flights and tours
  • Access to special deals and resources
  • Fundraising guide and support
  • Financial protection for monies paid to Pod

On your placement:

  • Conservation volunteering placement
  • Airport pick up (Richard’s Bay) and return transfers
  • Accommodation - a shared room
  • Food - all main meals
  • Induction and conservation training
  • PADI Open Water qualification (or advanced qualification if already Open Water certified)
  • Marine ecology training
  • National Park fees, entrance fees and community levies
  • Return transport to beach for research dives
  • All research dives
  • Use of training manuals, ID guides, text books and survey equipment
  • Onsite support from local team (including certified PADI Dive Instructor)
  • Support from Pod UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Incident Management and Emergency Response Plans

On your return:

  • Contact from your placement manager
  • Feedback scheme
  • Volunteering certificate (on request)
  • References (on request)
  • Member of the Pod community

Not included: Flights, travel insurance, visa (if required). Budgeting guidance is provided in our Volunteering Guide which we will email you when you apply.

Pod Volunteer is run as a non-profit organisation. Fee levels are set to match costs and any surplus monies are distributed to the projects we work with via the Pod Charity.
Price table
2 weeks £1195 GB Pounds
1 month £1695 GB Pounds
Each additional 2 weeks £595 GB Pounds

Fees in currencies other than GBP are indicative only and volunteers are invoiced in GBP. For current exchange rates please see


sea turtle sightings this year

"Pod is a no nonsense volunteer organisation looking to change lives"Cian


Pod UK Specialist

Apply and you'll hear from Ellie soon!

We look forward to receiving your application! There is no commitment by applying and we will send more information.



  • South Africa Marine Conservation volunteer – Christian

    “I liked the different lectures and presentations which convinced me to become a marine biologist. I also had loads of fun!”

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • South Africa Marine Conservation volunteer – Franziska

    “Sodwana Bay is the most beautiful place to dive. The people are really friendly and make you feel welcome, I don’t want to leave.”

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • South Africa Marine Conservation volunteer – Jule

    “My stay was better than expected and the diving is the best in the world. The project is really cool and I would love to stay longer. I suppose I have to come back again.”

    Read more volunteer reviews


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  • Tourism Concern
  • Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust
  • Right Tourism
  • DOFE
  • theguardian
  • the independent
  • Sunday Times
  • Year Out Group
  • Best Volunteering Organisation
  • Wall Street Journal