This project offers the opportunity to volunteer with sea turtles in Kenya and take part in a variety of different sea turtle conservation related projects, as listed below. We are happy to discuss each area of work with you and are also open to your suggestions and welcome students with research ideas.
Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Work & Research
Turtle patrols are undertaken each night (during nesting season) at varying hours to monitor and help protect nesting/hatching activity. These patrols can involve walks of up to 8km per night. The nesting population is small and has an irregular season at Watamu, so seeing nesting events are by no means guaranteed.
Marine patrols to collect information on illegal/destructive fishing activities and turtle mortality.
Volunteers are not expected to conduct these patrols on their own. A community / LOT field officer undertakes most of these patrols and the volunteers provide him with very useful assistance.
After a turtle nest hatches it is excavated to see what proportion of eggs have hatched successfully.
Assisting with sea turtle net releases and research
Participating in sea turtle releases and related research is a popular activity with volunteers, and is something that you are sure to be involved in during your time with us and is a main part of sea turtle conservation volunteer work at Watamu.
There is the possibility that during your stay with us we may have a turtle in rehabilitation at the office. Volunteer assistance is required in feeding, keeping the tanks clean and for the strong swimmers, the turtles for sea swims to rehabilitate them back into the sea.
Other sea turtle conservation volunteer/research work:
Education & awareness
Signage - Producing and distributing conservation related signs in Park & Reserve areas is an ongoing activity.
Assisting the development and running of the Local Ocean Marine Centre - helping with designing displays, games for children, guiding visitors, group visits etc.
Displays in our marine centre are periodically changed and we would love your input in designing these. The artistic and creative are Educational materials and activities
Further development and implementation of the LOT field education programme in local schools and fish landing sites
Creating and working with alternative income generation activities.
Developing ideas for fishing community members to generate alternative incomes to current unsustainable marine resource exploitation.
Local crafts activity and community development work.
Improved awareness and practice in recycling and composting.
Fundraising events, links with international schools, local craft designs etc.
Languages and help with translations
You can take part in the Watamu Sea Turtle Watch programme throughout the year as the By-Catch release programme operates the whole time with anywhere between 10 and 90 turtles being released from fishing nets per week. The Rehabilitation centre also operates all year round but is particularly busy during August and November / December. The peak nesting season is from May to August but occasionally we get turtles nesting throughout the year.
As volunteers, you will be supervised on all of the projects by a resident volunteer co-ordinator who will be there to train and guide you throughout your time on the project. You will also receive orientation and proper training at the beginning of the project.
The Watamu Marine Park is part of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve and has been designated as a place of great natural beauty with miles of beautiful beaches and corals rich in marine flora and fauna.
Watamu / Malindi Marine Parks and Reserve (WMMPR) covers an area of 229 km2 and is part of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, that also includes the Arabuko Sokoke Coastal forest. The WMMPR protected areas consist of two Marine Parks: Malindi in the North, and Watamu in the South. This amounts to approximately 30kms of coastline, with a fringing reef along its entirety, as well as numerous patch reefs. The fringing reef forms several lagoons, some of which are still rich in coral and fish species. The Parks and Reserves provide an important residing and feeding habitat for sea turtles, while the 5km beach within Watamu Marine Park is a key turtle nesting ground in the country.
The Sea Turtle Programme in Kenya
Watamu Turtle Watch was formed in 1997 to continue and develop the marine turtle conservation efforts of a local naturalist Barbara Simpson, which she had been undertaking in the area since the 1970's. Very quickly they came to realise that the survival of the marine turtles in Watamu was intrinsically linked to the well being of the surrounding marine environment and to the protection of turtles across their migratory range.
Concerned by the widespread degradation of the Kenyan marine environment, and national exploitation of marine turtles, they broadened its conservation efforts to encompass these issues while maintaining a focus of its turtle activities in the Watamu / Malindi area. They work in close co-operation with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Fisheries Department, Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and the Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation Committee (KESCOM), of which it is a member.
2014 Dates & Costs
4 March to 1 April
1 April to 29 April
29 April to 27 May
27 May to 24 June
24 June to 22 July
22 July to 19 August
19 August to 16 September
16 September to 14 October
14 October to 11 November
11 November to 9 December
Volunteers can join from 4 weeks minimum up to 8 weeks maximum - 6 places available per group. We are flexible with dates, so please email: Victoria.firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.
You can take part in the Watamu Turtle Watch programme throughout the year as the By-Catch release programme operates the whole time. The Rehabilitation centre also operates all year round but is particularly busy during August and November / December. The peak nesting season is from May to August but occasionally we get turtles nesting throughout the year.
The cost for 4 weeks is £980 and for 8 weeks is £1885, which covers all project costs, including one day time meal at lunchtime on weekdays (the rest is self catered), quality accommodation in the Lallies House, airport transfers from Malindi, all training and supervision by Project Manager and Volunteer Co-ordinator, WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support. In addition, you will get the use of bicycles to use whilst you are there. Cleaning is also included in the price and laundry can be done at minimal extra cost paid in local currency.
The airfare to Malindi (local airport), travel/ medical insurance and personal expenses are not included within this price. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.
Food, Lodging, Travel, Free Time & Practicalities
Food and accommodation:
You will be living in a very nice new and clean building, which is called Lallies House. It has a capacity of eight and volunteers share two to a room with each room having an ensuite (toilet, sink and shower). (If there are only 4 volunteers, then you have a room to yourself.) There are also two large outdoor covered living areas and a communal dining area and a large communal kitchen (including fridge and microwave). The house is located on the same plot as the main office and turtle rehabilitation centre and has good security, a small plunge swimming pool and is about a 5 minute walk to the beach. There is also electricity and running water.
The volunteer accommodation is self contained and volunteers cook for themselves or can eat out. Weekday lunchtime meals are included in the volunteer fees. Imported food is expensive but there is an excellent selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat available in the village at very reasonable prices. There are also many eating options available in the village if you would like to eat out, ranging from international style restaurants to inexpensive roadside grills.
Travel to Watamu
Currently the best and cheapest way to get to Watamu is to fly to Nairobi and then take an internal flight from Nairobi to Malindi. You can book internal flights with Air Kenya, Fly540 or Kenyaairways through most international travel agents. You will then be collected from Malindi airport if you arrive on a weekday (except for Monday) and between 9 to 4PM (as we have staff available for pickups then). Flying directly to Mombasa international airport is another option but it can be more expensive with the additional hassle of a 2hr taxi drive from Mombasa to Watamu. Details of other transport options (Bus, train, Matatu and car hire) between Nairobi and Mombasa (overnight train, bus, luxury mini-bus), and Mombasa and Watamu (bus, matatu, taxi) can be found in guide books such as the Lonely Planet Guide to Kenya, and Kenya on a Shoestring.
Type of volunteers needed
You should be 18 years old and over, fit, healthy and capable of carrying out manual work in all conditions in a hot climate. No specific skills are needed, but those with previous experience of sea turtle monitoring, conservation work, community development projects etc. would be particularly useful, as well as those who are self-motivated, as you will get more out of the project if you are. We are also looking for volunteers who can take their own initiative, and who don't always need to be told what to do, and who work well in a team. The project will especially appeal to those with an interest in marine biology. Anyone with additional skills, such as arts and creativity, languages and education are especially welcome.
Practicalities - living & volunteering in Watamu
You will have regular interaction with the Volunteer Coordinator, who will be your supervisor and is usually available on a daily basis. Other members of staff will provide support and training depending on which activities you find yourself participating in.
When you arrive in Watamu we will provide information on the location and types of local amenities. Below is a summary of what you can expect.
We recommend you refer to a good guidebook, such as the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, for descriptions of the area and especially for Kenya as a whole. Such guidebooks also provide an excellent insight into local culture and practicalities.
The Watamu area is part of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, and so is an area of great natural beauty. There are miles of beautiful, mostly quiet, beaches with safe swimming. The coral reef is rich in marine fauna and flora, and offers excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities. There is also a whole array of watersports available in the area, as well as glass-bottom boat trips and deep-sea sport fishing. Mida Creek a lovely area for interesting walks amongst the mangroves, boat trips and birding.
The Gede ruins are some of the oldest in the country and are beautifully set in dense forest. The Kipepeo Butterfly Farm next to the Gede Museum is a very interesting project aimed at encouraging sustainable use of forest resources. Arabuko Sokoke Forest is the largest remaining tract of indigenous coastal forest in E Africa. It is also the second most important forest in terms of biodiversity and endemic species in the whole of Africa! There are lots of nature trails here and also a tree house.
Watamu village and amenities
Watamu itself is small village functioning primarily as a fish landing site and tourist area. There are 7 major hotels in the area, mostly concentrated at the northern end of the marine park. Most of these operate as small scale, package style, club operations. The local people of the area are mostly of the Christian Giriama or Muslim Bajuni tribes. There is a good array of shops in the area to cater for food shopping and medical needs. There are also internet facilities, local style eateries, tourist restaurants, and 2 prominent African bars/discos. Anything you can't find in Watamu you will be able to find in the much larger town of Malindi (20kms to the north). Malindi is also the hub for tourism and transportation in the area, and has a regional airport. The city of Mombasa is approx. 2hrs to the south by bus. Visit http://www.watamu.net/watamu-village.html
for more information about the Watamu area.
The project has a small Suzuki 4X4 vehicle for project activities and will supply basic bikes for volunteers personal use. Watamu is well serviced by public transport (“matatus” and busses) to Malindi and Mombasa.
The project has purchased a "Pay As You Go" mobile telephone and shall cover the costs of all calls made for project work. Volunteers may purchase extra units to cover personal calls during their time with the project. There are international telephone services available in Watamu, as well as internet services, though these are cheaper in nearby Malindi. The project is unable to provide internet service.
It is never cold in Watamu so basically bring clothes for a beach holiday. There is a rainy season April-July, which means that some days we may get a few hours of rain (if you come in this time a light raincoat would be useful). It can get chilly on the beach at night with the wind, so it is advisable to bring a couple of light sweaters.
The medical facilities in the area are basic but adequate for all but the worst accidents. In event of bad accidents and severe illness Mombasa has a good hospital and there are very good medical facilities in Nairobi. Visit you local doctor at least a month before you come to Kenya to get all your necessary vaccinations. They will be able to advise you on what is required. Malarone is a common anti-malarial used by volunteers.
Volunteers need to come in on a normal 1-3 month tourist visa (they are normally multiple entry and will also get you into Tanzania and Uganda ) - they cost 50 USD (need to be paid in US Dollars, Euros or GB Pounds - USD is best for airport and they won't have change.) For most countries they can be bought at the airport when you arrive, however we would advise checking particularly if you come from a little known country.
Below is an interactive map showing the location of the project:
This video shows our project manager in Kenya filming some of the sea turtle hatchlings leaving their nest, and heading to the ocean for the very first time!
The video below shows Leatherback sea turtle nesting on the project. Leatherback turtles migrate through Kenyan waters but do not usually nest. This is possibly the first recorded sighting of a nesting leatherback turtle on Kenya's beaches.
Click here to download the latest project newsletter from September 2013
Sofia Gothlin, aged 18, from Sweden, spent one month volunteering with sea turtles in August at Watamu
The time in Watamu was incredible! Couldn't have been better; The accommondation, the people I was able to work with and all the amazing projects I got to be a part of. I will definitely go back some time to work with them again. I have nothing bad to say really, and I can absolutely recomend this project for other volunteers!
Sian Sidaway volunteered with the Watamu programme last Summer, and describes the experience
It was an amazing experience, that has changed what I want to do when I graduate from university. It was so rewarding giving my time and seeing the differences that were being made. The work that the staff are doing is amazing, and it shows that they enjoy the work that they do. I particularly enjoyed working with Fikiri and Kahindi. Both of them are self taught and not only took the time to talk to you about the turtles and let you get involved but they also took the time to talk about life in Kenya.
The staff were amazing and from day one I was involved with all of the tasks including; looking after the sick turtles in the rehabilitation centre, feeding them and applying medication, going out on rescues in Watamu as well as some further afield, educating children and adults that visited the rehabilitation centre, doing night patrols for nesting turtles and hatching nests, nest relocation, beach surveys and even doing a dissection of a turtle that unfortunately passed away.
I experienced things that are once in a lifetime everyday which was truly extraordinary and I hope to return again next year to see how all of the turtle are doing although a lot of them have been released back into the wild now already, which is amazing and feels great to have had a part in their recovery.
My favourite part was seeing the nests hatch and the young hatchlings running down the beach. We had to build runways to aid them into the sea, as well as returning 4 days after the hatch to do a nest excavation to calculate the nest success. It was amazing when there were still some hatchlings in the nest as they would have died without us helping them out.
I met some truly amazing people that I will keep in touch with. The other volunteers were all just as hard working and came from a variety of backgrounds so was a good experience to meet them too. The accommodation was by far the best volunteer accommodation I have ever seen as well and the two cooks were lovely. Each day they prepared lunch for all of us and the entire staff sat and ate together which meant me we picked up on a lot of Swahili and got to eat local foods.
An amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for something life changing.
Jo Hocking from the UK, gives her feedback on volunteering with sea turtles on the Watamu Turtle Programme
1. What was the most positive aspect of the volunteering with WTW?
Learning what goes into turtle conservation to save these magnificent sea creatures for future generations – I loved digging, excavating, releasing – being hands on after years in an office was great.
2. What was your greatest moment?
Seeing baby turtles hatch from their nest – amazing!
Touching a turtle and releasing it for first time – swimming back to sea to freedom – what a great feeling!
Seeing kisumni back in the ocean – her natural habitat.
Helping out National Geographic knowing that this program will be shown to millions worldwide – spreading the message.
3. Would you recommend our volunteer programme?
Of course – a great insight into conservation. It has got my passion for conserving animals stirred up and ready to take on other projects around the world!
4. How easy/difficult did you find it to live in Watamu
Very easy. You have access to just about everything. I think it is important for a solo volunteer staying in new accommodation out of town to get the chance to experience the village life. It could be quite isolating for them if they are shy and a bit culture shocked. Might need to organise a few nights out in the village for the younger students. Otherwise Mama Diwani’s was great!
Sam Thomas from the UK, gives his feedback on volunteering with sea turtles at the Watamu Turtle Programme
1. What was the most positive aspect of the volunteering with WTW?
Without a doubt the sense of excitement that coupled with the fact that some kind of positive difference was being made by your actions. Getting involved with the local community, and relocating turtle nests in the middle of the night!
2. What volunteer activities should we start to do?
Community engagement programs; perhaps getting volunteers to work with local fishermen to resolve certain problems and hold some kind of workshop day with the community
3. What was your greatest moment?
I’m not sure its possible to answer that with only one memory. It could have been waiting for hours for a nest to hatch, and watching them disappear into the ocean as the day drew away (bizarre understanding of how small they are compared to what they were venturing into), or snorkelling into the coral reefs, or meeting so many people…. There are thousands!
4. How did you find the accommodations and facilities?
Amazing, house was gorgeous
5. How easy/difficult did you find it to live in Watamu
Very easy, and ultimately very difficult only when we had to leave
How to Join
If you are interested in joining this project, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including two references and your deposit of £150. If for some reason, your application is declined, we would reimburse this deposit fully. However for those who are accepted, the full amount needs to be paid two months before departure. Once your place is confirmed, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on your project, the region, suggested items to bring etc.