South Africa – Marine Big 5 Conservation

This program is now open and accepting volunteers!

Go on an experience of a lifetime in South Africa as you volunteer for the conservation of the Maring Big Five 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 Five Species: great white 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 out 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 be able to 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 out 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 everyday can be so 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 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 huge populations of seals and one of the last remaining colonies of endangered African penguins while the channel in between them is called “Shark Alley,” due to 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 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 have the opportunity to 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
  • 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
  • Tagging and tracking white sharks happens depending on research schedule and volunteers are accommodated on these trips
  • Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) studies take place quartlerly 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
  • Helping out at the seabird rehabilitation center
  • Supporting various conservation projects


A typical day: You may find yourself educating cage divers about sharks and ongoing conservation methods before they cage dive or spend the morning on the research boat. In the afternoon, you could be cleaning 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 sea. On these days, volunteers will have excursions or lectures arranged for them by the volunteer coordinators.

Internet icon Internet: WiFi 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 be staying 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, fully equipped kitchen, pool table, satellite TV, and a DVD player. There is a communal swimming pool, bicycles, and large 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.


Please take note of the project’s minimum requirements:

  • 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)
  • It is highly recommended to bring seasickness tablets, as there is a lot of work to be done at sea.

Volunteer Add-ons (Included):

African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary: Volunteers have the option to assist at the sanctuary as well (dependent on availability, number of birds at the sanctuary at any given time, and volunteer skills and experience). Those who choose this add-on 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


Whale Conservation: Whale trips (June to November) and eco trips throughout the year are conducted by the partner company and volunteers will have the option to assist at a local whale tourism and conservation organization, which conducts studies on the biology and behaviors of marine species, with a strong focus 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 sea. On these days, volunteers will have excursions or lectures arranged for them by the volunteer coordinators.


Scuba Certification: For an additional fee, volunteers who are staying a duration of at least 3-4 weeks can become NAUI SCUBA certified during their time on this volunteer project. (The recommended minimum duration is four weeks to allow for bad weather days.) This course is not always offered throughout the year, it depends on the season and availability. Volunteers will be required to provide proof of having completed a medical examination that certifies you fit to do a scuba course and dive up to 18m. Please remember to bring this certificate/letter with you!

Volunteer Experiences

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