Marine ConservationSouth Africa

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

You will receive marine ecology training and 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.

Learn to dive or advance your skills whilst exploring some of the Indian Ocean’s most glorious beaches. Live with a community of volunteers and experience life by the coast.

Divers of all abilities are welcome as training can be provided on site.

Join the team to learn more about the ocean and assist global marine conservation.

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Key Info

key info
  • Location: KwaZulu-Natal Province
  • Start dates: 1st of each month
  • Duration: 2 - 10 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (groups also welcome)
  • Availability: Limited availability
  • Cost: From £1345 / €1575 / $1720 - see fees table below
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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. The project collects biodiversity data and monitors species distribution in the park. 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.

Throughout your placement 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 research 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 to global or regional databases
  • 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.

Diving

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 and evenings are for research activities, ecology lectures and 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 and expedition groups 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?

The nature of the project requires consistent collection of data 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 invaluable data to a worldwide Citizen Science Database through iNaturalist.org which serves to identify and compile information on the distribution of species internationally. As well as this, volunteers contribute to national databases focussed on centralising knowledge about the biodiversity of South Africa’s fauna and flora.

With the assistance of volunteers, the local team are able to work in collaboration with the Oceanic Research Institute and contribute important research on species such as Potato Bass and Sea Turtles. These research findings can be used by South African Fisheries and Environmental Affairs to understand the impact of over-fishing, reef impact and human activities on these species.

“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

Accommodation

The volunteer camp is based near a small town, 10 minutes’ drive from the beach. Volunteers stay in basic cabins and there are communal areas inclusive of a fully equipped kitchen, an indoor lounge area with TV and DVD player, WIFI with large gardens and a swimming pool on site for volunteers to use.

Meals

Volunteers prepare their own meals with ingredients provided by the project. Here are typical examples of the food you may have: 

  • Breakfast – fruit, cereal, toast
  • Lunch – sandwiches, salad, pasta 
  • Dinner – pizza, salads, pasta, burgers, stews

There are vegetarians and vegans options available. 

The tap water is safe to drink.

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

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.

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 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.

Dates

Start dates are the 1st of each month.

What's Included

Included

  • Dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist to support you
  • Airport pick up (Richard’s Bay) and return transfers
  • Accommodation - a shared room
  • Food - all main meals
  • Induction
  • 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
  • Support from the local team (including certified PADI Dive Instructor)
  • Support from the Pod Volunteer UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Volunteering certificate and reference (on request)

Not included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations and medication
  • Living costs - snacks, drinks, laundry
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
2 weeks £1345 GB Pounds
1 month £1895 GB Pounds
Each additional 2 weeks £650 GB Pounds

Discounts

  • £75 discount for every additional project you book as part of the same trip
  • £75 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). 

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

Read volunteer reviews from the Marine Conservation project

Liz

“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!”

Lea

“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

543

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

Iona

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.

Apply

VOLUNTEER REVIEWS

  • 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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AWARDS AND ACCREDITATIONS

  • 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