Become a marine conservation volunteer and work on dolphin and whale research projects, helping to understand more about these magnificent species. Marine conservation volunteers will also have the opportunity to assist with community education projects on the South African coastline and aid with maintaining the high coastline quality. Opportunities also exist to volunteer with sea turtle and penguin rescue and monitor river health. Long term marine research internship placements also available.
You can volunteer in South Africa for between 1 week and 10 months, and we have places available throughout the year.
Individuals, groups and students are all welcome.
Cost for food, accommodation, equipment, programme materials and training starts from £535
Run by ORCA, otherwise known as the Ocean Research Conservation Africa (ORCA) Marine Foundation, this project allows marine conservation volunteers and research interns to work on dolphin and whale research projects, in addition to working alongside the community in education programmes.
Plettenberg Bay (lovingly referred to as “Plett” by locals), on the world famous Garden Route, is home to some of the world’s most fascinating marine species, including Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Bryde's Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphins, Orca or Killer Whales, and Great White Sharks, to name but a few.
The aim of the project is to change the way people think and behave in their lives, encouraging sustainable co-existence with the natural world, and marine conservation volunteers will therefore have the chance to assist with this goal. The long term goal is the establishment of a Marine Park.
Regardless of how long you choose to stay, you will leave ORCA with a deeper understanding of marine and coastal conservation, and the skills to educate others. ORCA works in partnership with both the Centre for Dolphin Studies and Ocean Blue Adventures. If you are passionate about the conservation and sustainability of marine coastal systems, then this is the ideal project for you.
The project consists mainly of marine conservation and educational programmes with a variety of research activities that also take place throughout the year.
You will work Monday through to Friday from 8.30AM to 4.30PM, and will have the chance to be involved in projects such as:
Please note all placements vary, and you may or may not be involved with the above activities. Volunteers can also expect to contribute to Ocean Blue Adventures’ operations. Bad weather days can delay conservation/research activities and may involve indoor activities and courses.
The experienced ORCA team will help settle you in over your stay and give you the opportunity to take on your own individual projects where your best interests lie (individual projects for longer term volunteers). In your stay in Plettenberg Bay, (one of the most breathtaking and serene outdoor classrooms in Southern Africa), you should be lucky enough to witness the power and grace of whales, the exuberance of dolphins and killer whales, see playful seals and the majestic of mountains and forests scenery. As part of being an ocean research volunteer, you can also take part in Dolphin and Whale watching and Sea Kayaking tours.
Long Term Marine Conservation Internships
Long term marine conservation interns (minimum 2 months maximum 10 months) are welcome to join to complete a project whether marine or cetacean based. Interns work closely with the orca research team which is supervised by their scientific advisor, Dr Gwen Penry, and will complete a designated project by the end of your stay. Each intern will have a specifically designed project to suit their desires and input required. Marine Conservation Interns would be expected to share their knowledge and experiences with the short term volunteers.
Each individual marine conservation volunteer will gain invaluable skills during their placement that can be taken away and applied elsewhere within conservation, though the training provided by ORCA varies in relation to the volunteer's main choice of programme. Training will give a basic education of the projects a volunteer is involved in, though for those who stay for over two weeks there will be the opportunity to complete marine guiding courses, and become more involved in the projects.
The marine guiding program is the entry-level course to the program, and requires more time to complete so is therefore best done during a 4-week stay or longer. However, for those looking for only a two week stay there is the chance to complete the First Aid for Stranded Marine Animals course, which is an entry level course for animal care that can be completed during a two-week stay. This course is geared towards those who have no knowledge of marine animal care, but would like to learn something new.
Volunteers will also have the chance to participate in whale and dolphin educational presentations, which is another course that the ORCA Foundation offers. Other courses include learning about marine conservation, ocean acidification, water conservation, carbon offset and research techniques in the field.
24th October to 7th November 2016
7th November to 21st November 2016
18th January to 1st February 2017
6th February to 20th February 2017
20th February to 6th March 2017
6th March to 20th March 2017
20th March to 3rd April 2017
3rd April to 17th April 2017
17th April to 1st May 2017
1st May to 15th May 2017
15th May to 29th May 2017
29th May to 12th June 2017
12th June to 26th June 2017
26th June to 10th July 2017
10th July to 24th July 2017
24th July to 7th August 2017
7th August to 21st August 2017
21st August to 4th September 2017
4th September to 18th September 2017
18th September to 2nd October 2017
2nd October to 16th October 2017
16th October to 30th October 2017
30th October to 13th November 2017
13th November to 27th November 2017
The above dates are just a guideline and we can be flexible if you want to start/leave on another date than is listed above. You can join for a minimum of one week up to 8 weeks in duration. Please be aware the volunteers who join for more than 4 weeks will be trained to assist the researchers with data manipulation and fin profiling (volunteers coming for less than 4 weeks won't receive the training as it takes some time). Any volunteer over 8 weeks joins as a Research Conservation Intern. Any questions, please email Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com
The cost to volunteer in South Africa for 1 week is £535, 2 weeks is £875, 3 weeks is £1,215, 4 weeks is £1,555, 5 weeks is £1,895, 6 weeks is £2,235 and 7 weeks is £2,575. Please enquire for marine conservation internship prices for 8 weeks up to 10 months in duration. Included in this price is accommodation, 3 meals per day, transport within Plettenberg Bay, activities that form part of the volunteering programme, project t-shirt and cap, training manual, WorkingAbroad backup and support. What is not included is your flights and travel to and from the project, visa costs, personal expenses, and your own health and travel insurance
Marine conservation volunteers are welcomed to join the project at any time during the year, though activities volunteers will be able to undertake vary depending on the weather and time of year.
Food and Lodging
Marine conservation volunteers will stay at the ORCA volunteer house for the duration of their stay; the house is situated roughly 3km away from the ORCA head office in Plettenberg Bay. The accommodation is self-catering, with shared bedroom and bathroom facilities, and can house from between 1 to 12 people at one time - the number of volunteers staying in the house varies depending on the season, though no more than 4 people are allowed per room (there is one room that can accommodate 4 volunteers). Laundry facilities are also available for volunteers to use, though it is recommended that volunteers avoid doing their own, small runs of landury washing and instead wait until the communal laundry days (3 days per week), so to save water and electricity.
The house is within close proximity to a shopping centre, which has various shops, restaurants, take-aways and a cinema. Basic food for meals is provided for you at the house. You may be required to pack a lunch for some activities, but you will be informed of this ahead of time when such situations arise. Evening meals are prepared for you 6 nights per week, but volunteers are also welcome to eat out. We do cater for a variety of diets (within reason) and prepare vegetarian meals quite easily.
There is ADSL access to the internet at the volunteer house. Skype is available for those who have access. You can bring your own laptop if you like as the house is equipped with wireless internet.
Previous knowledge and experience is not a necessity for this project. Instead, you must have a passion for marine conservation and wildlife education, and be willing to work in a diverse, challenging environment. If you are looking to complete University research courses as a long term marine conservation intern whilst on the programme, then arrangements can be made to accommodate this.
How to get there
Overseas volunteers will typically fly in to Cape Town or Johannesburg airport, and then take a domestic flight to George. From there, the ORCA Foundation can arrange pick up to take volunteers to the volunteer house. The cost for this pick up is around £55, though the price varies on the company organised to collect the volunteer, and the journey time is usually around 90 minutes.
A bus transfer can also be arranged from either Cape Town or Port Elizabeth. The price will range from between R1,000.00 and R3,000.00 (£55 and £160) and the tickets can be purchased through www.computicket.co.za.
Passport and visa
A valid passport with at least 2 blank pages in it, is necessary to enter South Africa. Since visa requirements vary from country to country, please check with your local embassy as to whether a visa is required to enter South Africa.
There is a great range of activities that can be done outside of the project during your off time. These include skydiving, scuba diving, game drives, horseback riding, bungee jumping and canopy tours. Volunteers receive a discount on most of these activities. Activities can be organised by the house and volunteer coordinators.Transport to events will however be paid by the volunteer(s).
This project is located on Plettenberg Bay, which is found along the world famous Garden Route. The site is home to beautiful coastal scenery and marine conservation projects, and is therefore a fantastic area of South Africa for volunteering. The Bay is also home to species such as Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Bryde's Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphins, Orca/Killer Whales and Great White Sharks, and therefore the need for marine conservation volunteers to assist with coastal projects is highly evident.
The Bay is also one of South Africa’s most fashionable holiday resort locations and a beach-lover's paradise, is home to long stretches of soft sand that line an endless azure ocean. The town is characterised by sweeping, unspoilt golden beaches, a dramatic rocky peninsula, intriguing lagoons and estuaries, towering indigenous forests, and unpolluted rivers and sea. With its exceptional Mediterranean-like climate, and beautiful view sites over the Indian Ocean, Plettenberg Bay is perfect for tourists, travellers and locals alike.
Previous Intern Claire describes her experience of the project:
"Firstly, I would like to say the biggest thank you to everyone involved with the ORCA Foundation and Ocean Blue Adventures for making the past six months some of the best of my life! I’ve had the most amazing time here, and am so gutted to have left behind some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met.
I originally came to the ORCA foundation to gain more knowledge and experience of marine conservation in particular, however, during the past half year I have learnt so much more through the huge variety of activities offered. From bird ringing to helping at the local rehab centre, from visiting the township crèche to spending time on boats seeing all the beautiful marine wildlife Plettenberg Bay has to offer, there was never a dull moment during the programme. No week was the same, and I have left South Africa with a desire to learn even more about conservation.
I have completely fallen in love with Plettenberg Bay, and I know that I will be back soon - I’m really looking forward to taking part in the ORCA volunteer programme once again and coming back to one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited."
Alice Goodwin, from the UK, describes her three months with the ORCA team:
Firstly I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone at ORCA Foundation and Ocean Blue for making my time there so memorable!
I have experienced so much over the last three months and learnt a lot along the way. I joined the project to learn more about marine conservation, but with the variety of activities it ended up being so much more than that. I loved everything we did, from going out on the boat with Ocean Blue to bird ringing with Minke. One of my favourite things was visiting Siyakula preschool, those kids always managed to put a smile on my face!
I cannot believe how quickly the three months I had with ORCA went! I will never forget the experience I had and the people I met along the way. I hope to be back soon!
Tessa Gibson shares her experience of volunteering with ORCA in South Africa:
I have had the best time of my life with the ORCA Foundation, I wish I could have stayed longer! I have learnt so much during the project and I got to experience things I've never done before like seeing dolphins and helping out at a school in the township. Plettenberg Bay is a beautiful place and the people I've met along the way have been amazing. Thank you to everyone at the ORCA Foundation, I've loved every second of it!
Marcos, an Environmental Engineer from the University of Delaware, shares his thoughts on the project:
I had no idea what I was getting myself involved with when volunteering with the ORCA foundation. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The group of volunteers you will meet are from all over the world and are super eager to get to know one another and share their different life experiences. I was so fortunate to meet such amazing people in the ORCA foundation including those who work at Ocean Blue. It was certainly an eye-opening experience that managed to teach me a lot. I cannot wait to volunteer for ORCA again in the future and I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking to volunteer in South Africa in marine related fields.
Tanja Heinz from Germany, who volunteered on the project for 12 weeks, shares her favourite moments from her time in South Africa:
The best moments for me at ORCA I shared definitely with the whales and dolphins! Although apparently I was here not in the best whale watching season, I still could see a lot from them. I saw Humpback Whales breaching and waving with their flippers, but also Southern Right Whales mating. The Bryde’s Whales are rather shy animals, but luckily they showed up sometimes.
Every sighting of a whale was spectacular and special! We were also lucky to have seen some dolphins. We saw several times bottlenose dolphins and sometimes also humpback dolphins, but they are more elusive and rather avoid us humans. On one boat trip we were lucky to have seen hundreds of common dolphins.
They live more offshore than the other two dolphin species but show up in the bay in Plett sometimes, apparently more often in summer than in winter. Thanks to Ocean Blue and the whales and dolphins for this special experience!
It was also interesting for me to see the projects that ORCA supports like the weekly lessons at the kindergarden Siyakula, the field band projects to encourage young people to make music and stay away from alcohol and drugs, or the lunchbox theatre that creates theatre pieces about marine education for school kids.
I also always enjoyed the time at the Brackenbarn Crew or the bird ringing! Thanks! At last, I met many nice and interesting people. Thanks to everyone for the great time!
Will Robinson, a Marine Biology student from the UK, shares his experience of volunteering in South Africa:
My experience at ORCA was easily one of the best times of my life, especially as over my month stay I became a lot more independent and defined myself better as an individual. The team are amazing and extremely helpful, and the people I met (both other volunteers and the locals of Plett) were all wondeful. Absolutely amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone, and I definitely want to come back in the nearest possible future!
Hannah Kennington spent 6 weeks at our Ocean Research and Marine Conservation Programme, heres what she had to say about her time in South Africa:
I had an amazing six weeks with ORCA, I learned so much about the community and met lots of amazing people. I'd have to say the people I met really made the trip worth it, the fantastic guides and skippers at Ocean Blue taught me so much about the ocean and the animals we saw (which were a lot!) and I couldn't speak more highly of all the staff there, they felt like family while I was there and I can't wait to go back in two years when I've saved up again. Jared and Michael made sure we had lots of fun during my stay, and were great throughout taking us to lots of places and immersing us in the local experience as well as conservation activities. I'm glad I chose South Africa to volunteer in as it's a beautiful place and ORCA is a great organisation to be a part of...teaching the kids at the creche was a highlight for me and I'm glad I got to go so many times during my stay. So thanks to all the people who made me feel at home!
Chloe Sheppard Moon joined the Ocean Research and Marine Conservation Programme for six weeks and is already planning a return trip in June 2016 for 3 or 4 months as an intern! Here are her thoughts on the project:
Volunteering with ORCA for the past six weeks has been an amazing experience. Every day is different and I have learnt so much, from how to rescue a penguin, to removing snares from the bush. Teaching English to the children in the crèche was also very rewarding. I really enjoyed the conservation activities within the community such as planting trees around a township. The staff at Ocean Blue are like a big family and they taught me so much about the wildlife in and around the bay. A massive thank you to Jared, Michael and Charlie for all the activities and making this experience memorable. I would also like to say a massive thank you to Tilly for all the amazing food! Until next time!
Vets without Borders students from A&M Texas University joined the Ocean Research and Marine Conservation Programme for two weeks in May and June. They learned all about marine mammal research, bird ringing, land surveying, wildlife rehabilitation and lots more! Here’s what they had to say about their experience:
I cannot begin to express my gratitude to Ocean Blue and the ORCA Foundation for this amazing experience!!! Every single thought and expectation I had about this trip was surpassed immensely! There was never a point where I did not learn something new. From the boat trips, learning all about the local marine life to completing an otter dissection, there was never a dull moment! I will never forget the hikes we did, most definitely the most beautiful yet scariest thing I have ever done! It wasn’t just the experiences that made this trip amazing’ but also the sense of community that the ORCA foundation extended and the friendships that were made! Leaving Plett, I truly felt a part of something bigger than myself. I was warmly welcomed into this brand new family, something most cannot say after leaving a volunteer experience. I not only grew educationally, but personally as well!! I wouldn’t trade any part of this trip for the world! Thank you ORCA foundation for showing me all these opportunities that exist to not only help save animals, but also to improve the lives of others around me!
Volunteering with ORCA was a one of a kind, eye-opening experience to the natural world that I never expected to see. There is no better way to experience Africa than working side-by-side with Jared, Michael, Wesley, and the rest of the team at Ocean Blue. Seeing all the research and projects going on there was very inspiring! I arrived in Plett expecting to learn all about the marine life there, but left with so much more about people, land animals, and most surprisingly myself. Two weeks was not enough! I really hope to get a chance at round 2!
I came to volunteer for ORCA to expand my horizons and get animal experience as I am hoping to have a career with wildlife. Little did I know it would be SO much more. ORCA exposed me to research, new professions in conservation, to townships, and the most beautiful beaches on this earth. But most importantly ORCA introduced me to amazing people who whole-heartedly love their jobs: Jared with ORCA was laughing through every adventure, Chanel with Tenikwa had such a passion for the animals she works with, and Wesley with Sabrina Love Foundation never stopped smiling when we visited schools. (Mark with Nature Valley Trust, Michael with ORCA, Minke-thank you for allowing us to ring birds with you!, and Tony are some of the other inspiring people I am so happy I got to meet.) This experience has given me opportunities I couldn't get anywhere else; when was the last time you got to dissect an otter who had stranded or assist in Brydes whale research? My goals have been altered- i want a job I can enjoy every single day like all the hilarious, dedicated people I am so lucky to have met. My inner strength was tested as we hiked and hiked and hiked, but the views were worth the millions of steps and scaling of rocks! I had to stop and remind myself multiple times to take it all in because I was really in South Africa- it was really happening.
Now that I have left (it's only been a few days) I am determined to go back! All it would have taken for me to stay was a place to live- 2 weeks was not enough time to take it all in. There are so many volunteering opportunities in the area, but I am so glad I was able to be stationed with ORCA in Plettenberg Bay because I had access to so many wonderful cities on the garden route. I have so many unforgettable memories from this trip, one of them being load shedding. I had never even heard of this term before my trip, but by the end I found it quite peaceful. A perfect break in the day to journal or play phase 10 with my fellow Aggies. Seeing the pod of dolphins, getting up close and personal with Cheetahs, and helping out at the Creche are just a few more of those unforgettable memories. I loved the two days I got to hang out with the kids at Siyakula. Seeing the bright smiles of everyone in the township gave me such a warm feeling. Thank you ORCA and Ocean Blue for giving me experiences of a lifetime and pointing me towards an amazing career! I love you all and hope to see you again one day- maybe for a vacation or a big move from the USA!
I had no idea that in 2 weeks I would get to experience what I did with ORCA and have many of my dreams come true. I interacted with penguins and cheetahs, animals I've loved since I was small. I got to help and teach adorable lovely kids at the crèche. I hiked incredible trails and got to experience phenomenal views from above the mountains. I got to ride a boat out and see marine life in its habitat, spotting over 150 bottlenose dolphins, sharks, numerous seals and yes, a penguin! Lastly, I rode a horse for the first time and fell in love with it! In just 2 weeks all that I've been dreaming for 19 years came true. Not only were the activities beyond my wildest dreams, but ORCA has expanded my horizons. Now I'm considering a career in animal physiotherapy and possible internships in South Africa. As if my experience was not enough to make me incredibly happy I got to meet incredibly inspiring people who I will carry with me always! Not in any particular order; Jared who has an amazing attitude and makes sure every volunteer loves what they are doing and tries to make the program even better during their stay, Michael who made staying at the ORCA house a fun and accommodating experience, Tony, who told us about his amazing dreams and accomplishments, Wesley whose love for kids inspires me and makes me want to dedicate a part of my life to what he loves, Hazel who has an amazing voice and beautiful heart, the wonderful teachers at the crèche and the beautiful kids whom I already miss, and of course the wonderful people from natures valley trust (Mark and Minka), the horse trails, and teniwka (channel).
In two weeks ORCA makes dreams come true, expands your horizons, and allows you to meet amazing people. I still have to tell myself I was in Plettenberg, South Africa because it reached beyond my wildest dreams.
When I first signed up for my trip to South Africa through ORCA, I just assumed that I would be working every day, just doing the jobs that the regulars didn’t want to do. I never would have imagined that I would have had as much fun and learned as much as I did on this trip. I met so many amazing people and grew closer to my group that had travelled there with me. I had an amazing time hiking up and down the coast of Plettenberg Bay and seeing all the different species of wildlife. I met a lot of amazing people that were just so passionate about their jobs such as Lisa, Chanel and Jared. They absolutely loved what they did and their enthusiasm was contagious. I loved getting to help Jared and Chanel with the otter dissection, and half the fun was seeing that they were just as excited as we were. It was awesome getting to work with all the kids at the Crèche and seeing how happy they were to meet all of us. I can’t wait to hopefully get my chance to go back and do it all again!
My first time out of the United States was to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa to volunteer with the ORCA Foundation for two weeks. I could not have asked for a better experience!
ORCA is such a rounded organization. I thought I was going there to learn about marine life, but I learned so much more. I learned how to enjoy life and how important it is to make the community a better place. Seeing the townships and meeting the people there was a real eye opener. Playing with and teaching the children there is something I thought I would never like, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of my trip. The hikes were absolutely stunning and showed me how beautiful of a place it was. Even more beautiful were the people I got to be with and work with. Their passion about marine life, ecosystems, and their community is absolutely amazing. ORCA showed me that it’s all about giving what you can, that anything helps, and even one person can make a difference.
I went to South Africa to meet strangers, and I left there saying goodbye to family. I cannot show enough gratitude to the people I met, nor express how much I loved being there. Thank you Jared, Wesley, Michael, Tony, and all the other amazing people I met on my journey of discovering this beautiful world. I will come see y’all again… it’s a promise!
Stephanie Rogerson, from the UK, joined the project as an Intern for 3 months:
I completed the Dolphin and Whale Ocean Research and Conservation Internship in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa for a duration of three months. I can happily say those few months were time well spent, the town is small and local and the culture embraces you as soon as you arrive. The atmosphere of the entire area is friendly and very laid-back.
The ORCA Foundation was my home for those three months whilst I completed my internship, the team is wonderful and within a week a felt confident and settled in my surroundings. Within the accommodation your meals are provided for by the amazing caretaker Tilly who is a friend to everyone and a character I dearly miss. I met fellow volunteers from around the world and you learn as much from them as the locals. The organisation allows you to experience amazing sights from, animal sightings, hike views and the most beautiful beaches. Participating in various activities such as; tree planting, beach clean-ups, bird ringing, penguin rescues, historic hikes, tag-release fishing, maintaining the aquarium and the most rewarding task of teaching the children at Siyakula Preschool within the local township.
As an intern I completed my own personal research project for my University requirements, the staff were more than happy to help set me up with a research project and provide tools, knowledge and expertise to help me complete it. I witnessed amazing sightings from several species of whale and dolphin as well as various members of the seal family.
ORCA even helped you arrange to activities to do at the weekend as there are nearby animal sanctuaries and extreme sports available. Some personal favourites of mine which I recommend are; Hog Hollows Horse Trails, Tenikwa Awareness Centre and the Elephant Sanctuary.
I do recommend the experience to someone who may be of interest. It is a fantastic way to explore coastal South Africa with opportunities the regular traveller may not be able to experience. All correspondence made through WorkingAbroad.com was friendly and efficient, answering all questions asked and made payments and travelling and easy process, with contact through and after the placement I can’t fault them. Thank you.
“I spent 3 months volunteering for ORCA Foundation and I can honestly say it was the best 3 months of my life! I enjoyed every moment of my time there and really did not want to leave. All of the staff members at both ORCA and Ocean Blue Adventures are lovely and so easy to get along with. I really felt like I was welcome and settled in quickly. There are so many different jobs that need doing, which is great because I gained experience in a variety of tasks and you never get bored doing just one thing all the time. I would love to return to Plettenberg Bay, it really is a gorgeous part of the world! Thank you to everybody who made my time at ORCA Foundation so memorable!”
"If you are into marine wildlife and helping the humanitarian cause, then the O.R.C.A. project is outstanding! Not only did I get ample whale and dolphin watching opportunities, but we also got to truly get our hands dirty and assist at the local township school by building a green house and spending time with the children. This placement was also great because of all the other activities available in Plettenberg Bay. If you want to go surfing, scuba diving, kayaking or even skydiving (which I highly recommend), you can do them all with the help of the staff. Plettenberg Bay is a great town, full of night spots where you and your fellow volunteers can unwind and have a great time."
“Volunteering with ORCA has got to be one of the best things I have done in my life so far. And I’m not exaggerating. Plettenberg Bay and the surrounding area is truly spectacular, definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I volunteered for 8 weeks and ended up staying in Plett even longer as I didn’t want to leave! The experiences I had and the friends I made were amazing. It’s very hard to think of the ‘best bits’ as it was all so amazing. Some stand out moments though were definitely seeing my very first dolphins (bottlenose on my first trip out on the water), my first whale sighting and the first time I saw common dolphins. At this point I actually cried I was so happy. Other highlights were learning how to dive, bungee jumping, skydiving, and meeting Oscar the amputee baby loggerhead turtle. And I mustn’t forget to mention going to pre-school every Thursday and helping to teach the kids there – a very rewarding experience!”