Marine volunteer projects in South Africa are clustered mainly around Great White Shark and dolphin research, although the whales that visit the country’s shore each year provide a fascinating dimension to marine conservation activities. Exposure to penguins, seals and prolific pelagic bird populations add to these exciting marine voluntourism programmes.

Did you know?

The African penguin, also called the jackass penguin, is endemic to southern Africa.

Marine volunteer projects put you in the heart of the action, working with marine animals, learning more about their behaviours and contributing to conservation efforts to preserve these species.

In South Africa, the most popular marine voluntourism experiences centre around dolphin and shark research, and penguin rescue and rehabilitation.

Dyer Island Cruises in Gansbaai offers volunteers holistic insights into shark conservation, and features a comprehensive education component that includes observing sharks and collecting data. Volunteers get to see sharks in their natural environment, either from the boat or submersible cage. Volunteers are also sought for whale research.

Or you could assist a non-profit dolphin research organisation, located at Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape. Here volunteers will be involved with lectures, practical workshops, data collection and analysis around dolphins.

You will also have the opportunity to assist in the ongoing sea- and land-based research of the bottlenose and humpback dolphins that frequent this area, as well as studies of the resident Cape fur seals, and visiting humpback, killer and southern right whales.

All Africa Volunteers is another operator working with marine volunteer projects, and offers similar shark and dolphin experiences. It also offers a penguin-based programme, located at Cape St. Francis in the Eastern Cape. The programme focuses on penguin rescue, rehabilitation, research and release, and sees volunteers assisting in these various areas on a daily basis.

These are all critical elements of the project, given that the African penguin is now an endangered species. Volunteers participating in this programme will also have the opportunity to work with sea birds and even the occasional marine mammal that comes in.

These marine volunteer projects offer authentic, responsible voluntourism experiences where volunteers actively contribute to research and conservation programmes, helping to further this important work.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

All Africa Volunteers
Tel: +27 (0) 42 296 0594

How to get here

Transfers are usually arranged by the volunteer organisations.

Best time to visit

The South African winter (April to September) is when you'll be most needed. This is peak shark viewing time. Also, this is when penguins are often stranded by storms, or when interventions are sometimes needed to save penguin chicks from icy weather.

What will it cost

Prices vary depending on how long you're staying. The longer you stay, the cheaper each extra week becomes.

Length of stay

While there are some projects where you can work for one week, most prefer you to stay four weeks or more.

What to pack

Sun hat, sunblock, a swimming costume and a windbreaker.

Where to stay

Most projects provide decent accommodation.

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