This exciting and varied programme provides a unique opportunity to interact with 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, with all research activities coordinated by the resident marine biologist:
Plan and Execute Whale Shark Tourism Excursions
Up to 5 days per week, you will take tourists out on the boats to go and see 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
As well as the tourism excursions, you will go out on the boats with just your fellow volunteers and the project staff to gather whale shark research data. During these trips, you will take photos and videos of the whale sharks so that you can contribute to the global spot-pattern identification project (which maps the global migration of whale sharks), and identify any injuries, mutilations and scars which will help the team understand the impact of tourism on the 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 be able to join the tourism excursions with the other volunteers and staff. You may also get an introduction to coral reef ecology and oceanography from the resident marine biologist!
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 several 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!
You may also get involved in a number of environmental projects during your time on the island. These can include beach clean-ups, involving the local community where possible, and assisting with the exciting new mangrove restoration project, which has already planted 1000 new seedlings along the coast to protect the beaches and ecosystems.
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 option to go scuba diving or complete a scuba diving course, though this will come at an additional cost.
You can join this project for 2 to 12 weeks, but we recommend a minimum of 3 weeks to ensure you have the best opportunity to see whale sharks and get involved in a variety of activities. Below is an example of a 3-week itinerary, however, please be aware that itineraries are subject to change.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
You will arrive on Mafia Island after taking a flight from either Dar Es Salaam or Zanzibar. You will then be met at the airport by a member of the team who will transfer you to your accommodation, which is located right on the beach and where you will have time to settle in, relax and meet the rest of the team. Later in the day, you will receive a comprehensive orientation regarding the project and the days ahead.
Day 2-20 - Project Days:
During this time, you will go out to sea 3 to 6 times per week to take part in tourism excursions and research dives. You will also take part in a number of community and environmental projects with the rest of your group and join theory classes run by the resident marine biologist, as you learn whale shark ecology, the practice of skin diving and more.
Day 21 - Final Day:
Sadly, this is your final day, and after bidding farewell to your fellow volunteers and the project staff, you will be transferred back to the airport in time for your return flight.
Dates, Availability & Price
To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 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 right on the beach amongst the trees of an old coconut, mango and cashew nut plantation. 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, mosquito nets and fans. 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 (subject to availability). The cost of this is $40 per night for solo travellers and $25 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 $80 per night for a solo traveller and $50 per person per night for a couple.
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 for an additional cost from the beach bar.
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 each volunteer. We recommend that you consult with your doctor/GP regarding your own vaccination needs as this will ensure you are protected and prepared to travel. Please also be aware that malaria is an issue here and the entire coast of Tanzania is a high-risk area, so it is important to take preventative measures. Additionally, 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 take the certification along with them.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
This project runs from October 1st to March 15th, as due to their migration patterns, this is the only time whale sharks can be seen around the island.
October – December: This is a popular time as the weather is often favourable, meaning you are likely to have a lot of opportunities to go out to sea to swim with the whale sharks.
January – March: The weather during these months can be varied, meaning there may be days when you are not able to go out to sea. During periods of bad weather, it is also more difficult to see whale sharks as they do not come to the surface to feed. These are, however, the best months to go scuba diving due to increased visibility. So, if you plan on diving during your free time, we recommend joining in these months.
The peak travel season for tourists is December 20th to January 6th, so if you join during this period, more time is spent assisting with 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) and then taking 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 $107 each way. The flight to Mafia Island departs Dar es Salaam at 9am and the return flight from Mafia Island arrives into Dar es Salaam at 11am. Please note, these flights depart from a different terminal (1.5km away), so please allow at least 2-3 hours between your internal and international flights to get through security and make your connecting flight.
Alternatively, you may wish to arrive the day before your start date, stay overnight in Dar es Salaam, and take a flight to Mafia Island the next day. We cannot guarantee there will be resident rate flights available; however, there are later flights available with other airlines. Please enquire for more information.
Most nationalities can purchase an ordinary tourist upon arrival into Tanzania for US$50 (US$100 for US citizens) and visa application forms 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. It is also 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.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Airport Transfers
- Three meals per day
- Tea, coffee and drinking water
- All activities, skills and theory classes
- Full support from the project team
What's not included?
- All flights
- Any extra excursions completed outside of the stated itinerary
- Soft or alcoholic drinks and extra snacks
- Snorkel equipment (you can bring your own or rent it from the project site for a small fee)