Marine Volunteering: Reaping the Rewards

At International Marine Volunteers (IMV) we have been fortunate enough to spend several months over the last couple of years living and working alongside Angus Ellsmore.  His enthusiasm, energy, dedication and willingness to assist wherever he can, are infectious.  He is a prime example of how spending long periods volunteering and proving your mettle reap in the rewards.  Angus is responsible and hard-working and he quickly became a senior volunteer, even helping with security, training and giving presentations to his newly-arrived teammates.  We suggest spending a minimum of a month with the programme, but highly recommend joining us for several months in order to gain the best possible experience.  As with all aspects of life – the more you put in the, the more you are likely to get out!

Angus shared with us some of his experiences and feelings from his time at IMV:

My name is Angus Ellsmore, I’m from a town called Picton in the state of New South Wales, Australia. I first did the International Marine Volunteer programme in the months of September, October and November, 2015 and then came back in June, July, August 2016 because I loved it so much! I wanted to do this programme because I was always fascinated about the great white shark and I wanted to see one up close in real life. I loved everything about the programme, working on the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa with the Marine Big 5 and making friends all around the world that I still catch up with today. When I came to Marine Dynamics, I learnt so much more about the great white shark!  The marine biologists and all the staff were amazing with how much knowledge they have about the great white shark and most importantly how we need to protect them as they play a major role within the ecosystem for other life in the ocean.

The experiences I had working with the marine volunteer programme are something that will stay with me forever. Not many people in the world could say they get up in the morning to dive with great white sharks or see southern right whales migrating up the coastline, it is truly breathtaking! I was truly thankful when I got to work on the research boat with the wonderful marine biologists to do acoustic tagging of great white sharks and I even worked with film crews from Discovery Channel that were filming Shark Week. These opportunities were offered to me because I was there for several months.

Some of my favourite moments in Gansbaai, South Africa were when I was lucky enough to see orcas passing Dyer Island and when I was working on the boat with Discovery Channel we decided to do to a breaching tour as it was late afternoon and prime condition for a good breaching of a great white to happen, we set up the seal decoy and our positions on the boats with our cameras, I was so excited when the shark breached with the sunset and Danger Point lighthouse in the background, it was just so majestic to see. Diving with great white sharks is something I’ll always love, my favourite day was when I dived with my friend Ben from USA and the visibility was crystal clear that we could see the bottom of the ocean and the sharks swimming on the sea floor and then they would come up to the surface and swim peacefully right in front of us, it was a fantastic experience. Last but not least, the friendships forged with people from the company from South Africa and the volunteers who joined us from all around the world.

Doing the International Marine Volunteer programme has been the best experience of my life! To anyone out there around the world that is interested in travelling, loves sharks or any marine life and wants to have the time of their life, then I highly recommend this programme with Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust because “Life is adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved”.

 

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Kayleigh’s Story

The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary

Nearly a year ago to the day, I arrived in Gansbaai South Africa. For the next 5 weeks I was going to be helping out on the Great White Shark cage diving vessel, SlashFin, with Marine Dynamics and International Marine Volunteers. I didn’t know at the time that for the first time ever, the Great White Sharks would disappear for a prolonged period of time and that I would actually end up spending my time at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.

APSS as it is known takes in sick/injured birds and abandoned chicks and helps rehabilitate them back into the wild. (African Penguins are endangered and experts do believe that if nothing is done, they will be extinct in the wild by 2030.) It’s also a really important place to me and helping out there is what started a new found love for penguins and birds, it also made me realise that working with birds is what I wanted to do with my life. A day at APSS would involve cleaning, cutting fish tails and fillets, laundry and feeding. When I returned back to England I continued to volunteer with birds at Birdworld in Farnham, yet really wanted to get more hands on experience back in South Africa… I left my job and returned. Yet this time I wanted to give back to the place that taught me so much, APSS.


I decided I was going to raise money for APSS. I let my work friends decide how I would go about doing this. They decided that I would get blown of the side of a mountain, yes paragliding – I can honestly say now that I will never do this again! The most terrifying part was when the guy told me that if I needed to run to gain air then I would have to run off the side of the mountain! The incline that you are on is enough to terrify anyone that has a fear of heights, no matter how small. All in the name of fundraising.

My target was £300 and as the days and months rolled by the total kept creeping up. I actually managed to triple my target and raise £940!!! Again I would like to thank every single person that donated, plus family and friends. Without their kindness it wouldn’t have been possible! I didn’t do anything really, it was down to everyone else. I was able to give back to the place that changed everything for me and I will be forever grateful.

This is me back in action in Kleinbaai, Gansbaai at a recent penguin release – for more information regarding penguin rehabilitation and conservation visit the Dyer Island Conservation Trust website.

Kayleigh Hawkins
International Marine Volunteer

 

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Kayleigh’s Penguin Fundraiser

Kayleigh Hawkins, a returning International Marine Volunteers, started a GoFundMe fundraiser seven months ago to help our penguins in peril at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.

Her goal was to raise £300 (approximately R5000). She is back in Gansbaai for 12 weeks and has raised a total amount of £940 (R16239) of which she is also donating an amount of R1700 to the Dyer Island Conservation Trust‘s DEEP programme.

Thanks for efforts Kayleigh Hawkins! Our penguins will definitely enjoy their lunch!

Stay tuned for her story…

Hennie Odendal

IMV Coordinator

 

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Dissection day!

Shark dissection time!  As the day progressed so did the excitement of the volunteers, constant questions of “Can’t wait, when we going to start?” become the order of the day. As we start the setup of all the dissection and measuring equipment, I could see all eyes firmly focused on the defrosted male vaalhaai, or soupfin shark, that was wrapped in black plastic bags.

Before we could start with the actual cutting open of the shark, we needed to do external measurements. This is a lengthy process but as I explained to the volunteers that this is a very important part of the scientific process.  The volunteers quickly jumped at the opportunity and listened carefully to the instructions given. I gave one as the volunteers, Jaime, the opportunity to lead with the measuring, since he had a degree in marine biology and this could really help him to gain some hands-on experience. I explained the basics of measurements and guidelines, and then very quickly they started to taking accurate measurements of the shark with my supervision.

External morphometrics

External morphometrics

Finally when we were done with the 3-page external measurements, it was time to cut open the 17.5kg shark. To add to the atmosphere the perfect sunny spring day turned into ominous cloudy windy weather, it’s almost if Mother Nature knew how to set the scene. As I started making the first cut, I noticed some of the volunteer’s faces pulled in all different directions as the dead shark smell  filled their nostrils, especially when squeezing out the stomach contents to weigh. As the chorus of “ewwh’s” and “ahh’s” rained down, the fascination and interest remained as no-one moved an inch.

We opened up the shark, removing the liver, stomach, intestine and reproductive organs, all for internal measurements. The longer the dissection went on the more questions of genuine interest followed, ” How does the shark stay afloat?” was one of the volunteer questions. So sharks do not have a swim bladder like other fish for buoyancy but instead they have a liver filled with oil called squaline. I happily showed them by cutting a piece of liver and throwing it into a bucket of water, and as predicted it floated! It’s these types of practical demonstrations that have the biggest impact and can only be shown to people at an educational dissection.

After the organs from the body cavity were removed, I went on to show them the brain, eyes and heart, at this stage they were amazed how tiny the heart was in comparison to the body, and where it was located, in the upper throat section, “Talking about heart in your throat stuff” was one of the comments that had the group laughing. After all was cut open and measured, we then took some genetic samples and fin clips to finish off the dissection.

The group were all smiling and showed genuine interest throughout the dissection, for some this was first time they had ever been a part of a dissection, let alone a shark dissection! The group left with a newfound respect for these amazing ocean predators, and a comment by one of the volunteers to end of the day saying: ”This was one awesome experience, that I’ll probably never forget”!

Ettiene Roets (IMV Coordinator)

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A tribute to International Marine Volunteer alumna, Elly Warren.

It’s a sombre time in the International Marine Volunteers’ Center as we process the news that sweet, beautiful, vivacious Elly Warren has passed away.

Elly was just crazy about the sharks, simply head-over-heels in love with Trevor-the-dog and a wonderfully crazy, happy, smart and loving young woman.  She was easy-going, fitted in wherever she went, full of positive energy and a very open-minded individual.  We are privileged at IMV to have met her and to spend so many happy moments with her.  Elly was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met!

The planet has been robbed of an amazing ocean advocate… passionate, helpful, hard-working and enthusiastic – a young woman so rich in potential that my heart breaks to think that we won’t have the opportunity to watch her career progress and hear her happy laughter filling the IMV Center!

To Elly’s family and friends – we are so sorry for your loss!  From all of us at IMV, here’s wishing you peace in this tremendously difficult time <3

Elly and Trevor

Marie (IMV Administrator): When I think of Elly I remember a beautiful girl, barefoot and always smiling, sitting on the office floor and chatting away.  She told me about all the places she has visited before, all her plans for the rest of the year, and her love for animals.  I still found it quite interesting that such a young girl seemed to have her whole life sorted and knew exactly what she wanted to do.  Just as she was busy telling me about her pets back home our big volunteer dog, Trevor, came strolling into the office and just fell on her lap!  She hugged and kissed him, as if they have been friends for year, and this is when I took the photo that was on our Facebook page. 

 

Francois (IMV Volunteer Coordinator): I remember the first night Elly came to us as a volunteer and curled up with Trevor on his mattress inside the IMV lounge next to the sliding door going to the braai area. She loved Trevor so very much and called him her boyfriend!   She loved the beach and asked if she could do a beach walk to collect sea urchin shells. I dropped her off at Franskraal and she walked back to Kleinbaai along the coast. She arrived at the Great White House with all these urchin shells and I asked her how is going to get it all back to Australia and with a big smile she said she was going to fill her shoes with them and if possible if I could keep her any Pringles(the crisps) containers so that she can stash some in them too. She loved horse riding and I took her up too Grootbos to go horse riding and we got lost looking for the stables… which we thought was very funny. We eventually found the horse stables and she immediately wandered off to go and greet the other animals that were residing close to the stables. Elly was a very energetic and caring person with a lot of care and admiration for animals. She was the fun girl and every minute spent with her she had us all laughing and entertained with her spontaneous and humorous personality. I’m shocked that this awesome person who became part of our family was taken away from the world when she had so many good things and adventures lined up for her. You are truly going to be missed dear Elly and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get to know you and spend some time with you, laughing and enjoying every day you were around. Rest in peace our dear friend.

Elly Warren and biologistsAlison (Marine Biologist): My sincere condolences go out to Elly’s family at this difficult time. Elly was a character I will always remember, a true free spirit who brought laughter and light to all around her. While I only knew her for a few weeks as she volunteered with us at Marine Dynamics, the two of us bonded immediately over our shared passion for diving and marine life. Any chance Elly got to don a wetsuit and jump in the cage with the white sharks she was there- enthusiastic and ready- even if the water was cold and visibility bad. The crew all warmed to her, and even on the slowest shark days she would keep us entertained with her humour and stories. She was so excited to head to Mozambique and meet the mantas and whale sharks. The last contact I had from Elly was a messenger post gushing with excitement to tell me about how beautiful Mozambique was and how happy she was to be there. Even though her life was taken far too soon, perhaps we can hold some solace in the fact that she was doing something that made her truly happy and she utterly loved. Rest in peace dear Elly, you will be sorely missed by many xxxxxxxx

Meredith Thornton (IMV Manager)

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Fair Trade Tourism Certification for International Marine Volunteers!

Team IMV is very excited and proud that we have been Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) certified! The certification process is based on strict criteria relating to:

  • Fair wages and working conditions
  • Fair operations, purchasing and distribution of benefits
  • Ethical business practice
  • Respect for human rights, culture and the environment

The aim of FTT is ‘to make tourism more sustainable by ensuring that the people who contribute their land, resources, labour and knowledge to tourism are the ones who reap the benefits.’ It is based upon 6 principles which you can read about here:

The six principles of Fair Trade Tourism

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The IMV programme is primarily based on volunteering experiences within marine ecotourism, focusing on the Marine Big 5™.  Most volunteers who join the programme assist ecotourists aboard our shark cage-diving vessel and even dive fairly often themselves!  They can also assist on the whale-watching and ecotour vessel and become involved in activities at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust’s African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (DICT/APSS), a world-class rehabilitation facility housed on the IMV property.  Other activities that volunteers participate in with the DICT are assembly of fishing line bins, beach clean ups and monitoring, assisting biologists with data collection and entry etc.  The DICT has produced eighteen scientific publications, is actively involved in marine pollution efforts, marine animal rescues and has an environmental education programme for a dedicated group of learners from the local community. At the IMV Center we also grow organic vegetables and have a very successful recycling and composting system in place.

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At International Marine Volunteers we manage our operation, staff and volunteers holistically, striving for a gold standard in voluntourism.  Our mission is to inspire our volunteers to make a difference in the world around them by providing them with life-changing opportunities and experiences, and creating awareness that ecotourism, conservation, community, research and education can all dovetail into a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship.

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Marine Volunteering is not just about the sea!

Our volunteers recently had the opportunity to help the Tortoise Sanctuary in Gansbaai. This is a non-profit rescue centre and our volunteers worked hard to make sure that all tortoises big and small, will be safe in their new enclosure. They built a new fence for them and once everything was ready they relocated the tortoises and it seems as if they are very happy in their new home!

The sanctuary aims to protect all species of tortoises. They offer permanent sanctuary to abandoned tortoises for the remainder of their lives. Tortoises are one of the oldest reptile species, they even survived the mighty dinosaur era! Just like so many other species, these little guys are also being threatened by human activity. They lose their habitat when we build new roads and other infrastructure, destroy ecosystems for mining and so the list goes on and on. Many tortoises die on our roads, and the illegal animal trade plays a huge role. Tortoises can get very old. The reason they have survived for so long is that they are well-adapted and can eat almost any plants, even poisonous ones. This is how they survive, even in water restricted areas. Tortoises do not have teeth, and they swallow whatever piece of plant they can bite off whole. These funny little creatures, who carry their homes on their backs, are so important for the ecosystem… they eat seeds, flowers, roots and leaves of all sorts of plants, depositing seeds elsewhere in a nice ball of dung, thus helping with seed dispersal and doing their bit to make sure that the different plant species do not end up on the endangered list too.

tortoises

According to the law in our country, no tortoises may be kept as pets, you are not allowed to sell them, and they are also not supposed to be imported or exported. The only time this are allowed is if you have a special permit from your nature conservation department. Next time you see one of these special little guys crossing the road…don’t just feel sorry for it and drive past, stop briefly to pick it up (but don’t lift it more than 20 cm off the ground) and put it on the side of the road where it was heading to in the first place, and wave it goodbye!

Marié Botha and Helena Schoonwinkel (IMV & Tortoise Sanctuary)

 

 

 

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A day in the life of an International Marine Volunteer

Our day starts by waking up nice and early…we grab some coffee and cereal for breakfast or, if we don’t hit the snooze button too many times (!), we rustle up some nice warm bacon and eggs. One of our coordinators arrives, we spend a few minutes chatting and then hop into the minibus and head down to the Great White House, the hub of the tourist and conservation activities.

Here we can do various tasks, like assisting with wiping the boat down in the harbour, or helping at “front-of-house” – meeting and greeting the cage-diving clients. We also pack the individually numbered bags for the clients, containing a wetsuit and booties of the correct size. We assist wherever we can on the boats, with seasick clients, handing out towels to the divers and sometimes even help the marine biologists with data collection and entry.

Karen

For those of us who are truly interested in conservation and spreading the message about sharks and other threatened or vulnerable marine species, we use this opportunity to spend time with ecotourists, telling them all about the research and conservation work that the Fair Trade and Tourism registered companies (Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises, International Marine Volunteers) are doing together with the Dyer Island Trust. If we want we can go on the whale watching or ecotrip vessel and it’s anyone’s guess as to what we might see 🙂 These are very rewarding trips for volunteers who are interested in more than just the shark trips…whales, dolphins, penguins and seals are all very real daily possibilities!

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The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary is just next door to where we live and it is the most amazing thing ever working with penguins! They are endangered and if we stay for a few weeks and volunteer there regularly then our responsibilities grow and we can actually see the birds get fatter, fitter and maybe even be part of the team that gets to release some of them back into the wild – this is the coolest ever opportunity…a really tangible way of knowing that what we are doing is truly making a huge difference to the life of an individual bird! Nothing quite beats seeing a penguin, that you have been helping to rehabilitate, waddling down the beach into the water, suddenly realising it is free to head out into the open sea again!

If there is time before we go to sea, or in the afternoons when we come back, then we participate in various projects, like providing wood to the local community for heating and cooking purposes, or we do beach clean-ups, using a Samil truck to get to really out of the way beaches, which is such a privilege!

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We help out with projects of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, like making fishing line bins to place them along the shoreline for fishermen to throw away their line. We regularly help with emptying these bins and this material, along with the garbage we collect on the beaches, is all weighed and categorised for marine debris monitoring projects. We sometimes help with excursions and marine lessons for the children from the Trust’s environmental education club and we collect old shark eggs for identifying and measuring for a research project.

 

At the end of the day we cook dinner in our communal kitchen, or sometimes grab take-away pizzas and watch the sunset from the rocks, or we book as a big group at a nearby restaurant and try out the local cuisine.

We love the feeling that being part of the team at International Marine Volunteers brings every day! It really is like a family and is heart-breaking for us when we have to leave, but most of us say “We came for the sharks but we will come back for the people”… and we do just that, coming back to volunteer at IMV, time and again!

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International Marine Volunteers brighten up the local playground on Mandela Day

The 18th of July was Nelson Mandela International Day.  The United Nations General Assembly launched this day in order to recognise Madiba’s birthday and to honour his life and his work as a servant leader.

Those of you who have participated in the International Marine Volunteer programme will know that marine volunteering is not just about assisting on the vessels and helping with the conservation projects that we run, but we also try our best to become involved in community projects wherever we can.  Last year we spent half a day assisting the staff at BARC, our local animal rescue center, so this year we decided to do something for the children of the community.  We partnered with our colleagues at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises and the Great White House and headed down to the Masakhane playground.

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The equipment was looking dull and dreary and there was lots of rubbish lying around, so we donned our old clothes and got to work!  We sanded and painted, constructed swings and put up climbing ropes.  Those people who weren’t keen on getting too messy helped by picking up rubbish, and more importantly collecting little bits of broken glass that can harm little feet.

Luckily the weather was very much in our favour – we had hot sun and a moderate breeze to help the paint to dry…so by the time that school came out a lovely surprise was waiting for the children! We will be keeping an eye on the playground and will touch up the paint and tidy things up whenever we can.

To learn more visit: http://www.mandeladay.com/

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International Marine Volunteers’ first father-daughter team has a blast with great white sharks!

We were very excited when Craig and Kate Cameron signed up for 5 weeks as volunteers with International Marine Volunteers, assisting Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.  They were our first father-daughter team and they had a wonderful experience together!

Kate said, “I am very excited to be involved with Marine Dynamics as a volunteer. It has been a dream of mine for a while to spend some time learning more about white sharks in South Africa. It was even more incredible to be able to spend time here with my father for Father’s Day. He was very excited to come and see the sharks and the whales. There is truly no better way to spend my time off than with my dad living a dream with International Marine Volunteers!”

Besides for the time helping and educating tourists and cage-diving aboard the amazing vessel, Slashfin, Kate also teamed up with some of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust staff on a couple of occasions to assist with their environmental education programme.  Kate lent her own special brand of energy and way of interacting with the young learners and they just loved her to bits!  This truly is a talent of hers 🙂

Whilst here they also volunteered at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary, Birkenhead Animal Rescue Center, participated in beach clean-ups, made fishing line bins and visited the penguin colony at Stony Point to name but a few of the many activities.

Craig and Kate Cameron

Craig told us that, “For at least three years, my daughter Kate said that she’d like to go to South Africa to see the breaching Great White Sharks.  We started planning the trip for a week or two until we found the volunteer program with Marine Dynamics…I couldn’t ask for a better memory than to spend this amazing time here with her.  I’m thoroughly enjoying the water, the volunteers and of course the sharks.  Kate is even more thrilled with the sharks and her new friends in the group of volunteers.”

 

Craig was a wonderful team member – he was just so comfortable in his own space and a real pleasure to be around. He put all the youngsters to shame by staying fit and running regularly to Danger Point lighthouse and back! Whales have a special place in his heart and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time aboard Dream Catcher, our whale watching and eco-tour vessel.

It was lots of fun and a real privilege to have both Craig and Kate at IMV, and we are looking forward to having them return again soon!

This just goes to show that volunteering is not only for young adults having a vacation or gap year, but for people of all ages – it is a really healthy, fun-filled family activity too!  We even have someone joining us who is in their 70’s a little later this year…volunteering is for everyone – you just have to be flexible, easy-going and ready for adventure!

Keen to join us too?  Just drop us a line at volunteers@sharkwatchsa.com and we will send you all the information that you need.

Meredith Thornton

IMV Manager

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