The International Marine Volunteers is a proud member of Fair Trade Tourism in South Africa. Fair Trade Tourism promote fair and responsible business practice across Africa through their membership and certification programmes. The Fair Trade Tourism membership scheme assists tourism businesses to develop a foothold on the path to sustainability through the use of custom-designed benchmarking toolkits. Their certification programme, which endorses tourism establishments that meet stringent criteria following an intensive, independent third-party audit.
The article was written by Meredith Thornton – Volunteer Programme Manager & DICT Research Coordinator at The International Marine Volunteers who introduce their approach to marine conservation.
At International Marine Volunteers 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.
We offer individuals from all over the world, and all walks of life, the opportunity to experience unique marine-related projects in the biodiversity-rich environment of the Greater Dyer Island area in Gansbaai, South Africa.
Volunteers become immersed in our family of Fair Trade Tourism certified companies, working alongside experts in marine eco-tourism, conservation and marine biology. They assist eco-tourists aboard the vessels of Marine Dynamics Shark Tours and Dyer Island Cruises and have up-close encounters with The Marine Big 5™ – whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and penguins including iconic great white sharks, giant southern right whales, endangered African penguins and shy and elusive humpback dolphins. Every trip sports a guiding marine biologist who educates volunteers and clients alike, increasing their knowledge of the ecology of the area and the amazing species that we encounter.
Our conservation partner, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT), is a leader in marine conservation, with dedicated marine biologists studying great white sharks, southern right whales, humpback dolphins and other marine life. Volunteers are afforded the opportunity to participate in data capture, behavioural observations and photo ID for these studies aboard Slashfin, the shark cage diving vessel, and Dream Catcher, the eco-tour and whale-watching vessel. In addition to this, research vessels launch from time-to-time, affording long-term volunteers the opportunity to become more involved in research activities.
A major project of the DICT is the state-of-the-art African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary, where we rehabilitate injured, oiled and under-nourished seabirds, aiming to halt the decline to extinction for the endangered African penguin. We are also actively involved in environmental education through our DEEP Blue Ambassador programme, regular coastal clean ups and making and clearing of fishing line. Volunteers have the opportunity to become completely involved in all of these projects.
This programme will suit anyone who loves the ocean, marine wildlife, shark fanatics, whale enthusiasts and people who want to assist with and learn more about responsible tourism and how eco-tourism benefits conservation. Volunteers who join our programme often grow tremendously on a personal basis, becoming self-assured and more socially competent, educating others about marine conservation and acting as ambassadors for the marine environment wherever they go:
“…it is the most amazing thing ever working with penguins! They are endangered and if we stay for a few weeks and volunteer there regularly then our responsibilities grow and we can actually see the birds get fatter, fitter and maybe even be part of the team that gets to release some of them back into the wild – this is the coolest ever opportunity…a really tangible way of knowing that what we are doing is truly making a huge difference to the life of an individual bird! Nothing quite beats seeing a penguin, that you have been helping to rehabilitate, waddling down the beach into the water, suddenly realising it is free to head out into the open sea again.”
“We love the feeling that being part of the team at International Marine Volunteers brings every day! It really is like a family and is heart-breaking for us when we have to leave… Most of us say “We came for the sharks but we will come back for the people” and we do come back, time and again!”
“Doing the International Marine Volunteer programme has been the best experience of my life! To anyone out there around the world that is interested in travelling, loves sharks or any marine life and wants to have the time of their life, then I highly recommend this programme with Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust because “Life is an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved”.