Flash Sale - Take A Journey With Us To Mafia Island!
Flash Sale - Take A Journey With Us To Mafia Island!

Flash Sale - Take A Journey With Us To Mafia Island!

Mafia Island Whale Shark Conservation

Mafia Island Whale Shark Conservation

27 Nights from $2,119.00

Join this unique whale shark internship project on the stunning Mafia Island in Tanzania.

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Posted by Leanne Sturrock on 21st Sep 2016 9 mins

Eased out of your slumber by a slight slither of light beaming through your window, you can already feel the warm sea breeze on your skin. Okay, so you might actually be at home in bed, but today marks the beginning of your very first conservation project – the Mafia Island Whale Shark project, to be precise. Casting the duvet to one side and slowly settling your toes onto the bedroom carpet, you envision instead the soft grains of sand found only on the world’s most exquisite beaches. You smile as you rise to your feet, and commence preparation for your travels.

7am rolls around, as does your taxi. You stand on your driveway, passport in hand and luggage in clear view, eager to get going but determined not to let your most important documents out of sight for even a second! The driver helps you lift your bags into the boot of the car and soon enough you’re on the way to the airport – it’s all suddenly feeling very real! Apart from the stranger in the front seat, this is the first time you’ve ever embarked on a trip alone, and you feel a mixture of butterflies and nerves in the pit of your belly. What is Tanzania like? Will I get lonely on this project? And, most importantly, will I really get to experience nature hands-on? You remember telling friends and family that you’d booked this trip, desperate for a little escapism but also to put some real compassion into the world. Gone are the times where you thought dancing down the streets of Crete were the height of pleasure: glowsticks in hand and a tispy friend to either side, engaging in some kind of awkward horizontal conga as you fall into the nearest club. Those times were a blast, and you recall reassuring your pals that the good times will come back around…it’s just, for now, you’re sure you’ll find more joy in making a difference to local communities and seeing unspoilt areas of the world for once.

Suddenly, the taxi slows to a halt and you’re at the airport. You thank the driver, grab your bags and head towards the check-in desk. Once again, pre-departure jitters threaten to take over, but the lady at the counter gives you a friendly smile, passing back your passport alongside a crisp, white boarding pass. Okay, now it’s really REALLY real!

Girl stands at departure board

Fast forward a few hours and you’re well-settled into your flight. You let your mind run away with itself, as you imagine life down below – doesn’t the world look beautiful from up here? It’s funny to consider how big the world is, and how somebody as small as you could really be doing something that’ll make a difference. You breathe out a slow air of satisfaction, glancing out of the window and towards the coastlines and oceans. There’s something unbelievably soothing about the sea: for this reason, you concur, working by the water was the ideal choice for your first conservation project away. You’ve always been fond of nature; none more than the exotic marine life you could only wish to see up close someday. And as the pilot announces to the crew that it’s time for the plane to descend, you realise how long you’ve been daydreaming…it’s almost time to begin your adventure!

Both internal and domestic flights over with, you once again find yourself at the airport – this time, at the arrivals, where a kindly representative of the project stands with a smile on his face, placard in hand. You spot your name written across the card, and notice your feet scurrying just that little bit faster towards the rep – is it obvious how keen you are to get going?! He walks you towards your method of transport for the day which is…a speedboat. Already this feels other-worldly and highly exotic, so with wide eyes and a mind full of wonder, you try to take in as much of your surroundings as possible as your zip across the crystal-blue waters of Mafia Island.

View from plane window

In what seems like the blink of an eye, you’ve arrived at your accommodation and it’s nothing like you’ve experienced before: wooden huts stand atop pristine white sands, and drawing back the thick curtain covering the doorway you’re pleased to discover a comfortable-looking bed. You’re yearning to get involved with the project already, but you’re also abundantly aware of the amount of travelling you’ve done over the past day. You consider doing one last little bit of exploring on this new island, but – excited as you are! – you can only muster a meeting with more facilitators and other weary-eyed travelers before you head back to your room and collapse into the mattress.

All of a sudden it’s 5am, and you notice your alarm has been blaring for the past minute. Instantly you go to grab your phone, irritated that you’ve got to get up for another day in the office…that is, until you realise that this is not your bed and that ‘real life’ is thousands of miles away at home. You sit up and allow your eyes to adjust to your surroundings, relieved that you’ve got the better end of whatever bargain 5am gives to most people…after all, who could hate being up early when right now you’re living on a beautiful beach!?

Island huts

After an initial briefing and further introductions to the rest of the volunteers on this project, you’re feeling bright-eyed and keen to get going. Your facilitator reels off a number of tasks that may be given to the group during your time at the project: you might take part in beach clean-ups, to keep the island as stunning as it was on your arrival; you may also get to spend time with members of the local community, sharing knowledge of both marine life and the ways in which they live their own lives. What’s for sure, though, is that the bulk of your time here will be spent taking part in marine research. You’re particularly pleased about this, as you’d hoped that living out a life-long dream of studying marine wildlife would be paramount to your trip – which is why you’re so elated when you realise you’ve been scheduled in for this particular task so soon into your time on the island!

It’s 6am, and a number of volunteers (including yourself) chat happily as you load up the sailing dhows used for the whale shark excursions. Looking around you, you quickly realise that there’s not a chance you’ll feel lonely on this trip: you’re surrounded by similarly adventurous, hard-working individuals who, too, are here to discover something more than that which a more typical holiday could ever offer. Some talk passionately about their love of community work, and express a heartwarming desire to meet and educate the youngsters of the island. Others are experienced divers, and mention that of all the waters in the world, Mafia Island really is the bucket-list destination for reasons no smaller than witnessing the magnificent whale sharks. You ponder to yourself, why was I so nervous about coming out here? After all, it takes a particular kind of person to want to work in conservation, and you’re satisfied that the common thread running through each and every individual on the project is enough to link you together for life.

Boat on water in Mafia Island

As you arrive at the perfect spot for whale shark spotting, your facilitator runs through some integral ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’s of the activity. You listen intently, determined to take all of this on board. It’s important to respect both the ocean and the wildlife that call it home, and as you put on your gear, you carefully consider all that your facilitator has shared with you.

Sinking into the sea below, you’re surprised at how warm the waters are this early in the morning – at 7:30am, you were almost expecting to freeze! From here, you follow the facilitator’s guidance as your hunt for plankton (an indicator that whale sharks are nearby feeding!), and upon discovering the school of beautiful behemoths, you’re left breathless. You’ve always dreamt of seeing whale sharks up close, but nothing could prepare you for the sheer grace of these creatures, as they swim by and below you. You grab your GoPro and start snapping away: as much as you know that these pictures are for research purposes, you hope that you can take some pictures home, too! You remember that, while on the boat, your facilitator encouraged the group not to be shy of the whale sharks – they’re gentle giants, after all, and their interaction with the group offers not only a phenomenal first-hand experience, but provides valuable footage to be studied, too.

Whale Shark

Your time at the Mafia Island conservation project goes by in the most thrilling of blurs, and you spend your final night on the project with your new-found volunteer friends, sitting out on the beach and watching waves lap at the shoreline under the most magnificent starry night sky. You reminisce about all that you’ve achieved – who’d have thought that you’d conquer so much in one short week away? Your heart swells when you think back to the first time you saw a whale shark up close, and to the times where you lead an English Language class for the local community. There have been so many stand-out moments on this trip that your head spins trying to recount them all, and you make a pact with some of the other volunteers that you’ll all come back to do this again.

As much as you can’t wait to head out to another conservation trip, you’re somewhat looking forward to heading back home. Not because you feel as if your work here is done (as much as you have achieved, something in your heart begs you to come back for more!), but because you can’t wait to share your stories and experiences with your loved ones. Perhaps you’ll even manage to convince some of your best friends to come along with you next time…after all, your collection of photographs taken on this holiday are surely enough to tempt them, let alone the fact that you can’t stop beaming any time you cast your mind back to your first glimpse of Mafia Island! Settling in to your island accommodation for one last time, you drift off into a peaceful sleep, content and fulfilled that this really has been the adventure of a lifetime.

Like the sound of volunteering with whale sharks? Check out the project page now and get 30% off until the end of the month!

Fish in Mafia Island

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