Mafia Island Whale Shark Conservation

Take part in this whale shark conservation internship project on the stunning Mafia Island in Tanzania.

Mafia Island really is a traveller's dream, with its white sandy beaches and sparkling waters, and this whale shark internship offers volunteers the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with whale sharks in their natural habitat, as well as gain valuable skills in both marine conservation and the tourism industry.

Whale sharks are the misunderstood gentle giants of the deep, and are a vital component of the marine ecosystem, as the presence of whale sharks in an area reflects the overall health of our oceans. Sadly, however, they face many threats for which human activity is primarily responsible. As the largest fish in the world, whale sharks are hugely profitable to international markets for their meat, fins, and oil. They are also often involved in fatal boat collisions due to irresponsible whale shark tourism, or accidentally caught by fisherman targeting other fish.

To help combat this, you will lead whale shark excursions and show tourists how to view these magnificent creatures in the most responsible way. You will also collect valuable data to contribute to the Global Spot Pattern Identification Project, as well as take part in beach cleans to help keep the beaches and waters around Mafia Island free from plastic pollution.

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Lauren Mackinnon


This project 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 whale shark excursions coordinated by trained professionals.

Whale Shark Monitoring at Mafia Island
Plan and Execute Whale Shark Tourism Excursions Up to 4 days per week, you will take tourists out on the boats as you go in search of 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. You will also conduct any whale shark research during this time.
Skills and Theory Classes
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 classes. These will 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.
Whale Shark off Mafia Island
Photo and Video Identification As the main whale shark conservation activity 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 added to the database. 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.
Beach Clean on Mafia Island
Beach Clean Once per fortnight, you will take part in a beach clean, involving the local community where possible to help ensure the beach remains pristine and that any plastic waste that can be harmful to the environment and local wildlife is removed and recycled where possible.
Hiking on Mafia Island
Free Time During your time on the project you will get at least 2 full days off per week (usually Saturday and Sunday) and some afternoons also. This time can be spent relaxing on the beach, paddleboarding, 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.


Day 1 - The Adventure Begins: You will arrive on Mafia Island after taking a flight from either Dar Es Salaam or Zanzibar. You will 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. Here you will have time to settle in, relax and meet the rest of the team before taking part in a comprehensive orientation regarding the project and the days ahead.
Day 2-27 - Project Days: During this time, you will go out to sea up to 4 times per week to take part in tourism excursions and research dives. You will also take part in beach cleans with the rest of your group and join theory classes as you learn all about whale shark ecology and the practice of skin diving.
Day 28 - 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 Mafia Island Airport in time for your return flight home.

Durations & Prices

To secure a place on this project, a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking. The remaining balance is due 60 days before your start date.

Flexible Payment Options: If you select a start date more than 3 months in advance, we offer convenient payment plans, allowing you to pay off your balance in instalments.

Select a duration below to see the available start dates and book your place today!

Duration Price
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Payment breakdown


Volunteer Accommodation

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, bed linen, mosquito nets and fans. In true 'bush style', the camp features dry, composting toilets and outside showers. Free Wi-Fi is also available.

Accommodation Upgrade

If you would like your own room in the dorms, then you can do so for an additional fee of $32 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 $57 per night for solo travellers and $32 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 $113 per night for a solo traveller and $63 per person per night for a couple.

Meals & Beverages

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.

Project Details

When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?

This project runs from October to February, 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 – February: 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.

Getting There

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 a domestic flight to Mafia Island. We recommend flying with Coastal Aviation or Auric Air as both offer direct flights from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island. Please note, these flights depart from a different terminal (1.5km away), so please allow at least 2-3 hours between your domestic 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.

Visa Requirements

Most nationalities can purchase a tourist visa upon arrival into Tanzania for US$50 (US$100 for US citizens). Tourist visas are valid for up to 3 months, although you will need to make sure that your passport has at least three blank pages spare. Alternatively, it is possible to purchase your visa prior to arrival, but please ensure to speak to your local Tanzanian embassy in advance to check their application requirements/processing time.

Fitness & Skills

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 time in the water 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 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.


Will Huball, 2024

Amazing, trip of a lifetime. The team are so passionate & knowledgeable. I saw and swam with whale sharks on every trip and it's so rewarding seeing everyone enjoying themselves.

Anouk Minnebach, 2023

The wooden boat where we stayed on was amazing. As was its staff. The marine biologists were the best, as is the importance of their work. It was sad to see the insanely amount of boats speeding towards a whale shark, hopefully this change for the beter soon <3

Tim Hasbargen, 2023

The location, people, animals and overall experience is truly amazing. It is a perfect mix of volunteering and having a purpose and enjoying oneself. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!

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What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Three meals per day
  • Tea, coffee and drinking water
  • Airport Transfers
  • Wi-Fi

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Visas
  • Travel insurance
  • Snorkel equipment