Featured Project - Indian Ocean Reef Conservation

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Project Details

Sodwana Bay is situated on the coast within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa`s first World Heritage Site.  Sodwana Bay is the hub of this marine national park, which stretches along the warm Indian Ocean coastline from South Africa to Mozambique in the north.  The iSimangaliso Wetland Park supports a diverse array of marine habitats including some of the world’s southernmost coral reefs at Sodwana Bay, Africa’s largest estuary at St. Lucia, mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows, intertidal reefs and deep water canyons.

Volunteers assist with a number of projects within the marine park, including underwater surveys and data collection on the turtle and ray populations living on the reefs, as well as contributing to global whale shark research through data collection and photographic identification of individual whale sharks.

The turtle surveys are geared towards providing groundbreaking data on male turtle populations, as virtually all turtle research worldwide is conducted on females at nesting beaches.

Volunteers will gain practical experience of the day-to-day operations of a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) dedicated to raising awareness about marine conservation and may also have the opportunity to participate in dedicated shark ecology and biology courses. 


Volunteers are accommodated in the WTSA partner dive lodge, in shared rooms. The lodge is fully furnished with all modern conveniences, including swimming pool and free WiFi (wireless internet connection). The accommodation is located in Sodwana Bay town, a safe area and within walking distance to restaurants etc. The beach is about 10 minutes drive from the accommodation in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park

Volunteers share accommodation at the camp, with each room housing two volunteers in bunk beds.  There is a communal toilet and shower block with hot and cold water; an indoor lounge area (with TV, DVD and Satellite Channels) and a dining and outdoor relaxation area where volunteers can spend their time in the evenings.  There is also a barbeque and swimming pool area, along with a fully-equipped kitchen with gas stoves, microwave ovens and fridge/freezers.

What will you do?

Throughout their stay, volunteers will participate in a number of marine projects and be assigned a variety of responsibilities. Projects in which volunteers participate depend on the time of year and weather conditions.

Volunteers will be continually trained in all methodologies that are required to collect data throughout their stay. During the initial phase of their stay volunteers will be given an understanding of West Indian Ocean reef ecology and will participate in a Marine Ecology Training Course and lecture series presented by the resident marine volunteer coordinator.  Volunteers will also undergo their initial scuba dive training (if not yet qualified), or any further advanced or speciality courses (if already qualified).

Volunteers will receive PADI Project AWARE qualifications as part of their marine ecology course: 1. Project AWARE 2. AWARE Coral Reef Conservation (both non-diving courses) 3. Project AWARE Fish ID

Whale Shark Identification:  Volunteers join boat-based survey transects looking for whale sharks along the Sodwana Bay coastline. If a whale shark is encountered data is collected in-water (snorkelling at the surface), while photographs are taken to be uploaded to the global whale shark research database, ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-Identification Library at www.whaleshark.org.

BRAND NEW! Global Manta Ray Database:  August 13, 2012 was a groundbreaking day for global manta ray research, as the first-ever worldwide research project was launched by ECOCEAN at www.mantamatcher.org. Volunteers will assist in contributing ID photographs to this new global database.

Megafauna Surveys:  Volunteers conduct underwater scuba diving surveys, counting and photographing various large marine species in the area, in order to help gain an understanding of population dynamics.

Underwater turtle surveys are geared mainly towards creating  ID databases for green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles on the local reefs, as well as providing data on male turtle populations and collecting a range of data on the reef's turtle populations.

Large reef predators such as sharks, rays and groupers are also surveyed, with a view to building a better understanding of the population dynamics on local reefs.

At the completion of each day in the field, volunteers are required to process and enter data that has been collected throughout the day.  Volunteers may be required to spend time processing photographic and video samples and uploading images to databases, as well as participating in the Marine Ecology Lecture Series, amongst other responsibilities.

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Volunteer Comments

Lisa Knickmann (Germany)

"My stay in South Africa was amazing! I did my Open Water Scuba diver course, learned a lot about the marine environment, saw a lot of cool fish, sharks, turtles and got to swim with dolphins! I also met a lot of amazing people, so I had a great time and there was nothing I could complain about. I would of course recommend the Indian Ocean Reef conservation to anyone!"
Stephanie Lotz (Germany)

"The children are so beautiful, it was so great to give them love back."
Monika Wagner (Germany)

"This was the most fascinating thing I've ever done, I would recommend the project because it is so different to work with such fascinating animals. You will never get the chance to be so close to them otherwise... my highlight was to see a really big leatherback turtle nesting."
Rebekka Mangold (Germany)

"I enjoyed playing with the kids, getting a relationship with the children and seeing their smiles. It is very good that there is a contact person (volunteer coordinator - Ed); the communication was very good and we always got information at any time. I got an insight into another culture and some of my highlights were doing a trip to Cape Point, making new friends and to "live" in another country."
Samantha Weight (United Kingdom)

"I had a magical time in the National Park. It is a pity my stay was so short and I have to go home - still, it was exactly what I needed!"
Letitia Mckie (England)

"Working at the AIDS Orphanage has been an absolutely brilliant experience and I would definitely say that working there has been the highlight of my time in South Africa."
Elizabeth Eilenstein (Germany)

"Of course the Cheetahs! They are wonderful animals! I'm glad that I was able to help a little and be part of this organisation. In my opinion there are no negatives and I was in good hands!"
Sylvia Uthmann (Germany)

"I loved my work and everybody from the project is very nice. They are grateful for the work we do and it was a wonderful experience to meet these people."