Photo ID'ing Of Whale Sharks
Volunteers can expect to identify whale sharks during their time on the project, Each whale shark is identified with photos of the pattern of their lateral markings behind the five gill-slits on the left side. This pattern of spots and lines is considered to be a unique 'fingerprint', allowing the animals of the area to be tracked over time.
Assessment Of Shark Behaviour
The project has developed a way to understand how sharks react to recreational divers; to achieve this, it aims to understand how divers affect not only the natural behavior of sharks but work as a data source to estimate this impact. During dives in Cabo Pulmo, you will take part in this pioneering study to analyse the interactions between divers and wild sharks.
Scuba Dive With Sea Lions
Volunteers can look forward to scuba diving with sea lions - this is an enticing way to have your diving proficiency put to the test, while also allowing the expedition leaders to check the fit of your gear, weights etc. This 'check out' dive takes place at Los Islotes, which is home to a thriving population of sea lions.
Visit The Natural Protected Area Of Balandra Beach
Balandra Beach is considered to have the most beautiful bays in all of Mexico. Located 30 minutes north of La Paz, pearl white sands frame a lagoon bounded by rust coloured hills and is filled with stunning turquoise waters. Balandra is now a Natural Protected Area, with any future developments forbidden on its bays.
Lectures And Seminars
Volunteers will attend seminars, where they will learn how to identify the main shark species found in Baja California Sur, as well as learning about the Sea of Cortez, the basic biology of the animals, and conservation issues/protection measures. They will also learn about ongoing research studies in the area and can look forward to master-classes given by top lecturers.
There are plenty of nearby activities for volunteers to enjoy in their spare time, Feel free to explore any of the beaches that La Paz has to offer; go hiking in the desert; go shopping at the Malecon; play volleyball on the beach, or even go kayaking! Your project leaders will be able to suggest some of the best areas for food and entertainment, but if you'd prefer to stay at the accommodation you will be more than welcome to do so.
Please note that this is only a rough guideline, and the itinerary may be subject to change depending on the needs of the project.
Day 1 - Arrival And Introductions:
After arriving at your accommodation (confirmed no later than 2 weeks before the project starts), enjoy a brief introduction to the project and get to know the rest of your team. If the group of volunteers exceeds 8, you will be split into GROUP A and GROUP B. However, in groups of 8 or lower, please refer to the schedule for GROUP A.
Day 2 - Whale Shark Seminar (Group A):
Join two lectures: one with an introduction to the Sea of Cortez; the other, on whale shark biology. Learn about whale shark conservation issues, IUCN status, and protection measures. Expedition leaders explain the research conducted at the project and your role as a volunteer. You will be briefed on the fieldwork techniques necessary for the next day, and the code of conduct for interactions with the whale sharks.
Day 2 - Check Out Dive At Los Islotes (Group B):
Collect your SCUBA diving gear and make your way to the Espiritu Santo National Park. Dive with the sea lion colony at Los Isoltes! This is a check-out dive, designed to check on your skills in the water, the fit of your equipment, and so forth. The nature of this is simply good fun, with no scientific data collected - so enjoy!
Day 3 - Whale Shark Field Work 1 (Group A):
Collect your snorkeling gear and head to the boat, where you'll be briefed on safety guidelines and code of conduct during whale shark interactions, as well as necessary fieldwork techniques. Conduct in-water research with the whale sharks, before doing a data entry in the evening.
Day 3 - Bull Sharks In Cabo Pulmo Seminar (Group B):
Take a lecture introducing you to the Sea of Cortez and Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP); before taking a second lecture on general shark biology and bull shark ID. A lecturer from NGO Pelagios-Kakunja conducts a masterclass explaining research on bull shark populations in the area. Afterwards, volunteers are briefed on fieldwork techniques necessary for the next day, as well as safety guidelines when diving at CPNP.
Day 4 - Whale Shark Field Work/Bull Shark Field Work:
GROUP A follows their previous schedule (please refer to 'day three.') GROUP B start the day at 6am, transferring to CPNP at 7am. Collect SCUBA gear upon arrival, before heading to the first dive site. Monitor bull sharks while diving, before departing CPNP around 4pm.
Day 5 - Data Entry and Museum Visit:
Both groups join forces today, enjoying breakfast at 8am. Afterwards, volunteers and staff enter data collected on the previous day. Lunch is served from 12:30pm til 1:30pm; afterwards, take a guided tour to the Museo de la Ballena (Whale Museum.) Enjoy a relaxed evening at leisure.
Day 6 - Check Out Dive At Los Islotes/Whale Shark Seminar:
Today, the groups will follow the activities of Day Two; however, they will switch roles. Group A will enjoy diving alongside the Sea Lion colony at Los Islotes as part of their 'check out dive'; this fun activity is designed to check the diver's fitness, skills and fit of equipment. GROUP B will take part in the Whale Shark seminar, following the same schedule as shown in 'Day Two - GROUP A' previously.
Day 7 - Bull Sharks In Cabo Pulmo/Whale Shark Field Work:
Another day for role reversal here, as GROUP A follow 'Day Three - Bull Sharks In Cabo Pulmo Seminar'; and GROUP B follow 'Day Three - Whale Shark Field Work 1.'
Day 8 - Bull Sharks In Cabo Pulmo/Whale Shark Field Work:
Once again the volunteers will switch roles, with GROUP A carrying out Day Four's schedule of bull shark field work, and GROUP B enjoying their second day of whale shark field work.
Day 9 - Day Off:
Volunteers have the entire day off. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served at the usual times but volunteers are free to do whatever they want and explore the many amenities La Paz and its surroundings have to offer: hiking in the desert, exploring beaches, shopping at the Malecon, beach volleyball, etc.
Day 10 - Pelagic Shark Populations Off Cabo San Lucas Seminar (GROUP A):
Join a lecture on the shark ecotourism industry, with a seminar on pelagic shark populations ID. Later, a lecture takes place about the project's partnership with the tour operator Cabo Shark Dive in Cabo San Lucasl shark provisioning techniques; the research conducted at the project on pelagic shark populations; field work techniques for the next day; and of course a briefing on the safety guidelines to follow when interacting with the sharks.
Day 10 - Exploration Day (GROUP B):
Volunteers and staff collect their snorkeling gear and head to the boat. This is an exciting day spent at sea looking for potential new shark diving sites, as well as monitoring any other mega fauna such as whales, dolphins, mobula rays, orcas and sail fish. Packed lunches are provided during the day.
Day 11 - Pelagic Shark Populations Off Cabo San Lucas (Fieldwork or Seminar):
GROUP B will follow the schedule given to GROUP A on Day 10; elsewhere, GROUP A can look forward to a day of fieldwork. Breakfast is served at 4am, with snorkel gear packed before 4:45am and volunteers being transferred by car to Cabo San Lucas. Meet the staff of Cabo Shark Dive and prepare for your first pelagic dive! Spend the day at sea monitoring pelagic shark populations (blue sharks, makos, silky sharks, smooth hammerheads.) Depart Cabo San Lucas around 4pm.
Day 12 - Exploration and Fieldwork:
GROUP A will take an exploration day (as outlined in 'Day Ten' for GROUP B); GROUP B will follow the schedule set in Day Eleven, repeating GROUP A's fieldwork schedule.
Day 13 - Data Entry:
Both groups will spend today entering data, with meals being served at the typical times throughout the day.
Day 14 - Balandra Beach:
Today is the final day of activities, with both groups joining forces once more. Head to the Natural Protected Area of Balandra Bay by local bus to enjoy a glorious last day of expeditions at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. A delicious BBQ lunch is prepared right on the beach - a wonderful way to say goodbye to the project!
Day 15 - Departure:
It's a sad day, as volunteers say their goodbyes to the project staff, and to each other. Volunteers are able to hang out at the facility for as long as they need, or even leave their luggage if they'd wish to do one last bit of exploring, however, please do make sure that your room is empty by 11am.
Updates & Outcomes
The shark-diving industry in Baja California Sur is set to grow rapidly over the next decade. However, whilst ecotourism is viewed locally as a viable economic alternative to shark-fishing, the sector´s effects can be pernicious if not developed appropriately. Therefore, the project proposes a multifaceted approach to better understand the dynamics of shark populations at local shark diving sites in order to develop sensible management strategies, which attempt to balance ecological expediency with the socio-economic needs and realities of local communities. This will be underpinned by extensive data collected by volunteers. Ultimately, in close collaboration with ecotourism operators, local communities and of course volunteers, the project will contribute to the development of a sustainable and profitable shark-watching industry in Baja California Sur.
The specific goals of the project are as follows:
- To create a baseline of shark population abundance, distribution, and composition at shark-diving sites in BCS
- To develop a long-term monitoring program of shark populations in BCS
- To set up conservation and management strategies for sustainable shark-diving activities
- To raise awareness of the importance of shark conservation within the local community and general public
- To help to increase the value of living sharks as a resource for ecotourism.
Is the Discovery Channel's annual 'Shark Week' encouraging the fear of sharks rather than raising awareness of shark conservation needs? Check out the three documentaries recommended in this blog that will change your perception on sharks and show you the real plight these animals are facing.
The 14th of July marks Shark Awareness Day - read on to discover why this incredible yet misunderstood animal is so vital to our world, and see how you can make a difference to its protection. From volunteering to education, tourism to recycling, we can all work to save one of the most famously maligned creatures on earth.
- posted on Jul 23, 2017
- by Phoebe Codling
Read about Shark Week 2017, and see why these marine creatures deserve our respect, and not our revulsion, by checking out our infographic!
Is this trip for you?
Volunteers will be staying in either one of two locations, depending on how large the party is. Your accommodation will be confirmed no later than 2 weeks before your start date, but both are brilliantly located and of a clean, comfortable standard.
The first option of accommodation, Hostal Bermejo, is a beautifully traditional guesthouse. Located just 10 minutes from the sea and a 30-minute walk to the city centre, volunteers will be close to all amenities - as well as on the doorstep of a number of fun activities!
The second option, Marea, is a training facility just 20 metres (60 feet) from the sea, with only a 15 minute walk to the city centre. Both accommodations are close to Malecon: with its wide sidewalk, beaches, tourist pier, sculptures by local artists and unimpeded sunset views, it has become the highlight of La Paz.
At both locations, volunteers will sleep in bunk beds (two bunk beds per room), and therefore you will be sharing a room with three others, depending on total team size. Both have bathrooms equipped with showers (hot and cold water; it is recommended to bring your own towel); bathrooms are also equipped with basins and flush toilets. Both facilities have lockers available to store valuable items. Wifi is available at both facilities, as are phone lines, and good phone coverage. Laundry facilities are available.
Plenty of activities can be found close by to both accommodations; please see 'free time' under the Activities tab.
Three healthy meals are provided daily; these will be prepared by a member of the project staff (there is also a kitchen on site at both locations, should volunteers wish to prepare their own food.) Soft drinks and juices are included at no extra cost, however, if volunteers would like to consume alcohol, this does come at an additional cost and is only allowed to be consumed outside of volunteering hours.
Volunteers must be competent swimmers, with PADI qualifications or equivalent. Inexperienced divers can learn how to dive before the project starts; the program’s partners will provide this training across various durations, however, a 5-day course is the minimum and costs $340 USD/ $6,800 Mexican pesos. Please speak to our team to find out further information about this additional course. A ‘good’ level of fitness is necessary.
There are no vaccinations required for entry to Mexico but short-term travellers are recommended to receive vaccination cover for Tetanus (childhood booster), Typhoid (food and waterborne) and Hepatitis A (food & water borne.) We recommend that you consult with your GP regarding your own immunisation needs. In conjunction with this, we would recommend that you check Fit for Travel’s website.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
With a multitude of different species and some migrating at different times, it is hard to determine the best time to join this project, so you may want to consider your own personal preferences at the time of booking.
September – November: These months offer the best visibility and water temperatures of 28°C (83°F). During these months you will have a high chance of seeing bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, and whale sharks.
November – March: Cooler water temperatures of 20°C (68°F) during these months allow the best opportunities for seeing pelagic species, whales (including the gray, humpback and blue species) and dolphins. Mako and smooth hammerhead sharks are also best seen during this time but are present from September.
April – September: The beginning of this period until the end of May is a great time to see whale sharks. Whilst June and July offer a smaller chance of seeing some of the regions iconic species August and September is the best time for seeing manta rays and also marks the start of the smooth hammerhead season.
Volunteers will fly into Manuel Márquez de León International Airport (most volunteers travelling to the project will have to change in Mexico City.) Please ensure that your flight arrives by 3pm. If no flights are available for you to arrive by this time, please arrive a day earlier and we can advise you on accommodation options for the additional night you will need to book. The airport is located just 15 minutes drive from your accommodation. Transfers are not included in the price of the project, however, the project manager will be happy to help arrange transfers if you wish - please let us know if you would like one arranged for you. If you would prefer to make your own way to your accommodation (location confirmed no later than 2 weeks before departure), taxis are always available at the airport.
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 countries do not need a visa to enter Mexico, however, please check https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mexico/en... for your requirements.
Your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into Mexico. You will be required to fill out a tourist card (this should be provided in-flight; if not, you can collect one upon landing in Mexico before you queue to have documents checked.) Upon arrival at the airport, immigration officials will stamp your passport with a tourist visa and will give back half of your tourist card. You must keep this with you, as it will need to be shown upon your departure from the country.
Mexico charges a fee to all tourists and business visitors arriving in the country; this costs approximately $22, with all money being passed to the Tourist Ministry to promote Mexican tourism. This is typically collected by the airline as part of the total airfare, so in the majority of cases, there is no need pay the fee separately but do keep this knowledge in mind.
Currency and Exchange Rates
USD and Mexican pesos are accepted everywhere in Mexico. Please click here to check up-to-date exchange rates.
What's included in the price of the project?
- A monetary contribution to the project itself
- Full orientation and support from the project staff
- Three nutritious meals per day (plus refreshments)
- Research materials
- Underwater slates
- Ground transportation during the project
- Boat transportation during the project
- Diving equipment (BCE, regulator, diving tanks and weights)
- Safety equipment such as VHF radios
- First aid supplies
- Emergency signalling devices (such as flares)
- Cooking facilities (should you wish to prepare your own food at any point)
- Laundry facilities (with a small fee)
- Internet Access
- 24-hour in-country support
What's not included?
- International flights
- Flights to and from La Paz
- PADI Open Water qualification (this can be obtained prior to the project start; please see 'fitness and skills' section)
- Airport transfers (though the project is happy to help arrange transfers if you wish - please contact us for more information)
- Light gear (wet suit, mask, snorkel, fins and diving computer - these are available to rent at a low cost of around $10 per day for the mask/snorkel and fins; $10 per day for a wetsuit; and $20 per day for the diving computer. Please speak to the project facilitators about this.)
- Travel and health insurance (please check you have insurance that covers all aspects of the trip)
- Alcoholic beverages (only to be consumed outside of project hours)
- Visa fees if applicable