Marine Conservation

South Africa

Our Marine Conservation project in South Africa monitors the fauna and flora of Sodwana Bay.

You will help the local team contribute to turtle, shark, potato bass and manta ray research at one of the world’s prime dive locations. This research is used to protect and preserve the local ecosystem as well as contributing to global studies on migratory patterns of megafauna. The project also works with the local community to teach them about the importance of protecting these marine ecosystems. Divers of all abilities are welcome as training can be provided on site.

Learn to dive or improve whilst exploring some of the Indian Ocean’s most glorious beaches. Live within the local community and experience vibrant village life.

Join an active research team and assist global marine conservation.


Key Info

key info
  • Location: KwaZulu-Natal Province
  • Start dates: 1st of each month
  • Duration: 2 - 10 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (16+ for families), groups welcome
  • Availability: Spaces available (fully booked in Nov 2018)
  • Cost: From £1295 / €1515 / $1660 - see fees table below
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Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

The project’s primary objective is to monitor the fauna and flora of Sodwana Bay and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This research is used to protect and preserve the local ecosystem as well as contributing to global studies on migratory patterns of megafauna (large marine life). Sodwana Bay’s 50km reef is home to over 90 species of corals and sponges as well as over 1200 fish species.

Volunteers assist with several research projects within the marine park. Each day is different and may include:

  • Reef surveys
  • Data collection on megafauna populations and their changes, which may be influenced by shifting global weather patterns
  • Turtle, shark, potato bass and whale monitoring
  • Uploading photographs of individual sightings to global or regional databases
  • Contributing to Citizen Science ID databases

In addition to the day’s diving activities there are often land conservation activities which volunteers may be involved in, such as:

  • Local educational workshops
  • Collaboration with other local dive schools on conservation issues
  • Awareness campaigns

From November to March, there may also be the opportunity for ‘Turtle Walks’ where you can observe Leatherback turtles exiting the ocean to lay eggs on the beach.

Throughout your placement you will also complete a marine ecology course and a series of lectures which include fish, coral and invertebrate identification, data collection and survey 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 usually work 5 days per week between around 7am – 3pm, but times vary considerably depending on the weather. In general, mornings are spent diving, afternoons are spent inputting your findings into the database and evenings are spent in ecology lectures or relaxing. On your day off there are a variety of free time activities for you to get involved in.

Other volunteers

There are usually 6 – 10 volunteers at the Marine Conservation project, with up to 16 volunteers. There may also be up to 10 Child Care volunteers living in the same volunteer camp.

Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award

This placement has been approved by the DofE as meeting the requirements for the Residential section of the Gold Award.

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 behavioural 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.

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

“Volunteers enable us to collect photographic data of our target species – allowing us to contribute to databases which track protected species and migration. The aim of this is to protect endangered species of flora and fauna in the iSamangaliso park”
Emilia – Volunteer Coordinator

Location, free time and accomodation

South Africa

South Africa is situated at the southern tip of Africa and ranges from desert to sub-tropical. With dramatic landscapes, amazing wildlife and a rich and diverse culture and interesting history, South Africa has something for everyone. Popular activities in South Africa include:

  • Spotting the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) on safari
  • Travelling the Garden Route
  • Visiting Cape Town and sampling some of the local wines

To find out more, see the Lonely Planet South Africa.

Local area and free time

Sodwana Town is a small holiday village mostly visited by divers, deep sea anglers and beach lovers. The coastal town is only small, but provides access to essential amenities as well as some of the Indian Ocean’s most glorious beaches. The close-knit local community provide a warm welcome and volunteers quickly become part of vibrant village life.

Volunteers have 2 days off each week, usually at the weekend. As the project is located in a rural area, this is generally spent at the beach or accommodation relaxing, socialising with volunteers, having a BBQ, swimming in the pool or reading.

If you do travel further afield you can explore some of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches. You may also wish to visit 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.


The volunteer house is in the local village, 10 minutes from the beach. Volunteers stay in a cabin which may be shared with 1 other volunteer. The main house has a fully equipped kitchen, an indoor lounge area with TV and DVD player, WIFI and there are large gardens and a swimming pool on site for volunteers to use.

Read volunteer reviews from the Marine Conservation project


“The Marine Conservation project in South Africa was one of the most exciting, fun and rewarding things I’ve done. After completing the diving course, volunteers go on a dive a day to one of the many and varied beautiful reefs you can find in Sodwana Bay. The amount of marine life is amazing and your main project is to spot and identify the critically endangered Turtles and Potato Bass, and if you’re really lucky, the odd Manta Ray might glide past.

The team is so friendly and you will quickly find yourself part of the diving family and will learn a lot about marine conservation through the daily lectures and documentaries. If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, live closely with likeminded people and fall in love with the underwater world then this is for you! If you think you might like this project, then I guarantee you will LOVE it and not regret it. I now want to go back to Sodwana Bay every year!”


“Volunteering at the South Africa marine conservation project was a brilliant experience that will not be soon forgotten. Aside from the breathtaking diving, the volunteer coordinators were absolutely brilliant. The amount of passion they have for marine life is truly inspiring and passion invoking.

You get to connect with a variety of people who share the same passions as yourself in a stunning setting. Most rewarding is being able to see and learn about a variety of biodiversity that I haven’t had the privilege of interacting with until this project.”

Read more reviews

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 - a dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist
  • In-depth volunteering and planning your trip guides
  • 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 yourPod Volunteer Specialist
  • 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 £1295 GB Pounds
1 month £1795 GB Pounds
Each additional 2 weeks £625 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

"It was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever! Pod Volunteer provided the ideal amount of support and guidance"Satvinder


Pod UK Specialist

Iona has visited the project, apply and you'll hear from her 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