Gansbaai, South Africa
My adventure volunteering in South Africa at the Great White Shark Conservation project was a fantastic experience. Being able to see these beautiful creatures “up close” was very exciting!
My first day on the project began at 6am on a Monday when the driver picked me up at Capetown Backpackers and drove me to the project in Gansbaai, about 2.5 hours away. From there, I attended a great orientation that was being given to all of the cage diving clients. This first trip to sea was as a client, so I was able to cage dive with the sharks several times. It was exciting to see the sharks inches away from the cage and none of my appendages were lost.
The organization provides all the necessary equipment including wet suit, goggles, and booties. Just be sure to bring or wear your swim suit, sun screen and sunglasses. The boat that is used for cage diving is fairly large and stable so I didn’t experience any seasickness, although I witnessed one or two clients struggling with it.
After cage diving, I met the project coordinators and the other volunteers. The project coordinator for the volunteers provided me with a program orientation, a tour of the shared residence where the volunteers stay, and then drove me to the local grocery market to buy food and drinks for the week. The staff is very friendly and accommodating.
The residence, which is a short walk from the boat launch, is a 4-5 bedroom house with kitchen and two baths to share. It has a common living area where the volunteers are able to watch TV, surf the net, or talk about the day’s adventures. During my stay there were about 10-12 volunteers. All the volunteers, from around the world, shared a common interest in the sharks and the ocean so making new friends was easy.
During any downtime, the project coordinator tries to take the students out on excursions. We went to the wine country and to a bird sanctuary one day when the seas were rough. Other excursions included dinner and drinks at the local pub and a visit to the local coffee shop.
The organization has three boats. The largest boat is used for cage diving which is a commercial endeavor, but they also provides education on Great White Sharks to their clients. A good part of my volunteer week was working on this boat with some of the other volunteers helping the crew and clients. It was refreshing to get out on the ocean and enjoy the fresh breezes. It was really fun to see people get sooo excited about the sharks and there were opportunities on each outing for the volunteers to shark dive if the boat was not full.
The project team said the optimal time to come to the bay is during whale season so you get to see whales and sharks. The whale season also has better visibility in the water so the sharks are easier to spot, but if you can’t make it during this time the water is still clear enough to enjoy the shark sightings.
The other two boats are used for research by university students who are working on their doctorate or master’s thesis. As a volunteer, you’ll be given the opportunity to help them. The boats are much smaller so it’s a different experience than the larger cage-diving boat. The students are also very informative and share their knowledge of the ocean ecosystem.
This project helped me understand the biodiversity of the oceans and the Great White Shark, dispelling my fear of sharks. It helped me decide that I need to help save our seas. The oceans and its inhabitants are being dramatically impacted by human activity including pollution, global warming and over-fishing. Please help save the oceans!