Tag Archives: marine volunteers

Exclusive Shark Cage-Diving Treat for our Volunteers

Every now and again, when the time allows, we are able to fit in a fully exclusive cage-diving trip for our hard-working volunteers.  It is usually very early in the morning, which adds to all the excitement.  Wetsuits, booties and towels were all prepared the night before and the passenger list for the boat was compiled in readiness for the next day.  Early the next morning a group of yawning, sleepy faces all piled into the minibus and headed down to the harbour for a beautiful sunrise and a fun time out on the water!

Our volunteers have coordinators with them from early morning until night-time, so we usually make sure that they all go aboard together.  It is an amazing experience for everyone!  Instead of their usual task of educating and taking care of ecotourism clients, the crew and volunteers get to just relaaaax and fully enjoy the cage-diving experience.  

There is a lot of fun, laughter and joking around, and a really good vibe on board Slashfin, the Marine Dynamics’ vessel.  Our volunteers all get rewarded with some well-deserved time off doing exactly what they are deeply passionate about!

Gray helping one of her teammates out with a nice dry towel


The volunteers said that they found the whole experience really good for bonding with their teammates, coordinators and the boat crew.

Staff and volunteers working together as a team

Volunteers helping to retrieve and stow the anchor away

This time around they were really lucky and got some fantastic great white shark sightings and were able to spend a long time in the cage.  They said that they enjoyed the fact that they knew everyone diving in the cage alongside them, so they felt comfortable and could chat and joke with one another at will.

Ettiene Roets, one of our volunteer coordinators, said that exclusive volunteer dives are “a nice bonding experience for both coordinators and volunteers alike…the exclusives are uniquely fun trips, almost like playing at work”.

Meredith Thornton: IMV Manager

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

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)

Primo Visit

International Marine Volunteers – Centro Studi Di Squali
by Karim Mostafa

Being a volunteer with International Marine Volunteers, is not only a great opportunity to be out in the field with marine life, but also an excellent way to be part of marine biological research. The volunteer programme has two sides of it, the one is the tourism aspect where we take different clients from all over the world for a thrilling shark cage diving experience, making it a memorable day and educating them on the misinterpretation of these majestic creatures. The other aspect is the work with the marine biologists with their studies and research in protecting these sharks assisting with their data collection, and even a lucky few with tagging a Great White Shark!
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Additionally, volunteers this week had an exciting opportunity to work directly with the Centro Studi Di Squali (Research Shark Centre) from Italy leaded by Dr. Primo Micarelli, and his team of 20 students. Our International Marine Volunteers, were able to join them on their research trips, with marine Dynamics, and assisted them with their data collection on Great White Sharks. Studying the behaviour and the numbers of Great White Sharks that pass within the area, they saw 45 different great white sharks, 20 fewer than what they saw at the same time last year.
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It was an enriching experience to interact and learn directly from Dr. Primo, appreciating the time to identify each unique marks and scars on these sharks, compared with their previous visits and observing how the wounds had healed and how the sharks were larger in size. This research expedition also gave the opportunity for our marine biologists to add some new sharks onto the Fin Database that allows us to identify the different sharks that we see in the bay.

From International Marine Volunteers, a big thank you to Dr. Primo and his team from Centro Studi Di Squali, for their allowing us to be part of their study and research. We look forward to their return in September!

What a great week to be an International Marine Volunteer with Marine Dynamics!
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Masakane School Visit

Today, four of our volunteers accompanied Marlette and Christoff Longland and Sanchia Chivell to Masakhane Primary School with the goal of teaching students about whales. We stopped into two different third grade classes during their English lesson, hoping to provide some practice for the mainly Xhosa-speaking students. Though there were over 40 students in each classroom, the students were incredibly polite, standing up and addressing us in unison (in English!) as we arrived.

After some introductions were made, Marlette began to tell the story of Wally and Will, two Southern Right Whales making their way along the coast of South Africa. Throughout their journey, Wally and Will saw many interesting land animals and excitedly adopted their characteristics, only to discover that they could no longer be happy whales and breach or spout. The story concludes with Wally and Will shedding their adopted features and realizing they were perfect just the way they were. The students listened with rapt attention and happily participated in the storytelling, tacking on the features of the land animals as the whales adopted them.

We then handed out crayons and outlines of Southern Right Whales, which the students coloured with gusto. Each designed their whale differently; some grabbed the brightest colours they could find, while some patiently waited for the blue and black crayons so they could colour their whales “accurately.”

Amidst a flurry of colouring, we made our exit, leaving behind the crayons, colouring materials, a birthday calendar, and a new appreciation of whales. We promised a return visit and to bring more information about marine life and conservation.

We would like to thank Masakhane Primary School for hosting us, and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Volkswagen South Africa for their sponsorship. Without them none of today’s activities would be possible…- Anna, Alex, Connie, and Haley (Marine Volunteer)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Breaching Trip

Getting up this morning was no problem for the volunteers. They boarded Slashfin at 07:15 with smiles on their faces. Who wouldn’t smile if you were going on a breaching trip, I mean what is better than “flying” sharks. Leaving the harbour the volunteers got to see a proper South African sunrise, and I think it’s safe to say that the African sky is beyond compare.

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Approaching Geyser Rock we threw our decoy line into the water and slowly started towing the decoy behind Slashfin. We patiently waited for our first shark, when all of a sudden a Great White flew up into the sky. This was the perfect way of showing the volunteers how strong and fast these sharks are. We headed back towards the harbour with volunteers still in awe. Just a perfect start to shark filled day.

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Winter is here

The busy season for IMV is here and we are starting it off with 18 volunteers. What more could you ask for? Winter brings bigger sharks, better visibility, some no sea days and great volunteers. Even with the no sea days we are still keeping these guys busy.

14-DSC_1632 03-DSC_1222 Our community projects are on a roll and improving each day, lectures are being held, just to give them that little extra knowledge and some days when they just want to take it easy, wine tasting and some games at the lodge is always great.

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The volunteers have been very lucky lately, going on their very own Exclusive trips, with Marine Dynamics Shark cage diving. Still a couple cold months ahead, but we are looking forward to spending it with these amazing people.

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Creating a home

Do you guys like riddles?

Yeah? Well here’s one for you…

What is white, classy

And brand new

 

I’ll give you a hint

It’s where you play, eat and sleep

And it is where

The volunteers we keep

 

Guys check it out.

The roof over your head

Is new and improved

Even with a new bed  

Bedroom

Here is a sneak preview of the new “image” cottages. It has all the best equipment to give you that five star Marine Volunteer experience. Just our way of trying to make you guys feel more comfortable, especially coming home after a long day out at sea or a mind blowing lecture. International Marine Volunteer program is taking another step to insure that future volunteers have a place they can call home.        

Kitchen and Lounge are

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!