This project in Isimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, is an incomparable habitat to spend time in. It has estuaries, forest dunes, wetlands, sand forests, savannah grasslands and an ocean with pristine coral reefs. There are elephants, rhinoceroses, whales, and various endangered species’ of turtle, including Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green Turtles. By observing the habitat and breeding patterns of these turtles, the project is contributing to conservation plans for the future protection of the turtles. South Africa has the longest continuous turtle monitoring programme in the world, and the resulting research has contributed to the global conservation of turtles.
By pitching in at this endangered sea turtle conservation project, volunteers contribute to the future conservation of five endangered species, and gain an unparalleled insight into the secretive lives of these reptiles.
As a volunteer at the endangered sea turtle conservation project in South Africa, you will contribute to various aspects of monitoring the breeding habits of different species of turtles. You’ll participate in observational tours on foot and at sea, depending on the time of year, to note information about the habitat, breeding habits and natural predator impact. Female turtles come ashore at night to dig egg chambers and lay clutches of up to 120 eggs at a time, and when baby turtles hatch a couple of months later, they dig to the surface at night too. This means volunteers participate in plenty of evening and night-time excursions. November to April is when turtles can be found on the beach; May to October they’re out at sea. Volunteers collect various types of data to contribute to turtle conservation initiatives, including the temperature of the sand, location of nests, number of eggs and the tag numbers of the female turtles if observed. Humans present one of the greatest dangers to turtles, so you may also get involved in education initiatives at local schools.
After flying into Johannesburg Airport and making your way to a backpacker’s hostel in Pretoria, you’ll have a welcome orientation followed by a traditional South African dinner. The next day you’ll leave Johannesburg early in the morning to embark on the 12 hour journey to Isimangaliso Wetland Park.
The next day, you’ll get acquainted with the project through an orientation and get to know your fellow volunteers, before getting properly stuck into the volunteering experience the following day. On days that require sea excursions, the daytime volunteering session starts at 6:00 and finishes around 14:00. For land-based activities, the volunteering day starts at 7:30. Afternoons are set aside for a combination of your own leisure time and preparation for the evening volunteering session. After a traditional South African dinner of braai (barbecue) or Cape Malay cuisine at 19:30, the evening excursion begins.
The volunteering week lasts for five days; your two days off per week works on a rota system to ensure there are always volunteers available to undertake the turtle monitoring. There are plenty of activities on offer in the local area to spend your leisure time, from a guided trip to Lake Sibaya, a visit to an elephant park and surfing lessons. Many volunteers take advantage of the opportunity to do a PADI scuba diving course; others simply enjoy beach time and snorkelling in the pristine waters.
Volunteer accommodation is in shared self-catering units near the project that volunteers can use to prepare their own breakfast and lunch; there’s a weekly trip to a local town to buy supplies. Volunteers are transported by car to and from the turtle project every day.
Volunteers at this project enjoy the castaway feeling and ocean-side life while making a very real contribution to the global conservation efforts of endangered turtles.