Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Ocean Research Conservation Project, South Africa

1 week - 10 months from

minimum age

  • Take part in whale, dolphin and seal research projects
  • Experience living in the beautiful Garden Route town of Plettenberg Bay
  • Long term marine conservation internship opportunities available
  • Take part in community based projects in the local township

Volunteers witness dolphins leaping through waves in South Africa

About the Ocean Research Project

The Ocean Research and Marine Conservation Volunteer and Intern Programme 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 the project with a deeper understanding of marine and coastal conservation, and the skills to educate others. If you are passionate about the conservation and sustainability of marine coastal systems, then this is the ideal project for you.

Volunteer researching dolphin carcass on Plettenberg Bay beach

What will Volunteers do?

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:

  • Marine eco-tourism (whale and dolphin tours and recording sightings)
  • Monitoring and cleaning campaigns on beaches and coastal regions
  • Recording the presence of Great White Sharks and their interaction with seals
  • The maintenance and cleaning of the project’s fish tanks, which are used for education and conservation purposes
  • Conservation education initiatives along the coast
  • The participation in provincial/national marine and coastal awareness campaigns (such as National Environment Week, National Marine Week, and Youth Day) when they occur
  • The collection of turtles and rehabilitation (if any are found stranded) housed in the project’s aquariums
  • Investigating intertidal rock pools
  • Seal Monitoring and data collection in estuaries and the coast, as well as studying their interactions with predators & local fisheries
  • The sampling, tagging, and monitoring of local fish species
  • Monitoring river health
  • Clearing of alien vegetation and tree planting
  • The supervised collection of aquarium species for the aquariums
  • Educational presentations on conservation topics, which will be tailored to suit and stimulate individual interests
  • The Foundation’s carbon reduction programme
  • Bird ringing and data collection
  • Tessa volunteer at ORCA projectCommunity programmes in local schools, creches & soup kitchens
  • When there are public lectures available in the area we take the volunteers to learn more about the research taking place in Plettenberg Bay and the greater area.

Please note all placements vary, and you may or may not be involved with all of the above activities. Bad weather days can delay conservation/research activities and may involve indoor activities and courses.

The experienced 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, 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.

Catching penguin in South AfricaVolunteer Training

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 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 programme 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 project offers. Other courses include learning about marine conservation, ocean acidification, water conservation, carbon offset and research techniques in the field.

“This programme is part of a volunteer community dedicated to marine conservation in South Africa, and like many conservation projects depends on the willingness of others to contribute their time and dedication to furthering the volunteer and conservation ethics that go hand in hand for a better future.” – Project Director

Ocean Research Conservation Project, South Africa

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