Tag Archives: Dyer Island Conservation Trust

Busy times at International Marine Volunteers!

It’s only Wednesday and we have already accomplished and learnt so much in the last three days!

Eight trips on board beautiful Slashfin, seeing lots of copper sharks, or bronze whalers, as they are also known, plus seven trips on Dream Catcher, the whale watching and ecotour vessel that offers an amazing Marine Big 5™ experience…busybusy volunteers helping with every aspect of the operations!

The saddest part of the week so far?

Hearing about a great white shark that had been caught by a fisherman and died.

The most enlightening part of the week so far?

Having the unique opportunity to work alongside the Dyer Island Conservation Trust’s very knowledgeable marine biologists, participating in the measuring, dissection and sampling of this shark.

Quentin inspecting the great white shark during the dissection  [Photo credit: Marié Botha]

The most gross…

Helping to collect a rotting whale skull that has been lying around on a deserted section of coast for months.  Thank goodness for washing machines and fresh clothes in the cupboard!

Jan, Quentin, Kyle and Erik getting down and dirty with a rotten whale head! [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

The most amazing…

Seeing the complete skull and vertebral column of a tiny dolphin calf inside the stomach of the great white shark!  Sad and exciting all at the same time.

The most exciting…

3-4 m viz and bronzies all around, plus 5 southern right whale cow-calf pairs in the bay!

Lovely viz and beautiful bronzies  [Photo credit: Shaun van Tonder]

Besides for the work we also celebrated Chai’s birthday and had a braai (barbeque) outside in the lovely warm summer weather.  Only a month to go until Christmas…our sleepy coastal village is filling up with people on vacation and we can feel the holiday spirit in the air!

Chill time at the end of another busy day…a welcoming braai for the incoming volunteers [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

Meredith Thornton, IMV Manager

International Marine Volunteers Assist at a Humpback Whale Stranding

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) recently responded to a stranding of a humpback whale and the team at International Marine Volunteers was asked to assist.

The carcass was covered in many wounds from having washed in over the sharp rocks and much of the skin was missing.  It came closer and closer to shore over the next few high tides and was eventually lodged on the high water mark, within a few meters of the road.

Volunteers assisted the DICT marine biologist by doing observations and data recording as well as taking measurements and samples.  They were given an in-depth lesson on humpback whales and their biology and were amazed by the sheer size of the whale!

Volunteers comparing ratios of their own body measurements to those of the humpback whale

Some of them had seen this same whale swimming around the bay just a couple of days prior to the stranding.  The identity was matched using photo ID of the dorsal fin.  Humpback whales can also be matched by comparing photos of the underside of the flukes, but this animal only showed its flukes once and only a partial photo could be collected.  The tail was also so damaged during stranding that the patterns would not have been comparable.

Volunteers dwarfed by the stranded humpback whale

It is heart-wrenching to witness such a large animal helpless in the surf but this is Mother Nature’s way and such stranding events have been happening for centuries.  Stranded animals provide scientists with an opportunity to collect samples, like skin for genetics, baleen and parasites for museum collections and anatomical measurements for comparative studies.  It is seldom that one can determine the cause of death but it does provide an incredible educational opportunity for all involved!

Meredith Thornton: IMV Manager

Tracking a Great White Shark

Tracking a Great White Shark
by Halle Gray Carlson, International Marine Volunteer

A few of us from the International Marine Volunteer team were recently given the opportunity to join the Dyer Island Conservation Trust team on Lwazi to tag and track a Great White Shark! We launched early in the morning and began looking for a good shark to tag. After about an hour at sea a large male was tagged as it calmly swam past the boat. Once the tag was on, the tracking portion of the trip began.

Gray and Henrik attracting the shark                    [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

The great white shark swimming serenely by             [Photo credit: Halle Gray Carson]

To track a shark using acoustic tags, you stick a hydrophone (underwater microphone) in the water and listen for a “ping” sound from a connected transmitter. If you are close to the shark, the ping is loud and very clear. However, if the shark begins to swim away, it’s harder to hear the ping.

Alison tracking and Gray in charge of data recording                  [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

Alison Towner, the biologist on board, let us all take a turn at using the hydrophone to track our shark (which was later named Brian, after one of my co-volunteers). I was kind of nervous to try it at first because I didn’t want to be the one to lose the shark, but Alison was super helpful and told us exactly what to do. Basically, you want to point the hydrophone in the direction of the shark while following the sound of the pings. Every 60 seconds, another person records GPS coordinates, water temperature and depth of the animal.

Henrik and Brian using the hydrophone and collecting data

Over the course of 2 hours, we found that Brian made a tour of the shallows and stopped at a couple of cage diving boats. It was cool to be able to see what a great white shark does during a typical day, and hopefully we’ll get to go out on Lwazi again soon so that we can see what he’s up to now!

Further Comment by Alison Towner, Dyer Island Conservation Trust marine biologist:

This aspect of white shark research for me in the most fascinating. Many may find active tracking tedious as it involves extensive hours at sea, essentially puttering around after a ping…however ultimately that ping represents an acoustic signal on one of the oceans top predators. It never gets old homing in on our shark and then tracking its movements. It is almost as if we are in the mind of the shark as it goes about its daily thing which is fascinating to me. Whether the shark we track is foraging for a seal for breakfast at Dyer Island or cruising the beautiful stretch of beach inshore near Kleinbaai, we are literally entering the sharks’ world every time we track. Each individual has its own personality and hunting behaviour. That sort of research experience really allows you to get an understanding of this species and beats any day stuck behind a computer crunching numbers!

Alison training Gray on how to use the tracking equipment              [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

I particularly enjoy it when the volunteers, after training with me, start to get confident on the tracking machine. Every time we take new volunteers out there, at first they are a little nervous of losing the shark but after some hours we are able to teach them how to ‘listen’ to where the shark is. It involves real team work, co-ordination and focus. While one person takes data another watches the time and scribes data. At the end of a track, with hours of data having been collected, heading back into the sunset while leaving the shark to carry on in its world, I often turn and look at the vols faces. I don’t need to say a thing, their expressions are of sheer accomplishment and satisfaction – because we just spend hours in the natural daily life of the great white shark and what an exclusive privilege that is!

Every Bit Counts with the Fishing Line Bin Project

Fishing line bins are simply, yet cleverly designed bins that are erected on poles along the coastline at popular fishing spots in order to make it simple for members of the public to dispose of any fishing line that they may need to discard or that they have picked up along the beach.

When you join the International Marine Volunteer programme you will also become involved in this conservation project by assembling fishing line bins or helping to patrol the coastline, participating in our beach pollution clean-up and monitoring project, emptying fishing line bins along the way.  We separate the fishing line from all the bits of kelp, stones and other rubbish so that its weight can be properly recorded and it is then stored for recycling.

There are several environmental, educational and aesthetic reasons why we initiated this important project:

By removing plastics from the environment, and thus from the food chain where they are consumed by animals unwittingly believing them to be food, we prevent a situation where toxins are released from the plastic and stored in the animals’ bodies, becoming increasingly concentrated as they move up through the food chain.  These toxins affect the immune system resulting in long term declines in body condition and increased susceptibility to illnesses.  In some cases an agonising death occurs due to the ingestion of a toxic cocktail from the mother’s milk in the case of the first offspring for marine mammals.

Removing fishing line also helps to prevent the entanglement of animals like birds, seals, dolphins, sharks and even some terrestrial animals that frequent the coastal zone.  Entanglements seldom come loose, usually tightening over time and resulting in loss of limbs, strangulation and death.

The physical presence of fishing line bins along our coastline contributes to education efforts to raise awareness about the importance of our project amongst locals and visitors using the coastal and harbour areas.  Fortunately most recreational and commercial fishermen know about the local bins and use them regularly.

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust has an educational display and gives presentations about the project, and all the ecotourists and volunteers who come through our doors are exposed to the fishing line bin project.  Simply seeing the bins or hearing about them in presentations makes people think twice before they throw that little sweet wrapper on the ground, or walk past fishing line lying on the beach.

An often overlooked reason to pick up fishing line is an aesthetic one – man has a right to a clean natural environment and fishing line bins are an avenue to remove unsightly line from the beaches.

We don’t only make fishing line bins for our local area, our project partner John Kieser from Plastics SA is doing regular trips to distribute them in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and to all the Blue Flag beaches along our coastline.  He has been instrumental in arranging DPI Plastics to donate the material for us to use.  For this support we are extremely grateful!

At International Marine Volunteers we have a Samil 20, which is a 4-wheel drive vehicle, that allows us access to remote sections of the coast where our help is really needed to remove litter from the beaches, attend strandings of dead animals and search for creatures in distress, such as injured or oiled penguins.

Our intrepid Samil, taking us on marine warrior expeditions! [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

Some people may feel that projects like these are only a drop in the ocean considering what needs to be done to reverse the damage that man as a species has done to the planet.  However, we are of the firm belief that that EVERY BIT COUNTS and that, even if we weren’t involved in polluting the environment ourselves, every single one of us has a responsibility to help save the planet for future generations!

Meredith Thornton: IMV Manager

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

IMV FTT -1a

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.

fairtradelogo

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.

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!

Dscn9830

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!

10585676_10152159971755518_1848911074_n

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!

Img_0964

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.

Img_2650a Img_2651a Img_2643a

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

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

Mandela Day

Mandela Day was a day spent with children, the elderly and the less fortunate. A day we just had to take 67 minutes of our time and give back to the world, but the International Marine Volunteers gave an entire day, from collecting clothes to gathering fire wood.

1-DSC_1336

After having their coffee the volunteers started gathering wood and sorting the clothes they have collected.

1-DSC_1343

1-DSC_1342

They then headed towards Blompark, to pay the elderly and the kids a visit. To the elderly the volunteers placed blankets on their beds and donated food they collected. For the kids it was socks, hats, clothes, gloves and of course crayons to make life just a little bit more colourful. Then the volunteers loaded a trailer with wood to give the community a way to cook their food and warm their homes.

1-DSC_1385

1-DSC_1400

1-DSC_1439

1-DSC_1475

1-DSC_1504

1-DSC_1497

This would never have been possible if it wasn’t for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics. Together we all made a difference in many lives of the community, by just adding a little bit of colour and warmth.

1-DSC_1425

1-DSC_1485

 

 

Helping to conserve the African Penguin

On Wednesday, 12th February 2014, instead of volunteering on Marine Dynamics’ shark cage diving boat, Slashfin, seven of our International Marine Volunteers had the privilege to visit one of the largest remaining African Penguin colonies in the world, Stony Point in Betty’s Bay.

International Marine Volunteers arive at Stony Point, Betty's Bay for a day of working for the conservation of the African Penguin.

International Marine Volunteers arive at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay for a day of working for the conservation of the African Penguin.

These visits are a fortnightly institution for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and the International Marine Volunteers. We help with the maintenance of this colony, assisting with alien vegetation clearing, placing of artificial homes for the penguin families and vegetative habitat mimicry.

Stony Point Seabird Monitor, Yvonne, addresses the Volunteers about their duties for the day.

Stony Point Seabird Monitor, Yvonne, addresses the Volunteers about their duties for the day.

Yvonne, Seabird Monitor at Stony Point, gave the volunteersa a private tour of the boardwalk, which meanders over the Penguin walkways to and from the ocean. This walkway provides excellent viewing of the African Penguins, and other seabirds nests, without disturbing or impacting on the birds in any specific way. After the innitial tour, Yvonne explained to the Volunteers what their duties for the day entials.

A quick history on the African Penguin, in their natural habitat they were once quite abundant and were able to burrow down into guano, creating adequate nests to shelter them from environmental factors. Then the guano was harvested off of the islands and sold commercially as fertilizer, and a component of gunpowder. As a direct result the penguins were unable to form nests and were forced to lay their eggs in open scrapings on hospitable terrain. The eggs that survived the forty-day incubation period yielded surviving chicks, but without the safety of a nest they simply became an easy meal for seals, and predatory birds.

Within the past thirty years, the population numbers have declined by ninety percent. The species is predicted to become extinct within the next ten to fifteen years if drastic action is not taken.

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust, that has vowed to save the African Penguin, has created a program that introduces artificial homes in which the penguins can nest and more successfully raise their chicks.

An African Penguin inspects one of the artificial nests installed through the Faces of Need project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

An African Penguin inspects one of the artificial nests installed through the Faces of Need project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

Two years prior to our visit, a residential area was built across the street from the bay.

The penguins, which once had free reign of the entire area, were evicted from the neighborhood further limiting their available nesting grounds.

The penguins would still venture into the neighborhoods and became cat and dog food and even some were even killed by homeowners who considered them pests.

The International Marine Volunteers helping with the fence at Stony Point.

The International Marine Volunteers helping with the fence at Stony Point.

The main job during the volunteers visit was to finish building a fence in order to keep the penguins in the colony and keep the terrestrial predators, such as house cats, from stealing the newborn chicks from the nests.

It was hard work but very rewarding, knowing that the fence would help the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Stoney Point save African Penguin lives, and promote the conservation of this species!