Tag Archives: volunteer

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

Exploring the Unknown Underwater World

South Africa’s Atlantic coastline offers some extremely beautiful dives, but only if the Cape of Storms permits it. In order for us to be able to explore down in the kelp forest, we need a 5-star calm sea day, very little wind and some good visibility. Recently we got just what we were waiting for!

The day before the dive, Jan du Toit, our in-house scuba divemaster and instructor, and I, prepared all the gear. Our scuba diving gear is top notch and assures an easy and safe diving experience. Once we were all packed and ready to go we set a time to go down to the caves at De Kelders – 8am the next morning. The divers were all super excited about the unique diving that South Africa offers.

Upon arrival I handed out each diver’s kit, set up to their preference, and we got dressed into our suits. Just to give you an idea of where this dive site is, the parking lot where we set up is elevated well above the entry point (99 steps!), and it can be a little tricky walking down with all your gear, but it always pays off in the end!

Getting wetsuits on and all our gear ready         [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

I gathered all the divers on the edge of the road where you can see the dive site as well as the beautiful panoramic view of Walker Bay Nature Reserve, from Die Plaat to Hermanus and all the way past Betty’s Bay to Cape Hangklip. A southern right whale close to our dive site was playing and showing off for us, emphasising just how lucky we were to be there, at just the right moment! I was acting as dive leader, so with all the divers gathered, I briefed them regarding the site, our dive route and emergency procedures.  We created a dive buddy system and went through all our hand signals.  Then we were almost ready to head down to the water but first each dive buddy did final checks on their partner – air open, octo works, purge, weights, 200 bar etc. Check, check, check, always remembering that safety comes first…and then we were ready to take the stairway down to the water’s edge.

A shy shark                        [Photo credit: Zhu Pigolate]

Going out in the kelp is a bit tricky because it wraps around you, your fins, cylinder, everywhere (!) but we all stuck together and helped one another. Out we swam and found a nice open patch to do our descent. I asked if everyone was okay and ready and then off we went, descending into the unknown underwater world.

Nudibranch                           [Photo credit: Wade Lowe]

Wow, what a unique dive, it truly felt like we were in an underwater forest. The sun’s rays shone through the openings between the kelp, making it extremely magical. There was loads of life down there, as we explored along our route we encountered west coast rock lobster, black breams, crabs, sponges, ferns, fans, abalone, alikreukels or giant turban snails, also known fondly as ollycrocks.

Shark eggs or mermaid’s purses                         [Photo credit: Zhu Pigolate]

Purple sea urchin                         [Photo credit: Zhu Pigolate]

My personal favourites on dives like these are the nudibranch species, amazing psychedelic colours, an underwater photographer’s dream! Oh wait, how can I forget… two very curious Cape fur seals joined us all along the way and were intrigued with what we were doing. They gave us quite a show, making me think of sea ballerinas! We took some frozen sardines with us and towards the end of our dive Jan decided it was time to use them.  We crushed them a bit to see if we could attract some shy sharks and before long we had seven or eight of them around us. We even saw some mating behaviour – biting just behind the gills and upwards swimming!

Unfortunately we aren’t fish, even though I’d like to be (!), and our cylinder pressure was running low, so it was time to call an end to the dive.  We slowly ascended back to the surface together as a group. What a bunch of happy faces, chatting and laughing while we battled through the kelp back to shore. It truly was an amazing dive with an awesome group of people. And so we bid the Mother-of-the-Underwater-World farewell…and embarked on our 99 steps back up the cliff with gravity-filled feet again!

Hennie Odendal

Volunteer Coordinator

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

Day tripping with International Marine Volunteers

When the swell’s up or the wind is blowing strongly then the boats can’t go to sea, and volunteers and crew alike get a well-deserved day off!  So in times like these, what is there for a marine volunteer to do?

Firstly we usually take advantage of the opportunity to sleep a little later than normal 😉 but then it’s breakfast time and off we go…road tripping time!

On our most recent trip we started off with a visit to Struisbaai Harbour to check out the local stingrays and the colourful fishing vessels.

A short-tailed stingray at Struisbaai Harbour [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

Then we hopped back in the minibus and headed off to L’Gulhas, the southern-most town in Africa!  We visited the spot where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are said to meet…well, in reality they do mix in this area but, depending on the oceanographic conditions the actual meeting spot fluctuates geographically – but at least we can say “been there done that”!

The spot where the two oceans meet [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

While we were there we climbed to the top of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse.  This lighthouse was renovated recently and is looking lovely both inside and out!  It was quite a hectic climb up ladders and stairs but the view and the wind in our hair was definitely worth the effort!  It was an amazing view and we could even see the stone fishtraps that were built by South Africa’s first people – the Strandlopers, or beach walkers, known as the KhoiKhoi.  They were nomadic people who foraged and lived in the coastal zone thousands of years ago.

At the top of the the Cape Agulhas lighthouse – check out the huge prisms for the light that keeps our ships safe at night [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

Leaving the southernmost tip of Africa behind us, we headed eastwards towards a picturesque little town called Arniston.  Here we hiked along the beach to visit a huge and beautiful cave called Waenhuiskrans, which means Wagon House Cliff, after the fact that the cave was big enough to park a wagon and a span of oxen in it!

Waenhuiskrans [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

We even donned our fins and swam in the Indian Ocean, while back home at the International Marine Volunteer Center when we go kelp diving we actually swim in the Atlantic Ocean 🙂  Kinda fun to know, and for those people who like to tick off lists of cool things they have done, this is definitely one of them!

Meredith Thornton: IMV Manager

Kelp diving with International Marine Volunteers

International Marine Volunteers is based in such a beautiful part of the world, where the Agulhas and Benguela oceans mix around the southernmost tip of Africa.  The ocean here is productive and diverse and, while we spend most of our time offshore in search of great white sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and penguins, just on the other side of the rocks along our shore lies a secret world of beautiful creatures and plants just waiting to be discovered!

Beautiful views along the De Kelders’ coastline [photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

Kelp beds in less than 10m of water are a rich and exciting habitat for all sorts of creatures.  Kelp is also known as sea bamboo, or Ecklonia maxima, and these underwater plants play an integral role in the nearshore environment.  The forest of kelp fronds provide some protection from predators and the sun and is an excellent habitat for both fish and invertebrate species, like abalone, a highly-prized (and unfortunately intensively poached) mollusc.

Kelp is harvested at sea and collected along the beaches in South Africa and is used as feed for farmed abalone, fish and other animals, liquid fertiliser, alginate, a compost booster, moisture-retainer for agriculture and even as a dietary supplement for humans.

After a good day’s work, when time and weather allows, we head on down to De Kelders, a picturesque stretch of coast on the eastern shore of Walker Bay.  Donning wetsuits, masks, weight belts and fins we gather at the water’s edge and slide into the cool water with great excitement, and in some cases, a lot of nerves!

“I was a little bit nervous at first” said one of the volunteers, because there some sharks around, “but I soon realised that they weren’t going to mess with us and I felt like I was swimming through an underwater jungle!”

Soon everyone was enchanted by the brown-green kelp forest swaying in the swells, the many different fish sheltering amongst the fronds and the wide array of other species below us.

We see lots of species whilst down there, but the most regularly seen are the wildeperde, or  white and black zebra fish, blacktail, yellow-striped sea bream (which are apparently hallucinogenic if eaten!), rockfish, sea urchins, anemones, cushion stars and other starfish, abalone and alikreukel, also known as the giant turban snail.

Many of us are of course shark lovers so the pyjama shark, shy shark, spotted gully shark and raggies often steal the show!

“It was so much fun, and such a cool spot,” said another one of the volunteers excitedly, “I learnt lots about different species of marine life and also how to get through kelp with a weight belt and flippers!”

“It was kind of eerie in the kelp forest, but I enjoyed it never-the-less!”

“It was really pretty and so peaceful!”

And most importantly…“When can we go again?!”

Ring bubbles! [photo credit: Sandra Hoerbst]

Wow…how lucky we are to have such a nice opportunity, right on our doorstep, to pop our heads underwater and learn all about a whole other world!  At International Marine Volunteers our coordinators are passionate about the coastline, love the marine environment and welcome every opportunity to share their knowledge with our volunteers.

by Meredith Thornton: IMV Manager

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

 

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)

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.

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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.

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/