For us volunteers, South Africa’s marine wildlife is a part of everyday-life. However, every year the second week of October plays host to National Marine Week, and so for one fabulous week, this wildlife becomes a part of everyone else’s lives too. National Marine Week (NMW) is a campaign to educate all South Africans about our oceans, and in particular it aims to create awareness of the delicate marine and costal environment we all rely on.
As International Marine Volunteers (IMV) we often see the efforts that Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises make to educate clients on the importance of marine conservation and sustainability. From the promotion of the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary, to the crew fishing out any piece of litter they spot in the ocean while out on trips, everyone is doing their bit.
But it’s not just them! Us volunteers are constantly provided with opportunities to help out. Just yesterday we all took part in a beach clean-up, where we spent a couple of hours walking along the beach (what a chore!) and picking up any litter we found. It’s not a lot of work – but if everyone did it, then South Africa would have the cleanest beaches ever. Back at the lodge (where all of us live), our living room often plays host to presentations from a range of fascinating individuals, from marine biologists to our very own skippers, there’s always a new story to hear.
However, the most important work any of us do is out at sea. We are lucky enough to see marine wildlife at its finest; gorgeous Great White sharks and breaching Southern Right whales are a daily occurrence! By helping out on the boat and making sure all of the clients have a wonderful trip, we are ensuring that they have a positive encounter with marine wildlife that they can take home with them, and share with their friends and family. These experiences spread by word-of-mouth are more valuable than any marketing campaign; they are personal and therefore heartfelt.
Our roles on the boat vary, but a typical trip on Slashfin (our shark boat) might look something like this…
8.00am – Wake up and have breakfast – all breakfast is provided in the communal kitchen.
9.30am – Pick up from the lodge. We are picked up by our awesome coordinators and taken to the Great White House an hour and a half before the launch of a shark trip.
9.40 – 11.00am – Prep for the trip. From welcoming guests to gathering all the wetsuits (in all the right sizes!) there’s plenty to do!
10.50am – Time to help all of the clients into their life jackets – and the volunteers never leave without one either!
11.00am – Slashfin launches. Once we’ve helped everyone onto the boat we make sure everyone is seated and then enjoy the ride out to the diving point.
11.15am – Everyone gets into their wetsuits while the cage is lowered into the water and the chum (miniscule fish bits and fish oil) is stirred up to attract some sharks.
11.30am – The first group of clients are normally in the water by now. As volunteers we’re normally running around and helping the rest of the boat into their wetsuits and checking that no one is feeling seasick.
12.00pm – The first cage gets out and the volunteers help with getting them dry towels and making them hot chocolate. The next group of divers get in the cage and this keeps repeating for 3 or 4 cages until everyone has been in the cage. If we’re lucky, there’s often space in the last cage for a couple of volunteers, and so we get to dive too!
1.30pm – Time to pack up and go. Now’s the time that we help everyone back into their life jackets, and help anyone that’s been feeling seasick back to their seats.
1.45pm – After we’ve arrived back into harbour, the volunteers need to be organised and get all of the old towels, wetsuits, food, life jackets, chum and fuel off the boat, and reload everything for the next trip.
2.00pm – The volunteers then help to sort out all the life jackets and then we wash the wetsuits.
2.30pm – Home time! We are then picked up from the Great White House and taken back the lodge to do whatever we want for the afternoon.
Afternoon activities range from horse riding to quadbiking, or helping give the penguins their afternoon feed. Our days are jam-packed and a lot of fun, after all it’s important that we have an amazing time as volunteers so that we, too, go home and spread the word to our family and friends. I’ve had some incredible experiences in my two short weeks as a volunteer; I’ve gone underwater in the cage and been greeted by Caroline with her jaws wide open just a foot away, I’ve been on whale trips with whales so close we could almost touch them, and I’ve sat outside at night star gazing with the other volunteers. We all came here for the wildlife, but I’m sure we’ll come away with a lot more.
This is exactly why National Marine Week is important to us; it gives us a chance to share our experiences, and our passion for sharks and whales, with the rest of South Africa. Luckily, the South African coastline is a pretty breath-taking place, and so it’s not difficult to convince the country to save it once they’ve experienced it!
International Marine Volunteer