Volunteer Juliet Reviews The Whale Shark Research Project!

Volunteer Juliet Reviews The Whale Shark Research Project!

Posted by Georgia Wilson on 9th Dec 2019

(The following guest blog was written by Juliet Wilson. Juliet returned from volunteering in the Maldives just a few weeks ago and couldn't wait to share her experience!)

I volunteered on the Whale Shark Research Project in the Maldives because it ticked all my boxes: sharks, ocean, bucket-list location. I have always dreamed of swimming with whale sharks but was concerned about exploitation and wanted to do it responsibly. I could not have chosen a better project to be a part of.

Whale Shark Conservation in the Maldives

I can’t sing the praises of the project team enough. From the moment I stepped off the speedboat onto a rainy Dhigurah Island, I felt like I was one of them, welcomed with open arms to aid the research and protection of whale sharks and other marine life. They all taught me so much and I am eternally grateful to have spent an amazing two weeks with them, and Sara my fellow volunteer.

Whale Shark Conservation Project Boat

A typical day involved being out on the boat collecting data on whale sharks that we swam with and any other species we encountered, most commonly turtles, dolphins and eagle rays. We also recorded other boats we saw in the Marine Protected Area – if they were speeding, how many tourists they carried and if they broke the code of conduct during whale shark encounters. All this data is compiled every evening after dinner and often involved matching spot patterns to identify the sharks we’d met!

Whale Shark Conservation Project - The Great Projects

It’s almost impossible to pin down my favourite moment of my trip. I was lucky enough to encounter a whale shark almost every day we went out on the boat and started to recognise some of our repeat visitors. On my second day, we rescued an injured Olive Ridley turtle from a huge ghost net. We were tasked with not only ensuring the turtle’s safety on the boat, but also documenting her for the nearby Olive Ridley project, removing and destroying the ghost net, and making sure she was taken to the resident marine biologist to care for. I was also lucky enough to take part in the project's schools programme, taking local children out on the boat with us to help collect data and go snorkelling. I will never forget the screams of the teachers (happy or hysterical, I still can’t tell) as they spotted a whale shark sneak up on us while we were snorkelling with the children. They wouldn’t talk about anything else for the rest of the day!

Turtle Rescue on the Whale Shark Research Project

To anyone considering coming on this project: please do it, you won’t regret it. Bring your body weight in sun cream, insect repellent and a big floppy hat. It’s a long journey (from the UK) but I guarantee it’s worth it, you’ll always treasure the moment that dark shape swimming under you transforms into a whale shark! I was blessed to be able to fulfil a long-held dream of mine and knowing I helped a small but very important project look after such beautiful creatures makes me go all warm and fuzzy.

It was truly incredible!



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