South Africa – Marine Big 5 Conservation

Introducing our 2023 Volunteer Grant: Apply for three weeks and enjoy a 4th week for free!
Limited grants are available for start dates between October 1st till November 30th.
Schedule a phone interview to evaluate eligibility. Make a lasting impact.

Go on an experience of a lifetime in South Africa as you volunteer for the conservation of the Maring Big 5 species! Gain hands-on experience working in marine conservation with this highly reputable organization.


Program Highlights: 

  • Volunteer with a Fair Trade Tourism and Blue Flag certified research and eco-tourism organization
  • Work directly with marine biologists
  • Learn about the Marine Big 5 Species: sharks, whales, dolphins, penguins and the Cape fur seal
  • Educate tourists about marine conservation
  • Conduct research that supports conservation projects
  • Ethical wildlife volunteer tasks and interactions
  • Help at the African penguin and seabird sanctuary


Your Schedule at a Glance (Minimum two-week commitment): 

Arrival Day, Sunday: Arrive at Cape Town International Airport (CPT). Make your way to the city centre and spend the night there before getting picked up by the local team on Monday, who will take you to the project site.

Days 1-7, Monday-Sunday: Once you are on the project site, you will choose between a few experiences, based on your skills and interests. You can decide to join the shark cage-diving vessel one day and go on the ecotour/ whale-watching vessel the next. You can also help with bird rehabilitation at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary or have a restful day doing a beach clean-up.

Remaining Weeks: This project doesn’t have any scheduled free days. Volunteers will need to coordinate with the project directors if they want a day off, however as every day is varied on this project, many people enjoy staying the duration of their time there. Departures are on Monday.


Location icon Location of the Project: Gansbaai, South Africa

Project length Project length: Min 2 weeks – Max 12 weeks

Arrival Airport Arrival Airport: Cape Town International Airport (CPT)

Volunteer Work Volunteer Work: Marine conservation, research

Age Age:  18-80

Number of Volunteers Number of Volunteers: Up to 20 international volunteers

Important Note Important Note: Diving equipment, jacket, and boots are provided. Guided tour of Gansbaai and the surrounding areas included. We are working with wildlife and nature, both of which are unpredictable. We cannot guarantee sightings of any specific species. For this reason and in case of bad weather days, when we can’t go to sea, we recommend a 2-4 week minimum stay.


What’s Included

Accommodations Accommodations: Volunteers will stay in cottages for up to six people per cottage

Food Food: Breakfast and lunches are provided when on a vessel

Airport Transfers Airport Transfers: Pick up from Cape Town City Center (Note – not from the airport)

Support Support: Comprehensive and professional pre-departure travel guidance, 24/7 GoEco emergency hotline, experienced local field team.


What’s not Included

Flights, visas (if required), travel health insurance, airport transfer on departure day, telephone use, dinners ( approx. $90 USD per week), personal expenses, *Depending on arrival date and time – volunteers will have to organize accommodation for one night in Cape Town City Center

Gansbaai (Gans Bay; Bay of Geese), South Africa is known as the Great White Shark capital of the world. Just a two-hour drive from Cape Town, this beautiful coastal city is home to an abundance of both land and marine wildlife. Its coastal islands are home to vast populations of seals and one of the last remaining colonies of endangered African penguins while the channel in between them is called “Shark Alley,” because of the densest population of Great White sharks in the world. The Bay is also a vitally important breeding area for Southern Right whales, which migrate from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to mate and breed here from July-December. Surrounding the bay is a pristine yet rugged landscape with rich floral biodiversity and ancient Milkwood forests.

As a volunteer on this project, you will be completely involved in eco-tourism (cage diving and marine big 5 tours) and conservation work throughout your stay. While working alongside marine biologists, you will learn about the behaviors of the marine species in the area, including Southern Right whales, Humpback whales, Bryde’s whales and a variety of dolphins. You can learn about how researchers track marine life and what data needs to be recorded. You will also assist on the tourist boat by helping cage divers and educating visitors, plus you will go cage diving yourself to get up-close and personal with Great White sharks. Volunteers can also sign up to support the activities at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary or join a whale watching trip as part of their daily tasks.  (pending availability).


Time at Sea:

  • Shark Cage diving and whale watching
  • Tourism education and helping tourists on board
  • Population assessments of great white sharks through photographing fin ID’s, assisting with environmental data using a YSI, seabird data and other observational tasks as required
  • Shark species sighted around the cage diving vessel include, but are not limited to, Bronze whaler sharks (aka Copper sharks), white sharks, sevengill sharks, and short-tailed stingrays.
  • Assisting with research projects possible on case-by-case basis
  • Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) studies take place quarterly off the research boat
  • Some research observation on whales, dolphins, penguins, seals, or seabirds (seasonal)


Daily work includes:

  • Assisting in the daily diving operations (including taking part in the dives)
  • Assisting the skipper and crew in various duties
  • Laying and retrieving of anchors
  • Assisting with clients
  • Working with local children in education and beach clean-ups as needed
  • Data input as needed
  • Cleaning boats and preparing wetsuits
  • Photo identification of species
  • Supporting various conservation projects
  • Unpredicted experiences – e.g. Marine animal standings and retrievals.


African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary: Volunteers have the option to assist at the sanctuary as well. Those who choose this may expect to be involved in the following tasks:

  • Assisting visitors
  • Handling administrative tasks at the reception desk
  • General cleaning
  • Preparing food for the sanctuary’s inhabitants
  • Data capturing
  • Shadowing the staff


A typical day: You may educate cage divers about sharks, whales or penguins, and ongoing conservation methods before they cage dive. In the afternoon, you could clean the boat and wetsuits or working with local children to clean up the beach. You will work every day, weather permitting, for about 5-8 hours per day. During inclement weather, there will be organized excursions, or simply free time to explore the area.


Please note this project is completely weather dependent and there will be days when the weather is too bad to go to the sea. On these days, volunteers will have excursions or lectures arranged for them by the volunteer coordinators.

Internet icon Internet: Wi-Fi is available throughout the accommodations. There is a shared computer and wireless network available at the volunteer houses.

Laundry icon Laundry: Laundry can be sent away twice weekly. It is a same-day service for a small fee (about US$1.50 per kg). Bed linens will be washed weekly.

Accommodations icon Accommodations: You will stay in 1 of 4 shared cottages within the project’s facilities. Each cottage will house 4 to 6 volunteers and includes bed linens, a bathroom, mini kitchen, and living space with heating. The main hall has a large communal living space, a fully equipped kitchen, pool table, satellite TV, and a DVD player. There is a communal swimming pool, bicycles, and extensive garden area on the grounds for volunteers to use as well. The complex is about a 10 to 15-minute walk from the project offices and there is a minibus for the volunteers for all program activities. Each cottage is equipped with a safe to lock up valuables if needed.

Food icon Food: Light breakfast, including coffee, tea and cereal is provided. Lunch is provided and eaten aboard the boats. You are responsible for dinner, snacks, and any other personal expenses. The typical food budget for volunteers is about $90/week. The water at the accommodations is safe to drink.


  • Love for marine animals
  • Willingness to get hands dirty
  • Work well in a team and take directions from the skipper and crew
  • Ability to swim/ Volunteers should be physically fit
  • Minimum age of 18
  • Immunizations (consult your doctor)
  • We highly recommended it to bring seasickness tablets, as there is a lot of work to be done at sea.

Volunteer Add-on (Included):

Whale Conservation: Whale trips and eco trips throughout the year are conducted by the partner company and volunteers will assist at a local whale tourism and conservation organization, which conducts studies on the biology and behaviors of marine species, focusing strongly on eco-tourism, conservation efforts and education. Please note this project only operates from June-November. Those who choose this add-on may expect to be involved in the following tasks:

  • Assisting and educating ecotourists
  • Data Capturing
  • Boat preparation and cleaning

Please note: This project is completely weather dependent and there will be days when the weather is too bad to go to the sea. On these days, volunteers will have excursions or lectures arranged for them by the volunteer coordinators.


Time-off activities: 

  • Various excursions (normally on no-sea days) exploring the local area, road trips to most southern point of Africa, beer-& wine tastings, cave or mountain hiking, horse riding etc. just to name a few.
  • Night time activities – Braai nights, pubs, restaurants, pizza sunsets, quiz nights, etc.
  • Free visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium, prior to joining or after the program.



Volunteer Experiences

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