Marine Volunteer and Marine Guide Trainee in Gansbaai, South Africa
Written by George Garrett, Jul 21 2021
Joining two programmes with the Marine Dynamics Academy
My time with Marine Dynamics Academy was as a volunteer and a trainee marine guide. The first six weeks of my stay I spent as a volunteer, and after that I had four weeks of study to be a qualified marine guide. The ten weeks in total that I spent with Marine Dynamics was a life-changing experience allowing me to become closer with nature than I have ever been before.
Most of the time I spent in South Africa was in the small quaint town of Gansbaai. I believe it is important to outline how great and welcoming this town is. It’s a town that survives off the ocean through both fishing and tourism. In this time, I fell in love with the location as every member of the community got to know me and welcomed me with open arms. After being in Gansbaai for some time I made friends with the staff in the bars, shops and even members of “rival” shark cage diving companies. In England, I feel South Africa may have an unfair reputation of being unsafe, but I never felt unsafe in Gansbaai.
My experience as a volunteer
My role as a volunteer consisted of helping at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS), learning at necropsies and most of all working on the boats.
When working at APSS you will mostly be assisting with the feeding of the penguins, which means helping prepare the fish by cleaning not only the fish but also the surfaces where the penguins will be fed. During feeding the penguins are taken to a caged area where the number of fish each penguin eats can be controlled and recorded for their health. Whilst a minimal handling facility, a few of the penguins do need some assistance for feeding and some need to be given supplements to support their health. Some of the penguins will need to stay at APSS for the remainder of their lives due to the extent of injuries. Most penguins are admitted to APSS due to injuries sustained in the wild and once rehabilitation is complete, you may be able to help release them back onto Dyer Island. *APSS has an over 80% release rate.
Another incredibly interesting part of my volunteer program was to assist in necropsies. During my time I was able to assist with the necropsy of both a bronze whaler shark and a great white shark. When completing a necropsy, you will need to measure and weigh all parts of the shark including every fin and internal organ. By doing this you will be able to understand the species greater, and possibly identify the cause of death of the individual. This is a great experience and really eye-opening to the dangers that lie in the wild.
The highlight as a volunteer was being able to go on daily boat trips, both the whale watching boat and the shark cage diving boat. When on the boats I got to see an incredible diversity of animals from the humpback whale to the great white shark. While on the boat the main responsibility of a volunteer is to look after the guests, giving them water and towels, and you will need to help guests which suffer from seasickness. This may not sound fun but it was amazing as I was able to go to sea most days and see the incredible marine life.
Coastal-Marine Guide Training
I was lucky enough to train as a marine guide for four weeks as a part of my stay. This consisted of lectures, day trips and a final exam. At the end of the four weeks, I had to pass a 150 mark exam by over 75% and also show practical skills. There are 17 modules that I needed to cover to complete this certificate.
A few of these modules were:
- Animal behaviour
- Marine plants
- Conservation management
With such a wide spectrum of knowledge, this course needs a dedicated person to be able to complete it.
Each day we would complete a lecture in the morning before going out on a trip in the afternoon. These afternoon trips would consist of a rocky shore walk, forest bathing or trying to track down a specific species. Grant Hine, the guide training manager, is an incredibly knowledgeable teacher who can provide a wealth of information in an easy-to-digest way. He conducted my training in such a way that I was always interested and excited to learn.