Marine Conservation
South Africa

Our Marine Conservation project in South Africa is based in South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Join the team to learn more about the ocean and marine conservation, while diving in one of the Indian Ocean’s top diving locations. Species of focus include turtles, sharks, potato bass and manta rays.

Learn to dive or advance your skills whilst exploring an abundance of reefs and encountering iconic marine life. Divers of all abilities are welcome and training is provided on site. You’ll be based in the relaxed village of Sodwana Bay, with its pristine beaches, natural scenery and nearby wildlife reserves.


Key Info

key info
  • Location: KwaZulu-Natal Province
  • Start dates: Throughout the year
  • Duration: 2 - 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+
  • Availability: Spaces available
  • Cost: From £1495 / €1735 / $1870 - see fees table below
View More Photos

Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

Sodwana Bay’s 50km reef is home to over 90 species of corals and sponges as well as over 1200 fish species.

The project’s primary objective is to monitor the fauna and flora of Sodwana Bay and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, gathering biodiversity data and monitoring species distribution. Volunteers collect photos and record sightings of turtles (Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead), rays, sharks and groupers as well as endemic, iconic and rarely seen species. This data is fed into global and regional databases which aim to identify the migratory patterns and population densities of fauna and flora.

You will complete a marine ecology course and a series of lectures which include fish, coral and invertebrate identification, data collection and survey techniques. These learnings will then be applied during the dives.

Each day is different and activities may include:

  • Reef surveys
  • Data collection on megafauna populations and their changes, which may be influenced by shifting global weather patterns
  • Population surveys on potato bass
  • Turtle, shark, and whale monitoring
  • Uploading photographs of individual sightings
  • Uploading photographs to monitor the impact of plastic pollution and coral bleaching

The project is also part of PADI’s Project Aware which works with scuba divers across the globe to protect underwater environments.

Dive courses

In order to assist with the conservation work you will need to have at least your Open Water certification. You will receive one dive course included in your placement fee:

  • Beginners complete the PADI Open Water course
  • Open Water divers complete the PADI Advanced Open Water course
  • Advanced level divers can choose to complete one course from a range of PADI dive specialty courses e.g. Deep Diver, Nitrox, Underwater Naturalist, Peak Performance Buoyancy, or the Rescue Diver course

If you would like to undertake any additional courses, these can be arranged and paid for once at the project. It's also possible to do a Divemaster Conservation 12 week Internship.

Typical day

You will usually participate for 5 days per week between around 7am – 3pm, but times can vary depending on the weather. In general, mornings are spent diving, afternoons and evenings are for ecology lectures and relaxing.

There will normally be 1 dive per day. It takes around 3 hours in total to launch, travel to the dive spot and return to shore – around 1 hour of this will be spent diving. There are 10 dives included every 2 weeks (extra dives can be paid for locally if you would like to dive more).

On your days off there are a variety of free time activities for you to get involved in.

Other volunteers

There are usually 4-10 volunteers (with a maximum of 14), numbers vary throughout the year. Volunteers are predominantly 18-25 years old.

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.

Local support

You will be supported by a local volunteer coordinator with a keen interest in marine ecology. They will be often be diving with you and will lead the lecture series that runs alongside the volunteer programme.

“Volunteers enable us to collect photographic data of our target species – allowing us to contribute to databases which track protected species and migration.” Emilia – Volunteer Coordinator


Volunteers stay in a rustic bush camp in the village of Sodwana.

South Africa Marine Conservation accommodation

The camp has shared cabins and rooms, a shared bathroom block, a communal eating area, self-catering kitchen facilities and a lovely outdoor braai (BBQ) area. There is WIFI.

SA Marine camp bedroom


The camp has a fully equipped kitchen and volunteers make breakfast, lunch and weekend dinners for themselves, using food supplies provided and usually taking turns to cook within the group. There is a cook who prepares dinner from Monday to Friday. 

Here are typical examples of the food you may have: 

  • Breakfast – fruit, cereal, toast
  • Lunch and dinner – sandwiches, salad, pasta, pizza, burgers, stews

There are vegetarian and vegan options available. 

The tap water is safe to drink.

Getting there

You will need to fly into Johannesburg Airport (JNB) and then take a connecting flight to Richards Bay Airport (RCB).

You will be met on arrival at Richards Bay Airport and driven to the project, which takes about 3 hours.

Location and free time

Sodwana Bay is situated just outside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park forms a continuous protected area stretching 150km from the Mozambique border southwards to St. Lucia and three nautical miles out to sea.

The park supports a diverse array of marine habitats including some of the world’s southernmost coral reefs, Africa’s largest estuary, mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows, intertidal reefs and deep water canyons. This makes it an ecosystem that it is extremely important to monitor and protect.

Sodwana Town itself 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. There are lots of nice cafes with a laid back vibe and a couple of bars and restaurants to enjoy.

Sodwana Bay

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 and socialising with volunteers. There is also some amazing stargazing to do at night!

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.

Dive conditions

Water temperature: 20-29˚C

Visibility: 10-30m

Depth range: 10-40m

Common marine life you will encounter: the reef is home to 80% of South Africa’s fish species with big fish including the potato bass, crayfish and varieties of tropical reef fish. Humpback whales, whale sharks, ragged-tooth sharks and black marlin may also migrate through the waters seasonally.


Sodwana Bay has a subtropical climate with hot, wet summers between December and March and mild, drier winters between May and September. During the summer months, temperatures are typically between 25-32˚C. During the winter, temperatures are generally around 18˚C but can fall to lows of around 12 ˚C.

Travelling in South Africa before or after your placement

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 that you might like to combine with your project are:

  • 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

For more information on South Africa and some of the things we loved when we visited there please see our South Africa country page. This also features all our other South Africa volunteering projects as you might like to consider combining this project with one of the others we offer to make a trip of a lifetime!

South African reserve


2024: 2 Jan, 15 Jan, 5 Feb, 19 Feb, 4 Mar, 18 Mar, 1 Apr, 15 Apr, 6 May, 20 May, 3 Jun, 17 Jun, 1 Jul, 15 Jul, 5 Aug, 19 Aug, 2 Sep, 16 Sep, 7 Oct, 21 Oct, 4 Nov, 18 Nov, 2 Dec, 16 Dec

2025: 6 Jan, 20 Jan, 3 Feb, 17 Feb, 3 Mar, 17 Mar, 7 Apr, 21 Apr, 5 May, 19 May, 2 Jun, 16 Jun

What's Included


  • Dedicated Pod Volunteer specialist to support you from booking on until you complete your trip
  • Comprehensive trip planning guide
  • Richard's Bay airport pick up and transfer to accommodation 
  • Transfer from accommodation to Richard's Bay airport 
  • Accommodation 
  • Food - all main meals
  • PADI Open Water qualification (or Advanced qualification if already Open Water certified)
  • Induction and marine ecology training
  • Transport to beach for dives
  • Dives
  • Use of dive equipment - BCDs, tanks, regulators, weights
  • Use of training manuals, ID guides, text books and survey equipment
  • National Park fees, entrance fees and community levies
  • Support from the team onsite in South Africa (including PADI Dive Instructor)
  • 24/7 emergency support from the Pod Volunteer UK team 
  • Donation to Pod Environmental Fund tackling climate change
  • 100% payment protection through ABTOT 
  • Volunteering certificate and reference (on request)

Not included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations 
  • Dive equipment - westuit, mask & snorkel, fins (can be rented at the project)
  • Living costs - snacks, drinks, laundry
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
2 weeks £1495 GB Pounds
Extra 2 weeks £895 GB Pounds


  • £50 discount if you have previously volunteered with Pod Volunteer 

Where the money goes - financial transparency

Your fee covers the overseas costs of volunteering and the costs of running our organisation in the UK, on a non-profit basis.  For more details and a breakdown of our costs please click here.

Book with confidence - financial protection

All monies paid to us are financially protected through The Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited (ABTOT). 


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

Read volunteer reviews from the Marine Conservation project


"This project was an amazing experience that I will never forget. The dive sites were amazing and everyone there was always supportive, nice and easy to talk to. On our dives we looked for Potato bass, Turtles and Rays to ID and put into a database. Although trying to find the specific name of the turtle or potato bass could take a while it was always interesting to find out who we saw and how long it had been since their last sighting.

I also really enjoyed the lectures that Emilia and Arno gave because we learnt so much about Sodwana Bay, coral reefs and other marine environments; if you had any questions they would always know the answer!

What did you find most rewarding?
Learning so much more about the fish and invertebrates found on coral reefs - especially ones you may not notice until they are pointed out to you.

I would recommend staying more than 2 weeks if you are a beginner diver because if you need to get your open water it doesn’t leave much time to do much of the conservation work."


“Definitely worth it! It is an amazing experience with people from all over the world with one main thing in common. If I regret something is being there for only two weeks and not more. Everything was amazing! Amazing people and places.


"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. On top of this, you get to connect with a variety of people who share the same passions as yourself in a stunning setting."


“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 in quite basic but close knit accommodation and fall in love with the underwater world then this is for you!"

Read more reviews


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


24/7 support

Alex and the Pod UK team are here to help you throughout your trip

Reserve your place and start your volunteering adventure to South Africa!



  • South Africa Marine Conservation volunteer – Lea

    "Volunteering was a brilliant experience that will not be 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."

    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 – Alexandra

    "This project was an amazing experience that I will never forget. The dive sites were amazing and everyone there was always supportive, nice and easy to talk to. We looked for Potato bass, Turtles and Rays to ID and put into a database."

    Read more volunteer reviews


We have other projects you may be interested in


You can also combine projects to make the volunteering trip of a lifetime!