The O.R.C.A. Marine Foundation in conjunction with Ocean Blue Adventures based in Plettenberg Bay, gives volunteers the chance to become part of one of the Africas most exciting ocean research projects.
Gap year travel does not get much more exciting than this!
Located on the world famous Garden Route, it is home to some of the worlds most fascinating marine species, including Southern Right whales, Humpback whales, Brydes whales, Bottlenose dolphins, Common dolphins, O.R.C.A.s or Killer Whales, Great White Sharks to name but a few. Gap year travel placements here give you a unique once in life time chance to work with these magnificent marine species in exciting and marine conservation volunteer work.
“My stay at Plettenberg Bay is something that will stay in my heart and soul forever. The scenery was breathtaking whilst the work was so worthwhile I felt I was really making a difference. I would go back in a heartbeat!”
The experienced O.R.C.A. team will help settle you in over your stay and give you the opportunity to take on your own individual projects where your best interests lie. O.R.C.A. offers ocean research volunteers personal diversity in the programme, from assisting the dive research teams to helping with the community outreach programme, you will find your own way to contribute. Volunteers will be working under the supervision of UNISA/SAARSVELD students and a PhD in marine biology and also have the chance to integrate with the rest of the team at O.R.C.A. and OCEAN BLUE ADVENTURES.
In your stay in Plettenberg Bay, (one of the most breathtaking and serene outdoor classrooms in Southern Africa), you should be lucky enough to witness the power and grace of whales, the exuberance of dolphins and killer whales, see playful seals and the majestic of mountains and forests scenery. Above all, being an ocean research volunteer will allow you to actively and meaningfully participate in ensuring that things stay this way for future generations. Through the O.R.C.A. marine conservation project, you can join the drive to manage this marine and coastal zone in a sustainable manner and in the process experience the community, culture and environment in a way more intimate than most visitors.
Other Activities Free of Charge:
- Ocean Blue Adventures Dolphin and Whale watching
- Ocean Blue Adventures Sea Kayaking
- Ocean Blue Township tours
O.R.C.A. Marine Foundations Aims:
- The main aim of the foundation is the establishment of a “Marine Park” which is a multi-user approach to establishing an effective management plan for the bay to ensure sustainability of marine resources.
- To alleviate coastal poverty through job creation and skills development, which will assist in maintaining the sustainability of the marine resources.
- To raise public awareness and educate all communities of how the protection and sustainable utilization of our coastal and marine resources can benefit all and why maintaining coastal and marine bio-diversity is so important.
- To implement an education programme for school children based on the curriculum.
All student activities on the O.R.C.A. marine conservation project will support the mission and objectives of the O.R.C.A. Foundation, including current research activities at the time of the course.
O.R.C.A. Marine Foundation is situated along South Africas famous Garden Route in the lively town of Plettenberg Bay. Plettenberg Bay, in one of the country’s most fashionable holiday resorts and a beach-lover’s paradise, where long stretches of soft sand give way to azure seas.
Plettenberg Bay is characterised by sweeping, unspoilt golden beaches, a dramatic rocky peninsula, intriguing lagoons and estuaries, towering indigenous forests and unpolluted rivers and sea.
With its exceptional climate, and beautiful view sites over the Indian Ocean, Plettenberg Bay is perfect for tourists, travellers and locals alike.
Your accommodation for the duration of your stay will be in the ORCA volunteer house situated in Plettenberg Bay approximately 1 mile from the ORCA centre. The accommodation is self catering with shared bedroom and bathroom facilities.
Laundry facilities are available for volunteers, the house is within close proximity to nearby shopping centre which has various shops, cinemas, restaurants and bars.
Your working week on your O.R.C.A. placement is generally speaking Monday to Friday from 0800 to 1700 depending on the activities of the day. Evenings and weekends are at leisure.
ORCA Foundation activities 2018
1. Dolphin and whale watching boat trips
Volunteers join on the Ocean Blue Adventures dolphin and whale watching boat trips. These trips allow them the opportunity to see a variety of the marine life within the bay and surrounds. Sightings will be recorded and added to a database, as well as to MammalMAP or iSpot.
2. Humpback dolphin photo-identification
We are currently setting up a long-term monitoring project on humpback dolphins in order to establish trends in abundance. Once the project is established, volunteers will assist in data collection during boat-based surveys on the Ocean Blue Adventures research vessel, Gaia, and then the long arduous process of data processing. The long-term goal is to have a catalog for humpback dolphins (and other species encountered) and to produce abundance estimates for the species. These surveys will take place on the first four good-weather days of each month.
3. Marine mammal stranding response and necropsy
Under the guidance of ORCA researchers, volunteers will assist the Port Elizabeth Museum Stranding Response Network during infrequent marine mammal strandings and necropsy events in the greater Plettenberg Bay area. ORCA is part of the Plett Stranding Network and volunteers will learn about the species involved, the rehabilitation process with live animals, and about anatomy, physiological adaptations and how to infer the cause of death with dead animals.
4. Seals in estuaries monitoring
Volunteers will assist ORCA researchers during bi-weekly dedicated boat-based surveys to monitor the presence, foraging behaviour and identity of specialist Cape fur seals that utilize the Keurbooms and Knysna estuary.
5. Seal population monitoring
Volunteers will assist ORCA researchers during bi-weekly dedicated boat-based surveys to monitor the number of Cape fur seals that haul out on Robberg Peninsula. Reliable pup counts over the next few breeding seasons will assist the managing authority (DEA) to update the status of the colony from a haul out site to a breeding colony.
6. Seal-shark interaction monitoring
Volunteers will assist ORCA researchers with bi-weekly dedicated land-based observations to monitor the presence of great white sharks and record predation attempts on Cape fur seals in the Robberg MPA. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Plettenberg Bay Hope Spot, the ORCA Foundation is managing a long-term monitoring project on the Great White Shark presence in Plettenberg Bay. Sightings are collected from participating companies, members of the public, as well as ORCA staff and volunteers. The date, time, estimated length, and sea and weather conditions are recorded. From these data we can plot shark presence in the bay and investigate trends of presence absence and the conditions that may change these.
7. Seal-fisheries interaction monitoring
Volunteers will assist ORCA researchers with fishermen interviews, questionnaire development and data entry to record the impact of Cape fur seals on recreational angling operations in the Robberg MPA. Volunteers will also perform independent observations of seal-fisheries interactions during irregular angling events.
8. Seal scat collection, processing and analysis
Between February and October, volunteers will assist ORCA researchers with monthly scat collections to monitor the current diet of Cape fur seals that haul out on Robberg Peninsula. They will also assist with scat processing, identification of prey remains, data entry and preliminary analysis.
9. Seal pup tagging and weighing
During Feb/Mar volunteers may assist ORCA researchers with the annual catching, weighing, tag and release of Cape fur seal pups at the Robberg colony as part of a planned monitoring project of the Port Elizabeth Museum.
10. Beach Surveys
Up to twice a week volunteers will hike the length of local beaches to collect shark egg cases and nurdles, and to search for stranded marine mammal carcasses as part of various ongoing research projects.
11. Bayworld/SAMREC trip
Volunteers will accompany the ORCA researchers to Bayworld where they will assist with the delivery of samples to the Port Elizabeth museum and get the opportunity to take part in a marine mammal dissection and other Bayworld related activities. Volunteers will also accompany ORCA researchers to SAMREC where we will assist with numerous seabird rehabilitation tasks.
12. Fish tagging
Volunteers will assist with the capture, measuring and tagging of fish for ORI (Oceanographic Research Institute).
13. Aquarium maintenance, bait collection, and fish capture
The marine aquarium at Ocean Blue Adventures needs regular cleaning and backwashing to ensure the aquarium remains pristine and the indigenous fish are in a healthy environment. To ensure a varied diet volunteers are tasked to collect common sandprawns Callichirus kraussi to feed to the fish. Occasionally, volunteers catch fish to restock and add variety the tank. Volunteers gain a sense of responsibility for the duration of their stay to ensure the fish and their environment are healthy.
14. Alien vegetation clearing
Volunteers assist where needed to remove alien vegetation using saws and pangas. These plants take up a vast amount of valuable water away from our indigenous plants and removing them allows for the area to return to its natural vegetation composition. Once these trees and plants are taken down it must be ensured that they will not grow again and stumps are often painted with old oil to prevent regrowth.
The removed vegetation will either be used constructively (such as building fences and boma walls) or will be burned on a later date once burn permits have been approved. Volunteers have assisted with controlled burns of alien vegetation. This is done with permitted permission and has to be done according to strict protocol. After 12:00pm no more fuel can be added to the fire.
15. Tree planting
In order to offset some of the carbon footprint of the ORCA Foundation staff and volunteers we plant indigenous trees at various sites. The processes of photosynthesis and respiration are explained, as well as that of global warming and the role carbon dioxide plays. The ORCA Foundation also takes part in the yearly Kurland Greening organized by Nature’s Valley Trust.
16. Assisting local rehabilitation and conservation centres
Volunteers have been assisting at Brackenburn CREW (www.brackenburncrew.com). This includes general maintenance, Alien clearing and loads more; Volunteers are thanked for their hard work with a free guided hike at Brackenburn. The volunteers are also given the option of spending time at SANCCOB (www.sanccob.co.za ) which is the leading marine and Penguin rehabilitation center worldwide. This gives them a better appreciation and understanding of this aspect of rehabilitation and conservation.
17. Bird ringing
Mist nets are put up at certain locations early in the morning before sunrise with the intention of catching a variety of bird species – we do not target any specific species. Birds caught have a metal band engraved with a unique alphanumeric code placed on their leg, and a number of body measurements are taken. This all gets uploaded to a central database (www.safring.adu.org.za). Bird ringing can help answer a number of important questions: how long do birds live, where do birds go, how is climate change affecting birds, when do birds breed? Long-term volunteers have the opportunity to be taught how to extract birds from the nets and how to ring, while short-term volunteers are allowed to release ringed birds. Volunteers are exposed to a different research method, and a different focus group.
18. MiniSASS/River health assessments
ORCA Foundation is monitoring 4 sites in the greater Plettenberg Bay area, rotating each week. Macroinvertebrates are collected by drawing a net through the water and surrounding vegetation and identified. Each group present is given a sensitivity score and thereby the relative health of the river can be assessed. These results are uploaded to an online database (www.minisass.org) monitoring river health throughout South Africa. Volunteers are exposed to a different research method, and a different focus group.
19. Qolweni (Community Project)
19.1 Siyakula Creche
Once a week the volunteers assist at Siyakula Creche in Qolweni by giving a 45 minute lesson, which the volunteers themselves plan and prepare, and have included a variety of topics. Thereafter they read a story and interact with the children. They also help serve and clean-up after lunch. Volunteers are able to help a disadvantaged community, and are exposed to a different culture.
19.2 Soup kitchen
On a Friday afternoon the volunteers will assist at the soup kitchen run out of Siyakula Creche. Volunteers help by dishing up soup and handing out bread. Volunteers are able to help a disadvantaged community, and are exposed to a different culture.
20. Sterreweg (Community)
Occasionally volunteers spend time at Sterreweg (a day care centre for special needs children) playing with the children and learning about the difficulties associated with having a disabled child and how these can be overcome.
21. Lunchbox theatre (Community)
ORCA Foundation funds Lunchbox Theatre shows which use dance, song, and acting to educate school children in Plettenberg Bay and the greater Bitou area about environmental and sociological issues including HIV/AIDS, littering, water usage, and animal cruelty. Volunteers are made aware of the end result that they help fund, they are exposed to local primary schools, and a fun and meaningful way in which children can be educated.
22. Assisting at KAWS Animal Welfare Services (Community)
KAWS cares for a number of homeless, abused, and/or lost dogs and cats. They are in constant need of donations as well as helpful hands. Volunteers assist KAWS with cleaning of their facility as well as with animal enrichment, and basic training of the dogs.
23. Investigating intertidal rock pools
At low tide the volunteers will spend some time investigating the diverse life that occurs in rock pools at two sites, Nature’s Valley and the rocks off Beacon Island. This allows them a close up look at some creatures they will have never seen or really closely examined. Volunteers are exposed to a different focus group, and learn about the ecology and conservation of these. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to find something that really interests them and take photos of the species to identify at home. Many of these species are not well documented or found in common identification guides so this process teaches them how to begin identifying species.
24. Hikes and walks
Volunteers explore many beaches during our research projects, but we explore other biomes as well. We incorporate hikes on Robberg Nature Reserve, as well as Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve. These hikes are multifaceted such that the volunteers are able to see more of the beautiful area and enjoy being outside, but are able to learn about different biomes, plants, birds, and animals, as well as do litter clean-ups along the way.
25. Data capturing/processing/entry
While the outdoors fieldwork for the projects we run is an enjoyable process, desk work or office work is not as enjoyable. While very few people like data entry it is an integral part of running a research project. Volunteers are taught to accurately manage information collected, and how to set up their spreadsheets for further statistical analysis. The elasmobranch egg case project is a project that requires a lot of processing of egg cases collected in the field and corresponding data entry.
26. Citizen science project contribution
While the ORCA Foundation runs independent research projects we aim to regularly contribute to online citizen science projects, including iSpot (which links to a number of other projects using tags), MammalMAP, ELMO, as well as miniSASS (see above) and SAfring (see above). Most of the volunteers who join our project are not in the environmental field, and are not planning to get into the environmental field and as such will never independently run a research project. However, they are able to easily use online citizen science websites to contribute valuable biological and environmental data, something many volunteers show an interest in – iSpot in particular is a worldwide citizen science project. We strongly encourage volunteers to find something during our regular activities on the beach or other areas that really interests them that they want to know more about. This not only encourages the volunteers to pay more attention to their surroundings, and the incredible diversity of this area, but they learn more about the natural environment. This also teaches them about what citizen science projects are, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they can be used. Often people are unaware of projects in their area, or are intimidated by what these projects entail, and by walking through the upload step by step volunteers can gain confidence to do this themselves in their home countries.
27. Beach clean-ups
While we do not generally include this in our program as a separate activity, we do a lot of litter clean-ups during our day to day activities. The cleanliness and health of the various ecosystems (primarily coastal) we work in is important to us and to this end when we are active outside we try our best to carry bags to collect litter. Volunteers learn about marine debris and the associated problems, and do their part to keep our beaches clean. Once a year we also participate in the Kurland clean-up during the International Coastal Cleanup program.
28. Scientific lectures
When there are public lectures available in the area we take the volunteers to learn more about the research taking place in Plettenberg Bay and the greater area. Also, when there is interest ORCA researchers give presentations on their research in the area. Volunteers can be exposed to a different research method, and a different focus group.
Leisure activities include golf, bowls, horse riding, angling, sailing, blackwater tubing, abseiling, mountain biking, scuba-diving and surfing, as well as hiking and bird-watching in the nearby Robberg, Keurbooms River and Tsitsikamma nature reserves. Unusual, but highly recommended options – a treetop canopy tour or bungee jumping off the 216m Bloukrans River bridge, the highest jump in the world!
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