Volunteering in South Africa…with sharks!

volunteering in south africa great white sharks grassroots nomad

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?

volunteering in south africa great white sharks grassroots nomad

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?

volunteering in south africa great white sharks grassroots nomad

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?

volunteering in south africa great white sharks grassroots nomad

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?

volunteering in south africa great white sharks grassroots nomad

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 laura@grassrootsnomad.com Thank you!

Would you ever volunteer in South Africa with great white sharks? Or are you still a bit scared of them?
Sharks play an important role in the eco-system. Volunteer with sharks in South Africa and make a positive difference. Read more at www.grassrootsnomad.com

Related Post

60 Comments
Grassroots Nomad

Haha, I don’t think I would be brave enough to get too close to one! I do respect them though…but from afar…

Reply
Joe

Hahaha, I’m still it scared of them…I swam close to some whale sharks in the Philippines recently, but they’re totally harmless! But a great project to be involved in, and it is indeed absolutely the right thing to do to ask questions of any voluntary organisation – you want to ensure they are a responsible project 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I agree Joe! Just because an organisation says they are responsible doesn’t mean that they are – it’s always great to ask! Thanks for reading 🙂

Reply
thetravelpockets

The very first photo you posted captured my attention right away! I would be a little skeptical too, so I was glad to see you had asked about it. I’m afraid of sharks, so not sure if I would ever volunteer to do this, but it was an interesting read 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much, Candy! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree, I think it would be scary to get close to them but I am certainly respectful of them!

Reply
Kaylene Chadwell

Wow this sounds like such a great experience! I’ve wanted to find a way to volunteer overseas and this definitely seems like an unique opportunity! Love the shark photo! It really looks like it’s smiling!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I agree, Kaylene! It is such a great shot. Volunteering is always a great way to explore – this is part of my monthly volunteering guest post series so stay tuned for more inspirational stories.

Reply
Amandas_Wanderlust

This is a really interesting post. I think the education side of this is key and you have raised loads of extra awareness with this post!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much Amanda – I completely agree. No matter how environmentally friendly, or responsible an organisation appears, it is always a great idea to ask questions. I am going to make sure I ask even more questions in the future!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I agree Sara – sharks are too scary for me! Thank you for your kind words, Sadie did a great job 🙂

Reply
Live Learn Venture

Wow, this seems like a great way to learn more about sharks and what this organization is doing to make a difference! I love volunteer work that includes animals. Thanks for sharing 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hey Natasha, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Volunteering is such a great learning opportunity, that’s for sure!

Reply
Carol Guttery

I’m glad that you chose a volunteering gig that also required a donation. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it costs these organizations $$ and staff time to house and manage volunteers and the donations help to cover those costs and also support their overall work.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hey Carol, that is a great point! I agree that volunteers should pay for their own food and housing and if it isn’t possible to organise separately then they should make a donation to the organisation. Thanks for reading 😀

Reply
Gina Bear

Girl, you are so brave. A friend of mine was a marine biologist and she studies sharks. I thought sharks were pretty cool after I learned about them from her, but I don’t play around with the Great Whites! Good for you for helping out!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hey Gina, I agree, I wouldn’t do this either! Sadie was so brave!!

Reply
Tamar

Such a great initiative! Having that shark tank experience has been something I’ve wanted to do, until I heard of the way they get them riled up prior to descending to get that scary effect. I’m happy to hear people are educating about the reality of sharks!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I agree Tamar – it is important that the tourism industry is responsible in their treatment of animals. By volunteering, Sadie was in the perfect position to question their activities and education initiatives 🙂

Reply
Bailey K.

This is so great. Many people don’t know sharks are taken advantage of and are so vital to our oceans! I know many friends who would love to do this volunteer program. Love it!!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

That’s so great, Bailey! Feel free to share this article with them. I’m sure Sadie wouldn’t mind if they contacted her through her site if they had any questions.

Reply
fittwotravel

Id be terrified to go in the cage next to the sharks, but what an awesome experience! Its great to hear of well put together volunteer projects to help the sharks.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I agree – too scary for me! It is great to see there are volunteering projects to help all animals, not just the cute fluffy ones!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Amalia and Paolo, I completely agree! I’m so glad you liked the article. This is part of my monthly volunteering guest post series, so be sure to check back in April for the next one!

Reply
Toronto Seoulcialite

I’ve heard of swimming with whale sharks in The Philippines, but this is on an entirely new level! I don’t know many people who would have the bravery to do that. What a once in a lifetime experience!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hey Kate, thanks for reading! I swam with while sharks in Donsol and even though they are harmless it was still scary! I don’t think I would be brave enough to cage dive either :S

Reply
casstravels

Oh wow, how cool is this! I don’t know if I could handle being in an enclosed cage near a shark…. I’m getting chills just thinking about it!!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Haha, I agree Cass! I would be scared that somehow it would get stuck in there with me!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Sharks always look scary to me! Growing up in Australia I have definitely developed a fear and respect for these animals!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I’m glad you haven’t been close to a shark – neither have I! I think I would have a heart attack if I ever saw one in the ocean!

Reply
Danielle Des

I am also thinking about volunteering abroad and two of my biggest questions are 1) how will I be helping and 2) where are the fees going. I’m so happy Sadies enjoyed her experience in South Africa.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hey Danielle, I agree they are the two biggest questions you always need to ask. I have a few articles on how to find responsible volunteering overseas as well as a monthly guest post series. Hopefully some of those articles help you find the place that is right for you 🙂

Reply
Stephanie

How many dives did you get to do?!? That sounds like a really interesting program. Not sure I’m ready to cage dive with great whites. I was startled by a potato cod fish in Australia!!! ????

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hey Stephanie, I’m not sure how many dives Sadie was able to do, but I’m sure she would be happy to answer any of your questions! I agree, it sounds like such an interesting program that is educational but also exciting (terrifying!). I agree with you, I would also get scared. I’m scared of the ocean without any sharks so I can’t imagine how terrified I would be if I actually saw one!

Reply
Marteen Lane

Balance is so important within an ecosystem for it to be healthy and sharks are an important part of the ocean. It’s wonderful this programme educates its volunteers with lectures. We have 30 different types of shark off the Irish coasts. I vaguely remember in secondary school someone coming to speak to us about sharks. If I remember correctly sharks actually don’t eat people. Eating takes up a lot of energy for sharks so they need to eat animals with blubber to replenish the energy lost.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hi Marteen, wow that is great to know. I had no idea there even were sharks near Ireland – I thought they mainly stuck to the warmer oceans. I’m learning so much through these guest posts (and the comments)! Thanks for your comment 🙂

Reply
julie kern

This sounds like a really unique project that you were helping with – and a great way to become educated. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Reply
Stella @ Travelerette

That sounds like Sadie had an amazing experience! I’m not scared of sharks, so I would be curious to try it. I’ve only ever done volunteer traveling in New Orleans but I want to try helping out in more far-flung places, so this was interesting to read about.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hi Stella, you should give it a try! I’m sure Sadie wouldn’t mind you contacting her through her site if you have any more questions about the program 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

I agree – I learnt so much from Sadie’s experience! 🙂

Reply
Angie Briggs

I love sharks – always have done! I used to have a poster of a Great White on my wall! I did go on a trip to hopefully get in the cage and see one but it was January and they weren’t taking the chum – I saw his dorsal fin but nothing else. So close … yet so far …. this is still one for my Bucket List so thank you for this post!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

You are so brave, Angie! I hope you get the chance to see them up close one day. Maybe you should try volunteering if you have time? It seems like you are the perfect candidate!

Reply
Chantell

I really respect sharks and try to do my part by spreading actual facts rather than fear. As an Australian, people are always talking about how dangerous our animals are (including sharks) and I am quick to point out that statistically there is more chance of being hit by lightening than being killed by a shark in Australia. This sounds like a really worthwhile and exciting project.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Woo, I’m Aussie too! I agree, there are so many big conservation issues for sharks, especially in WA at the moment. Sharks are so important to our marine eco-system so hopefully we do more to consider the implications of our actions and work to conserve these animals!

Reply
Psychic Nest

Hi Laura,

I love experiences like that because they change the way we see the world. Sharks along with spiders and snakes make people shiver. It is good to know that there are programs like the one you attended that educate the mass. I love your photos too, thank you for sharing!

Zaria

Reply
Yoko Meshi

wow! I would absolutly love to do something like this! I have volunteered with lots of animals but sharks would just be incredible.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

You would be perfect for it!!! You should chat to Sadie and give it a go 🙂

Reply

Let us know what you think - Comment below!