Last year, Katie made the 10-hour journey from the UK to the Maldives to take part in the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project and she enjoyed the trip so much that she decided to write about it for us! Katie saw a lot of incredible things whilst on the project including a turtle rescue and of course a number of whale sharks, and she has some helpful tips for anyone looking to volunteer with the gentle giants of the sea too, so sit back and read Katie’s story of her time in the Maldives.
What made you choose this project?
I chose to go on this project because the Maldives is a place I’ve always wanted to travel to and to have the bonus of doing some good for the world while I was out there seemed almost too good to be true! I’ve always been a lover of the ocean and the animals within it, so this project seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience and learn some amazing things…and it most definitely didn’t disappoint!
What were your thoughts when you first saw the project site?
When I arrived at TME Resorts, which was the accommodation provided by the project, I was pleasantly surprised. If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the accommodation but when I got there it was lovely! The rooms were very spacious and all had an en-suite, there was an outside ‘lobby’ area with cute wooden umbrellas and a sandy floor and the food was amazing with lots of variety! There was even the chance to have a full body massage on a rainy day!
What was your favourite activity during your time on the project and why did you like it so much?
My favourite activity during the project was what we did every day- going out on the dhoni (Maldivian boat) and looking for whale sharks. We would stand on the top of the boat looking for dark, moving shadows in the water and when we spotted one we would quickly get our flippers, mask and snorkel on and jump in the water to swim alongside the friendly giant. It will blow your mind just how big they are! I will never forget the thrill of swimming with my first whale shark and it is a memory I shall cherish for life.
What was the moment you will take away with you forever?
A moment that was really special for me was while we were out one day we spotted a turtle tangled up in a ghost net struggling for its life. A ghost net is a death trap for marine life and is made up of multiple discarded fishing nets, general waste in the sea and plastic. This poor turtle had obviously gone up to the surface to breathe or approached the net thinking it was food and had got its front flipper tangled in it. This was absolutely heart-breaking to see. We all quickly jumped in to rescue the turtle and as luck should have it we had a marine biologist on board that day who cut the struggling turtle out of the net and saved him. Seeing him swim off, freed from the net, I felt such a sense of pride and happiness that I had helped contribute to saving this beautiful turtle.
What is your favourite picture from your time on the project?
The island of Dhigurah, where the project is based, is absolutely stunning. I constantly felt as if I was walking on a postcard. I have so many beautiful pictures and videos both in and out of the sea. One of my favourite photos is from a scuba dive we did. We visited a protected reef and the area was absolutely inundated with fish, reef sharks and other marine life. I have never seen anything like it, it was like swimming around in an aquarium! I feel truly blessed to have been able to witness such beauty, as I know not many people get opportunities like this.
Why should people volunteer on this project?
If you’re thinking of volunteering on this project, DO IT! It was honestly one of the best things I have ever done and I have made some real friends for life from this trip from all over the world- I even tagged on a trip to Sri Lanka after the project had finished with someone I met out there! After coming back from this trip, I have a completely different view of our oceans and I have so much more knowledge and understanding of why we need to take more care of them. I believe this project has really made me grow as a person and I can’t thank the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project enough for all the amazing life experiences the project provided me with.
What tips do you have for any future volunteers?
A tip for anyone thinking of going on this project would be, be careful when packing. As the island is a local’s island you have to be respectful of their religious beliefs. Due to this when you’re on the island you have to wear clothes that cover you from your shoulders to your knees- sarongs were an absolute lifesaver! When out on the boat you are fine to be in swimwear and there is a beautiful part of the beach on the island called ‘bikini beach’ which is owned by TME resorts that means on your days off you can wear a bikini and sunbathe etc. on the beach.
Are you planning to volunteer with animals again and if so where and with which animal?
I was so inspired by this trip that I’ve booked to go on another project next year! I am extremely excited to be going to the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary to be volunteering alongside big cats, baboons and other wildlife native to Africa. I really hope that this project will bring me as much joy and memories as the Maldives trip; and based on my experience of volunteering so far, I have no doubt in my mind that it will.
If you have been inspired by Katie’s words to make a difference and volunteer with whale sharks then this may well be the project for you! Take a look at the project page to learn more, or get in touch with a member of the travel team on 0208 885 4987 and begin planning your dream volunteer trip!
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Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation. As a volunteer, not only will you get the incredible opportunity to dive with sharks, but you will also assist the team in raising awareness of the great white as you work alongside tourists and local school children to provide them with knowledge of the local environment and the importance of living in harmony with South Africa’s marine life.
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