This exciting and varied programme provides a unique opportunity to interact with magnificent whale sharks whilst gaining valuable skills and experience in both marine conservation and the responsible tourism industry. During the project, you will get the opportunity to take part in the following:
Plan and Execute Whale Shark Tourism Excursions
Up to 5 days a week you will be responsible for taking out tourists on the boats to go and see the whale sharks. You will be responsible for giving an orientation to the guests in the morning, demonstrating the proper way to dive with whale sharks safely and sharing your knowledge on whale shark ecology. In busier periods you may also conduct whale shark research during this time.
Research and Conservation Dives
Once to twice a week, you will go out on the boats with your fellow volunteers and the project staff to gather whale shark research data. For this activity, you will take photos and videos of the whale sharks so that you can contribute to the global spot-pattern project which maps the global migration of whale sharks.
Skills and Theory Classes
So that you are able to take part in the tourism excursions, you will spend time in your first few days taking part in a variety of courses. These include first aid, the theory and practise of skin diving and an introduction to whale shark biology. Once you have completed these you will then be able to join tourism excursions with the other volunteers and staff.
Photo and Video Identification
As one of the main whale shark conservation activities is to contribute to the global spot-pattern identification project, you will need to learn how to take photos and videos of the whale sharks so that they can be analysed and the information uploaded. You will learn how to do this at the beginning of your time on the project so that you can effectively contribute to this during your time here.
When not out at sea there are a number of community initiatives that you may take part in. These can include development projects in the local school and community such as teaching English, conducting discussion groups on whale shark conservation awareness, giving swimming lessons and assisting in the primary school library. You will also receive twice-weekly classes on the bubbly Swahili language and learn about the fascinating local culture!
During your time on the project you will get at least 1 full day off a week (usually Sunday) and some afternoons also. This time can be spent relaxing on the beach, paddle boarding, hiking or taking part in a social activity. There is also the possibility of going scuba diving or completing a scuba diving course although this will come at an additional cost.
You can join this project for 3 to 12 weeks and will be split into working groups to ensure variety and equal opportunity when carrying out tasks and joining activities. Please note that itineraries are subject to change.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Via a stunning 30-minute flight transfer from Dar Es Salaam, you will arrive at Mafia Island and be met by a project representative. After settling in and relaxing in your accommodation you will meet your fellow volunteers along with the programme coordinators and have the chance to get to know them. This will be followed by a comprehensive briefing and orientation regarding the project.
Day 2-20 - Project Days:
During this time you will receive twice-weekly theory classes related to conservation and research management and twice-weekly classes on language and culture. For 5 mornings each week, one or two interns will be assigned to conduct research activities under the watch of the supervisor. This is on a rota with the others managing tourist participation in the global spot pattern photo ID project. You will also get involved with other tasks such as the identification of individual sharks by spot patterns, ID and tracking, tourism and fisherman impact as well as many other aspects of the research programme. There is the unique opportunity twice weekly to visit a local school and assist with English teaching and whale shark conservation awareness discussion groups, as well as swimming lessons.
Day 21 - Final Day:
Sadly this is your final day if staying for a 3-week duration! After wishing your fellow volunteers and project staff fond farewells, you will then be transferred back to the airport for your return flight to Dar es Salaam, or commence your onward and independent travel plans. Alternatively, if you are staying for longer, then the itinerary will repeat itself.
Dates, Availability & Price
To secure a place on this project a deposit of £195 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.
Select a duration below to see the project start dates. Please note that this project does run every day of the week; if your preferred date is not shown, please feel free to get in touch with our travel team and they will be more than happy to assist. It is possible to add extra nights to the durations shown if necessary!
Updates & Outcomes
This fantastic project supports important ongoing marine conservation efforts and hosts research projects in an effort to learn more about whale sharks. Recently, the project hosted a team of researchers affiliated with the King Abdul University (KAUST) and the University of Queensland, funded by the WWF, who were looking at oceanographic factors influencing the occurrence and distribution of whale sharks in the Mafia channel. In previous years, the project has supported other integral WWF-funded whale shark research around Mafia Island.
Through the volunteer programme, the project continues to contribute to the global spot-pattern photo identification project which seeks to map the migration of whale sharks. Their location can be added to a worldwide database, which can then be extrapolated and utilised to assess the health of the species within the area.
The project is also designed to help research aspects related to tourist behaviour surrounding these magnificent sharks, such as adherence to codes of conduct and understanding the behaviour of whale sharks during encounters with tourists and fishermen.
Whale sharks are a listed endangered species, and one of the most misunderstood gentle giants of the deep blue sea. They face threats from their habitat and humans, but you can make a difference! Volunteer in Mafia Island with The Great Projects and aid whale shark conservation today, to give these animals a chance to thive for years to come.
This Christmas, why not try a bit of spontaneity? Take a look at our last-minute volunteering trips and aid the conservation of endangered species!
The 30th of August is International Whale Shark Day - but did you know that this majestic species is now endangered? From unsustainable tourism practices to the ever-looming threat of bycatch, read on to learn about the greatest risks facing this beautiful marine mammoth - and find out how you can help to protect it.
Is this trip for you?
Whilst on the project you will be staying at the Magemani Camp which is situated amongst the trees of an old coconut, mango and cashew nut plantation on Mafia Island’s western shore. Traditional thatched houses of different sizes make up the camp which are shared, same-sex dorms that house two people per room. All dorms are equipped with beds, pillows, linen and mosquito nets. In true 'bush style', the camp features dry, composting toilets and outside showers. Free Wi-Fi is also available for volunteers to use.
If you would like your own room in the dorms then you can do so for an additional fee of £20 per night. It is also possible to upgrade your accommodation whilst at the project to a private stilt house which is pictured here. The cost of this is £32 per night for solo travellers and £20 per person per night for couples. These prices are valid for the whole season except between December 20th and January 6th where the upgrade to stilt houses costs £64 per person for a solo traveller and £40 per person per night for a couple. This is dependant on availability so if you would like to upgrade your accommodation please check with us in advance.
Three meals of fresh local food are prepared here daily by local chefs, including a lot of fruit and seafood such as fish, octopus and squid. Chicken and beef are also often served, and for vegetarians, there is plenty on offer. You will also be provided with tea, coffee and according to your preference, bottled or filtered water. Any extra snacks or drinks other than what is mentioned are not provided but can be purchased at an additional cost.
To join this project, it is important that you are fit and healthy and are also a better than average swimmer. Before booking, you should understand that the in-water activities are physically demanding and, if you are deemed medically unfit, you may not be able to fully participate in the in-water activities and your in-water time may be restricted or, if necessary, totally curtailed.
You will also need to complete a short medical questionnaire and, if necessary, you may be required to obtain clearance from your doctor/physician.
Upon arrival, you will complete a swimming assessment to ensure you are able to take part in all aspects of the project and that you will be safe doing so. To fully participate you will be trained to do the following: pull yourself out of the water and onto the boat without assistance or ladder, swim alongside a whale shark for at least 10 minutes, assist others in the water if they are struggling, stay in the water for prolonged periods of time and free dive to 10 meters so that you can get below the whale sharks to check their sex. We therefore highly recommend improving your fitness and swimming abilities before arriving.
A dive qualification is not required for this project and almost all of the work is done whilst snorkelling and skin diving.
The vaccinations required will depend on the individual medical history of the volunteer. We recommend that you consult your GP regarding your own immunisation needs. In conjunction with this, we would recommend that you check Fit for Travel’s website. Note that malaria is an issue here and the entire coast of Tanzania is a high-risk area. Although the yellow fever vaccine is no longer required, it is likely you will be asked to have one on arrival anyway, so we advise volunteers to arrange this at home and bring the certification along with you. A basic medical questionnaire will be provided that must be completed before joining the project.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
This project runs from October 1st through to March 15th as whale shark migration patterns direct them into the area during this time, so this is the only time of year that whale sharks can be spotted around Mafia Island.
October to December is usually the peak season for sightings and January and February are less ideal for seeing whale sharks as days of rough weather during these times can make it impossible to go out to sea. The sharks can then be difficult to spot for a few days, as following bad weather and choppy water conditions, they do not feed at the surface.
January and February, however, are the best months for scuba diving (with incredible visibility underwater) and so those extra days off are a great opportunity for going diving. We also have very favourable prices with Mafia Island Diving so a double dive with full equipment hire costs our volunteers just $70, instead of $130, and a PADI Open Water course costs just $420, instead of $580 (these prices are approximate and may change).
December 20th to January 6th is peak season and so more time is spent running whale shark tourism excursions.
You will need to arrive at Mafia Island on your chosen start date with most flights going via Dar Es Salaam.
To do this, we recommend arriving into Dar Es Salaam (DAR) the same day and then catching an internal flight to Mafia Island. We may be able to get you resident rate flights from Dar Es Salaam to Mafia Island and back at a cost of £75 each way. The timings for these flights are 9:00am to Mafia Island and coming back at 10:15am to Dar Es Salaam.
Please note - the internal flights depart from a different terminal (1.5kms away), so please allow at least 2-3 hours between the internal and international flights to get through security and make your connecting flight.
Alternatively, you can arrive the day before, stay overnight in Dar Es Salaam and catch the 9:00am flight. We cannot guarantee that there will be resident rate flights available; however there are later flights available with other airlines. Please enquire for more information.
If you would like help booking your flights, please visit our flights page and fill out the form. A member of our team will get back in touch as soon as possible with a suitable quote.
Most nationalities can purchase an ordinary tourist visa for $50 USD (though note that this is $100 USD for US citizens) on arrival into Tanzania. Visa applications will be available on your flight or at the arrivals terminal. Your visa will be valid for up to 3 months, though you will need to make sure that your passport has at least three pages spare. Note that on this project, you will be classified as an intern, so an ordinary tourist visa is all you will need to join. It is possible to purchase your visa prior to arrival, but please ensure to speak to a Tanzanian embassy in advance to check their application requirements/processing time.
Currency and Exchange Rates
Ideally, you should bring US dollars with you and exchange them for Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) once you have arrived into Dar Es Salaam. Always use a Bureau de Change (at the international terminal of the airport) when exchanging dollars. Do NOT exchange dollars on the street as you will most likely be thoroughly ripped off! Budget between $5 USD – $15 USD per day to allow for the occasional drink and any extra snacks you should wish to buy. For up to date exchange rates, please visit XE's website here - http://www.xe.com/.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Orientation and ongoing training in marine conservation
- Airport Transfers
- Food and drinks as specified
- Skills and theory classes
- Community participation
- Full support from the project team
What's not included?
- All flights
- Insurance (we can offer insurance here through Endsleigh)
- Any extra excursions completed outside of the stated itinerary
- SCUBA diving or certification
- Alcohol, snacks and personal items
- Snorkel equipment (volunteers can bring their own or rent it from the project site for a small fee)