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Meghan's Volunteer Experience in South Africa- Shark Week(s)

With a three-week break from school in January, I decided to apply for the Great White Shark Conservation project, and ended up in sunny South Africa to start off my new year. I quickly fell into a routine of working as an international marine volunteer, waking up early to get on the first shark diving boat that went out every day. While I mainly served as a deck hand, I had a significant amount of time to meet clients who had come from all over the world to see these dynamic creatures, and to get into the cage with them myself! Seeing a 14-foot shark gracefully gliding through the water, curiously coming up to the bait or fake seal decoy was absolutely incredible, and dispelled a lot of the perceptions I had that these sharks are vicious, man-eating animals. 

While I came for the sharks, I also fell in love with the penguins that had been brought to the sanctuary. Injured or sick, these penguins were taken care of by the wonderful staff; I showed up for evening feedings, and after a few sessions, I got to help with the feedings myself! Separating frozen fish and nearly having my fingers bitten off by feisty birds may have not been the most glamorous part of the job, but providing nourishment for the birds and then seeing some of them released back to Dyer Island was incredibly rewarding.

Evenings were fun, and filled with opportunities to hang out with the other volunteers. Whether we were having a braai (a South African barbeque) or hanging out by the pool at our accommodations, I became fast friends with people from all over the world, and was exposed to a handful of new cultures and ideas. While we spent some nights at the local bar, mixing with locals and indulging in Brandy and Coke (another South African classic), most nights I was in bed early preparing for another early morning on the shark boat. 

A few times throughout my experience, we had “no sea days,” where high swells prohibited our boats from going out. When we weren’t working, our wonderful volunteer coordinators, Hennie and Etienne, took us on fabulous excursions around the area. I visited Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, went kelp diving at a local beach, and went to a local brewery for a beer tasting. The program did a great job of keeping us busy, but also making sure we had time to explore the area and see even more of South Africa! 

I have nothing but positive things to say about this program- it was truly the adventure of a lifetime! I can’t wait to go back to the beautiful country, and meet up and do more traveling with the new friends I have made. A huge thank you to GoEco for helping me find this project, and to the wonderful people in Gansbaai who have given me bright and unique memories!