Tag Archives: voluntourism

A Tiger of a Different Kind

TEA FOR TIGERS FUNDRAISER

At International Marine Volunteers (IMV) when we hear the word TIGER we immediately think about the majestic tiger shark… a nocturnal predator with a blue-grey body and dark stripes resembling the coat pattern of a terrestrial tiger.  This beautiful shark is also known as the Sea Tiger and eats a large variety of prey.  This time around, however, when we spoke about tigers it was all about the terrestrial species instead.

The IMV programme is all about sharks, whales, dolphins, seabirds and the conservation of the ocean but we do love all sorts of animals too, so we recently got involved in helping to raise funds for Arabella and Raise, two tigers rescued by Panthera Africa, a big cat sanctuary situated nearby that we often visit if the weather is too rough for us to go out to sea.

These two tigers were rescued from a bone trade farm where they would have had an untimely death and their bones sold to markets in Asia to make potions and aphrodisiacs.  Panthera’s aim is to give these tigers the love and respect they deserve and to live out the rest of their lives in a peaceful, enriched enclosure where they are free to run and play at will.  Arabella has already had a much-needed eye operation and the funds raised will help to construct a large platform and a dam as tigers just love to swim! Remaining funds will be used towards buying a huge freezer to store meat for all the animals at the center and, as these cats also need to be kept busy, some funds will also be used to buy enrichment toys.

Raise, so-named in order to raise awareness for tigers [Photo credit – Panthera Africa]

The fund raising event was called “TEA FOR TIGERS”, and people from all over the world hosted tea parties on this day to raise funds.  At IMV we sold some speciality cupcakes at our local shopping centre and held a raffle with awesome prices. 1st prize was a whale-watching trip for two with our sister company Dyer Island Cruises, 2nd prize was an educational trip for two to Panthera Africa and the 3rd prize was a behind-the-scenes tour at our African Penguin and Seabird Centre, where IMV volunteers help out every day.

We even had our own little mascot, and with help from him we also managed to secure a donation of a cow (!) and a smaller freezer to keep store meat for the jackals at the sanctuary.

Our heart-melting mascot, Zayne <3

The volunteers held their own “Tea Party” at the IMV Center and had a lot of fun!  We had some prizes sponsored from our local community and they were raffled for the volunteers.  We had pizza’s, t-shirts, a handbag, ladies watch, and a horse riding excursion.

All-in-all this was a great day and an awesome way of showing people that we care about more than just the marine environment!

‘May the choices you make today be forever in Earth’s favour.’ –SBCCQ

Three generations of animal-lovers – Marié Botha from IMV and her daughter and grandson, Liezel and Zayne Middleton

Marié Botha, IMV Administrator

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!

Tagging a Great White Shark!

One of the most rewarding things for us at International Marine Volunteers is when volunteers come back to join us, time and again.  Brian Whyte, from Ontario, is one such returning volunteer, he first joined us last year for 2 weeks and booked again this year for three weeks with us, extending by another week once he got here!

Working in the culinary trade back home in his normal daily life, Brian is actually qualified with an Hons in Biology.  When he joins us here in South Africa he helps wherever and whenever he can with boat operations, data collection and ecotourism activities.  He is a senior volunteer, happily taking on added responsibility, and assists by giving boat briefings and taking care of some communication and security. He is one of the most helpful, capable and affable volunteers we have ever had!

Brian was lucky enough to be invited to join one of our tagging trips recently and he had the following to say about it:

The other day at International Marine Volunteers I was fortunate enough to be one of four volunteers to go on our research vessel, Lwazi, on a shark tagging trip. Lwazi is a small vessel, roughly 8 meters long, with low gunnels. While this makes tagging easier, it also means that the boat is very weather dependent. Large swells and strong winds don’t make skipping Lwazi easy, which meant it was beautiful day on the water when we launched!

Brian and one of co-volunteers chumming to attract a great white shark for tagging                            [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

The other volunteers and I were joined by skipper Dickie Chivell and marine biologist and Ph.D candidate Alison Towner, who is researching the relationship of cage diving and great white shark behaviour in the area. After heading out of the harbour for about 15 minutes, we anchored and began chumming the water to attract a shark to tag. Tagging proved to be a somewhat tricky process as there are a few things to take into account when placing the tag.

The shark needs to be very close to the boat when tagging to ensure proper placement. While a correctly placed tag won’t do any harm to the shark, if the tag were to be misapplied the shark could be injured. Also, the tags are an expensive piece of equipment and if not deployed properly it could mean they would fall off the shark and are lost. Taking this into account, skipper Dickie held the tagging pole over the side of the boat waiting for a shark to get close, while us volunteers shark-spotted and continued chumming.

Dickie Chivell successfully placing a tag into the shark      [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

After some anxious close passes, patience paid off when a 3.8 meter male with a sickle-shaped dorsal fin appeared. He approached the back of the boat and swam to the port side, right underneath the tagging pole. One quick motion and a split second later – the shark was tagged perfectly and was ready to be tracked!

I have volunteered for nearly two months with Marine Dynamics and the tagging and tracking trip was far and away one of my favourite days! It was an amazing time being on the research boat, collecting scientific data that will be used to help uncover some of the mysteries of the great white shark. Being able to contribute to this important conservation project was an experience that I won’t soon forget.

We are really looking forward to having Brian join the IMV team again – there are just a handful of volunteers of his calibre, so it’s no wonder the research team named the tagged shark after him!  Here’s wishing both Brians happy, safe travels, wherever they may go 🙂

Watch this space for part 2 of the tagging excursion…

Meredith Thornton (IMV Manager)

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

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

 

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.