This exciting and varied programme provides a unique opportunity to interact with magnificent whale sharks on a daily basis 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:
Sessions will include an introduction to coral reef ecology, tropical Indo-Pacific fish identification, whale shark biology and ongoing whale shark research. You will also learn about other conservation issues in the Mafia area. You will receive first aid tuition, including marine envenomations and stings and marine accidents.
You will learn about the theory and practice of skin diving, that is snorkelling while making breath-hold dives to observe aquatic life, up close and personal. It’s a great way to explore the underwater world when you’re not able to or don’t wish to scuba dive. Learn snorkelling and skin diving techniques including checking buoyancy, surface swimming, clearing water from your snorkel and performing effortless surface dives.
Community Participation and Kiswahili
You will participate in one or more development projects in the local school and community, such as teaching English, conducting discussion groups in English, giving swimming lessons, carrying out study groups on whale shark conservation awareness and assisting in the primary school library. You will receive twice weekly classes on the bubbly Swahili language and about the fascinating local culture.
Manage tourist participation in the global spot photo ID project
When assisting on the tourist boat trips you will be able to share your knowledge of marine life, help the crew spot the whale sharks and identify them. You will record this data and then show off your expertise as you brief tourists on the findings! You will develop organisational skills, plan excursions, gain great knowledge of the marine life and learn to prepare the boat and relevant equipment.
During each week, one and a half days will be at your leisure to relax on the beach or explore the Island! In camp, there are bicycles for free use or at an extra cost you can: take a picnic day trip by boat or road, go bird watching, learn to SCUBA dive (a PADI Scuba Course costs around U$600 including manuals and certification) or learn to sail a traditional dhow or ngalawa!
Introduction to Photography and Videography
You will gain an insight and appreciation in how still cameras and videos are valuable conservation tools regarding the identification of individual whale sharks. You will use both daily as part of the ongoing whale shark research.
Whale shark research
This will be one of the principal activities which you will be involved with whilst on the project. For 5 mornings of each week, one or two interns will be assigned to conduct research activities under the supervision of a resident marine biologist or researcher. This is done on a rotational basis with the remaining volunteers managing tourist participation in the global spot pattern photo ID project.
Learn to recognize individual whale sharks and ID them
This is a really integral part of this project as once the data is collected and collated you will help to input findings into a database which will help to identify the individual sharks themselves (males from females, individual spot patterns) for wider whale shark knowledge.
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 and therefore this is only a rough guideline. This is an example of a three week duration at the project, which then repeats depending on the length of your stay.
Please note that, while people of all ages are invited to take part in
this conservation project (and indeed groups may consist of varying ages and
ability), we do stress that you must be
able to swim and you must also be both comfortable and confident in open water.
Please refer to the section of this page titled 'fitness and skills' for
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 and have the chance to get to know your fellow volunteers and the programme coordinators. This will be followed by a comprehensive briefing and orientation.
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 the project related 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:
Transfer from the project site back to the airport for your return flight to Dar es Salaam, or commence your independent travel plans.
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 available start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project! 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.
Please note that 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 has hosted a team of researchers affiliated to the King Abdul University (KAUST) and the University of Queensland, funded by WWF, 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 in Mafia.
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. Whale shark spot-patterns are like individual fingerprints and therefore can be used to identify individual 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 and their migration patterns.
The project is also designed to help research aspects related to the tourism surrounding these magnificent sharks, such as adherence to codes of conduct and 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.
If you book to volunteer with whale sharks on the Mafia Island Whale Shark Conservation Project in the month of August, then you have the opportunity to grab yourself a 33% discount! Swim with these gentle and misunderstood giants and help to aid their conservation!
Whale sharks are such curious creatures, gliding through the water in a docile manner. Could they be ever more curious than you once though? Take a closer look at our 7 most smoking facts about whale sharks and expand your knowledge!
Is this trip for you?
The Magemani Camp is a stunning campsite 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 three people, so volunteers must be willing to share space with their fellow interns if staying in this type of accommodation. Additionally, two double rooms are available for an additional fee. All dorms are equipped with amenities (including bed linen and mosquito nets). In true Bush style, the camp features dry, composting toilets and outside showers.
Three meals of fresh local food are prepared by chefs daily here, 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.
In terms of fitness, you must be able to swim confidently and must also be comfortable with the open ocean. We would recommend, therefore, that you are in reasonable health and have at least a moderate level of fitness. A health questionnaire must be completed on application to ensure that everyone meets the entry level requirements. Note that you will get fitter during the internship!
A dive qualification is not required for this project and almost all of the work is done whilst snorkelling and skin diving. SCUBA certification is offered at an extra cost for those who wish to learn or expand on their qualifications.
You must be comfortable working and socialising with people of all ages from 18+
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 and yellow fever is an issue here and the entire coast of Tanzania is a high-risk area.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
This project runs from October through to February as their migration patterns direct them into the area, and this is the only time of year that whale sharks can be spotted in Mafia Island. October - December is usually the peak season for sightings of the biggest fish in the world.
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 be difficult to spot for a few days, as following bad weather and choppy water conditions, they do not feed at the surface.
Having said that, January and February 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.
You should aim to arrive at Mafia Island on your chosen start date.
To do this, we recommend arriving in Dar Es Salaam (DAR) the same day 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 £60 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.) 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 as they are subject to availability, however there are later flights available with other airlines. Please enquire for more information.
A member of the project team will be there to welcome you when you land at Mafia.
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 U$50 (though note that this is U$100 for US citizens) on arrival into Dar Es Salaam. 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.
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 U$5 – U$15 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 -
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)
- Visa cost
- Any extra excursions
- SCUBA diving or certification
- Alcohol, snacks and personal items