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Marine volunteer swiming with ray

Shark and ocean ecosystem volunteer

Research and protect marine species in South Africa at a UNESCO World Heritage site

Placement summary
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Who should join this placement?
Studying marine species involves a combination of bottom time and remote monitoring. Freedive with animals to study them face to face, you’ll also use equipment to gather long term ecological data


If you want an adventure and to help grow scientific understanding as you build skills and challenge yourself this volunteer placement is for you!

Location: iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa.

Length: 4 week min - 3 months max.


Group sizes: 3 - 10 average plus trainers

Marine wildlife volunteers on a boat trip in South Africa
What you'll be doing:
  • Study keystone species including sharks and rays

  • Survey unrecorded areas of reef

  • 3 – 5 boat trips a week

  • Freediving and scuba diving

  • Get up close with iconic wildlife

  • Build, maintain and use equipment

  • Gain professional skills and research experience

  • Study scientific specimens during lab and museum work

  • Explore the surrounding area and Sodwana bay

  • Gain and analyse data

Tiger shark on camera trap as part of research
White spotted wedge fish on a world class diving site in south africa

Volunteer and research assistant roles and duties

Volunteering at a marine research centre in South Africa

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park and UNESCO world heritage site is a place of varied ecosystems and unique species. Coastal grasslands and swamps, bays and lagoons and offshore coral reefs all provide a huge array of biodiversity. This area is home to nesting turtles, shark breeding sites and migration routes, undocumented coral reefs home to species yet recorded as well as pristine beaches.

During each work week you’ll help with ongoing research and marine ecology, gather data and study species or habitat health, prepare and use new equipment. such as remote viewing cameras, freedive with shark to study and protect these keystone species.

Monday to Friday

Boat work runs from 7am to 3pm, take part in surveys and research target species or ecosystems. When back at the research centre and after any boat trips you’ll help with cleaning, storage and maintenance of equipment.

When the weather doesn’t permit boat trips you’ll spend them at the research centre. Help with researching dried or preserved specimens, curating the onsite museum or analysing data itself.  

Weekends and free time

As a group, take part in the various activities in the surrounding area, from day trips to local safari parks to see the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) or meeting and working with local communities.

Join any time

Placements are available throughout the year. Please contact us to arrange your dates.

Long-term placements

From per week

Looking for a long-term volunteer or internship more than 3 months?

Contact us us for support.

What is included? 

We have taken care of all the details so you can focus on the adventure of a lifetime!

The placement includes:

  • Airport transfers to and from the reserve

  • Accommodation during your stay

  • Transportation and guides for all confirmed dives and group activities

  • 3 - 5 Boat trips per week

  • Dive gear / air refills

  • Shark lectures and study material

  • All itinerary/activity equipment is provided

  • Wi-fi access

  • Projects work

  • Meet and greet event in the UK

  • Fellow volunteer contact list, to be sent out prior to departure

  • 24-hour emergency onsite support

  • 100% financial security with your booking

What is not included?

Please note, we do not book, manage or coordinate the following:

  • Flights

  • Food and drink

  • Freediving / Diving courses

  • Travel insurance/ DAN insurance

  • Visa and Immigration requirements

  • Vaccinations and health screening/checks

  • Personal travel insurance

  • Optional activities

  • Must be above 18

  • Strong swimmer

  • Must have valid travel & DAN insurance

  • Must have booked return flights

  • Must organise any relevant travel and immigration documents

  • Must undergo any relevant medical checks and vaccinations

These are your personal responsibility and proof that all requirements have been met must be sent ahead of your arrival.

Marine diving wildlife volunteer in south africa
freediver with fish of the coast of south africa
What you can expect
Build marine skills and confidence in the water

As a group you’ll spend time in the ocean working with a variety of marine species. Gain confidence as you work on established projects, understand marine behaviour and how to study these animals safely.

Research and study sharks

The marine research centre specialises in shark research. The area is home to many species from the iconic whale shark to lesser known ragged tooth shark, swim with these impressive animals and help protect these keystone species for the future.

Survey and understand ecosystems

The coral reefs in iSimangaliso Wetland Park still contain many undocumented areas and unrecorded species. Surveying and gaining data on which species are present ensure the better monitoring and management of this environment.

Skills, equipment, techniques and policy

From boating and navigational skills, maintaining freediving and scuba diving equipment as well as ecological research and how to plan, implement and analyse a project. Learn and gain valuable experience that helps boost your confidence and career in marine ecology.

Lab and museum research

The centre hosts a museum that is open to the public, study specimens donated to the centre by the public and government. Help educate and give guided talks or write presentations to promote environmental awareness. Showcase the work the centre achieves and champion keystone species like sharks to promote sustainability.

Travel, optional days and activities

When not hard at work at the centre, we want you to get to know and explore South Africa. There are many exciting activities in the area you can choose to take part in. From microlight flights, quad bike tours or safari drives on nearby reserves to see wildlife.

Picture of the museum
People on shore studying
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