Thanks Sadie for this guest post! Who is Sadie?
Sadie has been traveling the world off and on for the last 8 years looking for volunteer opportunities focused on animal and environmental conservation. She has slept amongst the African Big 5, helped restore the coral reef and much much more. You can follow Sadie on her blog, Eclectic Trekker, or through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Volunteering wtih sharks in South Africa
Sharks have fascinated me basically my whole life. Every year I would wait for Shark Week to come on TV and then would be glued to the television for that whole week. I wanted so badly to get to see these amazing creatures in the wild.
First I tried looking up cage diving on its own, but I wanted something more than just a day trip. I wanted to be able to actually spend time observing sharks in the wild.
That’s when I came across White Shark Project in Kleinbaii South Africa. Out of all the programs I have volunteered with, White Shark Project by far has been the most expensive, but I really liked what I had read about the program. Who wouldn’t want to volunteer on a boat with great white sharks?
What is the White Shark Project?
Kleinbaii is a hub for cage diving with great whites. Anyone who has watched shark week has probably heard of the small fishing town in South Africa. Seal Island is not too far off the coast, which provides an abundance of food for the sharks.
White Sharks Project has been working out of Kleinbaii and taking daily clients out to show them the beauty of these misunderstood aquatic creatures and to help educate them about why sharks need to be saved. They also run a few other community programs for recycling and education.
What do volunteers do?
First thing in the morning the volunteers start prepping supplies for the boat. That could include loading wetsuits according to client size sheet, loading frozen tuna, or grabbing any other supplies that might be needed for the day.
Then depending on how many guests there are that day volunteers decide who will be going on that trip. When I was there we had 8-10 volunteers at any time, so sometimes we all went out and other times only 1-2 would go out.
On the boat, the volunteers take care of handing out wetsuits and masks. Someone starts manning the chum line by cutting up the tuna and 2 volunteers will head up to the viewing deck so they can collect any data on the sharks seen that day.
The clients can choose to go in the cage as many times as they can in 4 hours, but normally they would get scared or cold (the water was freezing!). If there is a space open in the cage, volunteers are more than welcome to jump in.
Once the excitement on the boat is over, the volunteers head back to the house to clean wetsuits and organize everything for the next day.
How is the White Shark Project helping sharks?
When I first arrived in South Africa to start the program, I was a little skeptical about the good work that the White Shark Project was doing. To me, it seemed like any other cage diving boat but with volunteer workers. Other than collecting data and working the recycling program I didn’t feel like I was helping, so I brought it up to the coordinator.
I always say that a good program will have nothing to hide, and the coordinator was very cool and open about all of my questions.
She explained to me that the White Shark Project works very closely with the South African Shark Conservancy and all the money paid by volunteers is donated to the organisation. Because of the White Shark Project, the South African Shark Conservancy can afford to buy tags and other equipment to monitor the sharks.
She also explained that they try to educate their guests as much as they can, but unfortunately if a person doesn’t want to listen, you can’t force them. The school education program that teaches the local children about sharks and their importance was not running while I was there, but I love that they are doing it.
The White Shark Project also worked really hard to make sure that all of the volunteers were getting as much info about sharks as possible. We had lectures almost every day, we visited the South African Shark Conservancy a couple times, and they even sent us to a talk featuring a marine conservationist. I learned so much throughout the whole 2 weeks I was there, which helps when I am trying to tell people about sharks and change their bad perception.
Would I recommend the White Shark Project?
Yes. Like any volunteer program, it really depends on the person, but I would strongly recommend the program to anyone that has a strong love for the ocean and wants to learn more about it.
The accommodation isn’t the nicest, so be prepared for that, and you will probably smell like fish the whole time you are there, but it’s all worth it!
How can you help sharks?
I think one of the best ways to help is by word of mouth. A lot of people have no idea what is happening to sharks. They don’t know that millions are fished out of the ocean each year. Talking about the issue is the best way to educate others on the plight of sharks.
Donations are another great way to help. You can make donations to shark conservancies and shark conservation projects all over the world.
And of course by volunteering!
My whole perception of sharks changed in those 2 weeks volunteering in South Africa with the White Shark Project. I never really thought they needed to be viewed as a threat, but I was still terrified of them.
Now I am completely comfortable being in the water knowing that they might be somewhere out in the deep blue!
Have you volunteered? We would love to hear from you!
If you have volunteered with a small, community-based organisation that upholds the values of responsible volunteering, we would love to hear from you! This wonderful post from Sadie is part of our monthly volunteering guest post series. If you would like to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you!
Would you ever volunteer in South Africa with great white sharks? Or are you still a bit scared of them?