Wildlife conservation, community and environmental volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Ocean Research Conservation Project, South Africa

1 week - 10 months from

£535
16+
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

Volunteer Testimonials 

Sofia Sokolowski joined the project for two months in September-November:

I had a wonderful time with the project, the staff members were all very nice and heartwarming, so I started feeling quite at home in South Africa. I enjoyed the fact that I was there for such a long time as it gave me the possibility of getting to know the activities and the people a lot better. I also saw a certain continuum in the projects since I was collecting data for such a long period of time, which gave me an idea of the bigger picture.  I think that my stay at the project was an amazing and eye opening experience that I will remember for the rest of my life and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Josephine Peukert, from Germany, joined the project as a volunteer in October-November:

Volunteers in Plettenberg BayThese past 5 weeks have been extraordinary. It quite funny how a small place like Plett (Plettenberg Bay) can make you feel at home within such a short time. Thanks to the project, I had the chance to be part of something way bigger than me. I got to work for and with great people on my side, as well as whales, dolphins, penguins and many other seabirds, seals, and the safari wildlife such as elephants, lions and zebras. Seeing and helping out on a school in one of the townships of Plett have given me a whole new experience on the educational level.

It’s not only them who have learned many great things, also I have been taught a lot especially about life in general that I gratefully take back home with me. Next to working with the animals and kids at the school, we have also done much environmental conservation work such as weekly alien clearing and beach clean-ups. I still can’t believe how much litter people leave behind after a nice day at the beach, but to mention all the straws. Plett itself is definitely a place to go to. The area is stunningly beautiful. Make sure to visit all the great beaches, the Lagoon and Robberg.  I fell in love in Plett.

Volunteers before snorkelling with seals in South Africa

Mark Davies, from New Zealand, joined as a volunteer for 2 weeks in July: 

I have worked on other very interesting and rewarding volunteer projects both in both Alaska, UK and New Zealand. I would definitely say it’s up there ‘at the top’ for volunteer program activities, satisfaction, fun and support. I have learned a lot about the exciting marine life we have in our oceans and how very important we have to look after this. The volunteer activities at the Ocean Research and Marine Conservation project works so well together in their partnership with others. I shall remember the people, culture and experience for the rest of my life. Thank you all for a truly wonderful time and experience, it has certainly ‘triggered’ my passion to know more about what’s in our great oceans and what a privilege it is to be a part of.

Ben ORCA volunteer in South AfricaBen Briggs, 76 year old from the US, volunteered for 6 weeks at the project from January to March: 

This year’s adventure with the Ocean Research & Marine Conservation project in Plettenberg, South Africa was truly a life changing experience, to say the least. Even this phrase falls short in describing the wonderful opportunity and experience that I had throughout my stay at the project house, working with twelve fantastic volunteers from six different countries.

Lead by two highly skilled qualified researchers, along with a project manager, we primarily focused our efforts on whale, dolphin, penguin and Cape Fur Seal research and conservation. In addition to the marine research, our volunteer team performed other conservation tasks such as river water analyzation, alien invasive plant removal, bird ringing, animal welfare, and bait catching, to name a few.

The most rewarding experience was the time spent working with the children at the township’s preschool, Siyakula, and Die Sterreweg, a school for youth with special needs. Words cant describe the fulfilment and gratitude that came from this opportunity. I just wish I/we could have done more.

Ben bungee cord jumping in Plettenberg bayDespite the hard work, some days leaving before sunrise and returning well after sunset, our group was never too tired to enjoy one another’s company. We spent evenings discussing each other’s countries, cultures and laughing with one another. In fact, we enjoyed one another so much, that plans are already underway for a Volunteer Reunion in Paris in 2019.

We had weekends off, giving us time to visit neighbouring towns and enjoy some exciting activities. I even bungee jumped with my adopted Belgium granddaughter, Claire, from the world’s highest bungee bridge – 216 meters – what an adrenaline rush!

The project was truly a satisfying and rewarding adventure – one that I will never forget. I am grateful to have had a great group of researchers, project manager and fellow volunteers with whom to share this unique experience. I am already researching opportunities for the future, and look forward to working with a similar project organisation.

ORCA volunteer SamanthaSamantha Erika Manglapus, from the Philippines, describes her time at the project:

It’s been over a year since I left my time in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa with the project and the experience has enriched my life immeasurably. What first attracted me to the program were the whales. It was a lifelong dream of mine to see a whale, and the project lived up to the promise of experiencing whales. Not only did I see one- I saw them every day… all different types of whales, and I even saw them breaching. The little girl inside of me was bursting with joy.

In addition to the whale surveying, the variety of marine mammals/animals that we experienced was very educational. We were immersed in weekly talks with scientists taking up their PhD’s who enlightened us about marine conservation through their specific studies and research. I even got the chance to go on a boat and spend the day with Dr. Ale Vargas who was completing her study on dolphin population (if I remember correctly). That was a truly special day. We also visited numerous conservation institutions which really opened my eyes and gave me the chance to understand conservation much more. We even got down and dirty and cleaned a large penguin pool, which was a fun bonding experience with our group and group leader, Michael.

Another very special part of the program that I loved was the community development. Visiting Siyakula was always such a treat- being welcomed by the beautiful children was such a loving and connecting experience. The weekly visits to the Sterreweg School for children with special needs was also very heartwarming and educational for me. I feel blessed to have given the opportunity to meet and interact with the children in that school, and to learn more about the different disabilities and the therapies being used to treat them.

Fishing, hiking, kayaking, swimming, horseback riding and going on adventures through the forests was the norm at the project and I absolutely loved it! I also really enjoyed our visits to Mark, Polly and Kara the Donkey. By the end of my trip I even went skydiving which was absolutely fantastic.

On weekends, we had time for ourselves and I was able to go on Safari adventures with the friends I made, and I even gathered the courage to explore Cape Town on my own for 4 nights. Which is another reason I loved this program- they are very flexible and understanding. The project is very accommodating of what each volunteer wants to get out of the program. Even if it’s just to have fun!

The age group of the program was wide… from High School Students to Senior Citizens- very culturally dynamic, it was awesome. The people I made friends with at the project plus the staff are all such amazing spirits, and even though I was very far away from home, I felt safe and I knew I was in good hands.

I hope to visit Plett again one day. After my experience with the project, I came back to the Philippines wiser and my heart grew 1000x bigger. South Africa and the project will always be a part of me.

Clare volunteer at ORCA projectPrevious Intern Claire describes her experience of the project:

“Firstly, I would like to say the biggest thank you to everyone involved with the project 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 project 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 volunteer programme once again and coming back to one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.”

Alice volunteer at ORCA projectAlice Goodwin, from the UK, describes her three months with the team:

Firstly I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone at the project 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 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 the project 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 the project in South Africa:

I have had the best time of my life with the project, 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 project, I’ve loved every second of it!

Marcos ORCA volunteer in free timeMarcos, 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 project. 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 at the project. It was certainly an eye-opening experience that managed to teach me a lot. I cannot wait to volunteer for the project again in the future and I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking to volunteer in South Africa in marine related fields.

Tanja volunteer at ORCA projectTanja 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 the project 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 this project and the whales and dolphins for this special experience!

It was also interesting for me to see the projects are supported like the weekly lessons at the kindergarten 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 the project 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 wonderful. Absolutely amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone, and I definitely want to come back in the nearest possible future!

Volunteer Hannah at ORCA projectHannah Kennington spent 6 weeks at the programme, and here’s what she had to say about her time in South Africa: 

I had an amazing six weeks with the project, 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 that 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 the project 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 for 3 or 4 months as an intern! Here are her thoughts on the project:

Volunteering with the project 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 is 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!

Vet Texas AM students at ORCA projectVets 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 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 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 for showing me all these opportunities that exist to not only help save animals, but also to improve the lives of others around me!

-Samantha Jansen

Volunteering with the project 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. 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!

Texas AM University students at ORCA project-Courtney Markley 

I came to volunteer at the project 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. The project exposed me to research, new professions in conservation, to townships, and the most beautiful beaches on this earth. But most importantly it introduced me to amazing people who whole-heartedly love their jobs: Jared was laughing through every adventure, Chanel with Tenikwa had such a passion for the animals she works with, and Wesley never stopped smiling when we visited schools. 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.

Vet Texas student ShelbyNow 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 the project 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 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!

-Shelby Joseph

Vet Texas student MayraI had no idea that in 2 weeks I would get to experience what I did with the project 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 it 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 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 the nature’s valley project (Mark and Minka), the horse trails, and teniwka (channel).

In two weeks the project 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.

-Mayra Guzman

Mayra Vet student at ORCA projectWhen I first signed up for my trip to South Africa, 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!

-John

My first time out of the United States was to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa to volunteer with the project for two weeks. I could not have asked for a better experience!

Vet Texas student JohnIt is such a rounded organisation. 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 favourite 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. The project 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!

-Rose Farmer

Stephanie volunteer at ORCA projectStephanie 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 project 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.

The project even helped you arrange to activities to do at the weekend as there are nearby animal sanctuaries and extreme sports available.

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.

Ocean Research Conservation Project, South Africa

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