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The Great African Seaforest Marine Volunteer Programme, South Africa

1-12 Weeks from

18+ for individuals - for families 8+
minimum age

  • Get hands-on marine conservation research experience
  • Help to conserve and protect South Africa's beautiful False Bay
  • Work alongside a team of international marine biologists and conservationists
  • Explore an incredible and unique ecosystem; home to the Great African Seaforest

Useful Information About False Bay

Pyjama shark rests False Bay

When to come

Marine conservation volunteers are welcome to join the project at any time during the year, though the activities volunteers will be able to undertake will vary depending on the weather and time of year.

January to March are typically the warmest months, so sun cream and hats are advised. Temperatures range from 15 – 30 degrees Celsius. Water temperature averages 16-22 degrees Celsius.

From April to June, the weather is still mostly warm, though evenings are cooler. Temperatures typically range from 12 – 25 degree Celsius. Water temperature averages 14-18 degrees Celsius. October to December holds weather conditions similar to April to June.

The winter months of July to September can reach temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius, though the nights cool off rapidly. Warm clothes are suggested as a result as there is no central heating in South Africa. Water temperature averages 12-16 degrees Celsius.

Although Humpback whales and Southern Right Whales can be spotted all year round, during winter months they are seen on a more regular basis as the whale season enters full swing.

An award-winning site

You may have heard of Netflix’s Oscar Academy award-winning documentary film My Octopus Teacher. The film won the Best Documentary Feature at the 2021 awards. If you haven’t already watched it, we highly recommended you do! Not only is it an amazing film filled with excellent insight into nature and our interactions with it, but it also offers a great insight into this project.  The kelp forests of False Bay provide the backdrop to this amazing film and gives an amazing insight into the sorts of experiences you might have on this project!

The Great African Seaforest has also recently made the list of Bloomberg’s 7 new wonders of the world. Bloomberg has devised its new list for a post-pandemic reality, where “those with a thirst for adventure should go by a new list”. It has looked all over the world for those places relatively untouched or unexplored by humankind, with marvels including “archaeological and natural treasures spanning far wider than the ancient Greek world and catering to all types of modern explorers”.

Further information about the programme

This project is based in Cape Town allowing great access to both the city life and all its conveniences and facilities as well as the beauty and wilderness of the peninsula.

Research projects are the product of varied interests and objectives. As such, the specifics of what we’re working on may change as projects are completed and new questions are raised. We have several ongoing, long-term projects that will always contribute to our monitoring of the ocean ecosystem. In addition to these, we also dedicate time to short-term projects and will do our best to maintain a description of our current research goals here.

Marine Conservation and Education Programme:Shoal of fish in False Bay

The education outreach programmes are in the early stages of development, which means you will be involved in the process of developing and contributing ideas to this side of the programme as a valued volunteer. Some of the projects currently developing are:

  • Simon’s Town marine conservation exhibition – volunteers will be involved in updating, creating new elements and giving school tours around this exhibition.
  • The creation of resources for local schools. Posters, classroom content and educational
  • School presentations: We go to local schools and give information sessions for pupils to inspire the next generation to create awareness and care for the ocean.
  • Educational and adventure Vlogs for wider audiences.
  • Social media engagement and information.

FIN SPOTTER – Creating Citizen Scientists:

Fin Spotter is a long-term citizen science project that aims to estimate demographic parameters for several endemic and endangered shark species in Southern Africa. Snorkelers and divers submit photos of cat sharks to the Fin Spotter database, where computer vision software assists researchers in identifying individuals from their unique patterns of spots and stripes. Encounter histories generated from re-sighting the same individual over time allows researchers to estimate critically important parameters like abundance and probability of survival, which can be used to help identify priority areas for conservation.

The project also serves as a platform for community engagement. Snorkelling for Science is a fun, adventurous and educational activity. Participants are rewarded with the satisfaction of a beautiful and educational snorkel in the majestic kelp forests of Cape Town, the productive use of their time by contributing towards research and conservation, and the thrill and excitement of searching for elusive animals and the prize of successfully finding them.

Fish, algae and invertebrate monitoring programme:

This project uses a standardised roving diver technique to record the presence and number of species encountered during a dive. This long-term monitoring project aims to monitor biodiversity and abundance on the temperate reef systems of South Africa.

Kelp Density:Snorkel in the kelp, False Bay

Kelp forests throughout the world are declining in distribution. In many areas where kelp is found, warm waters and overfishing have reduced the numbers of natural predators to sea urchins, like the rock lobster. With decreased pressure on their numbers, sea urchin populations are rising and overgrazing kelp forests. As a sentinel species, this may be foreshadowing a larger impact on the world’s oceans.

Kelp provides several services to the ocean and humans. They are a sanctuary for fish larvae and small invertebrates, a source of food, they sequester carbon and protect the coastline from wave action. They also generate oxygen and reduced ocean acidification. In death, they trap sand and encourage dune formation. Kelp is also increasingly harvested commercially for feed, in fish and abalone farms, as fertiliser, used in beauty products and as a plastic replacement.

In South Africa, coastal cooling seems to be encouraging the spread of Kelp Forests eastwards. With increasing attention to Kelp as a resource, it becomes important to regularly monitor the biomass of kelp available for harvest. Our research project is developing methods for rapid measurement of kelp distribution from remotely sensed satellite data and aerial photography. Volunteers help ground-truth these estimates to measurements taken in the water to ensure the method is accurate.


The Great African Seaforest Marine Volunteer Programme, South Africa

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