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Hi! My name is Sophie Cunningham and I have booked to volunteer in South Africa on a Marine Conservation trip. The trip will take place August 2023 for 2 weeks! I am currently studying in my second year of university, with a dream to gain a career in Marine Conservation and Research. This trip will give me the valuable experience, skills and knowledge that I need!
I will play a valuable role of carrying out and assisting on a variety of research and conservation activities where I will get the unique chance to study whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and other marine mammals up close. This is my chance to join an internationally recognised and an award-winning marine research project where I will be volunteering alongside a group of experienced conservation researchers. My time in South Africa will help protect one of the most biodiverse marine environments on Earth!
The local team created the foundation back in 2001 with the aim to raise awareness about conservation issues faced in Plettenberg Bay. To achieve this goal, the local team are combining research, conservation and education and installing a sense of community and support by collaborating with other conservation organisations and research institutes in the region.
By collecting important research data on the resident and migrating whales, dolphins, sharks and seals in the area, the local team and governing bodies are able to make important conservation decisions and develop sustainable plans.
I will play an important role in continuing to collect data and information on all marine wildlife in the West Indian Ocean to build a model for sustainable conservation. As a volunteer, my role will be very hands-on working alongside professional researchers. I will gain valuable experience in boat-based and land-based field research methods involving some of Plettenberg Bay’s charismatic marine top predator species.
When scheduled to join one of the tourist whale watching boats, I will get to record opportunistic sightings of marine animals such as whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and seabirds. When whales and dolphins are encountered I will take dorsal fin photographs for photo-identification research. Sightings of injured, entangled or vagrant seals hauled out on Robberg Peninsula are also photographed and recorded. All data is intended for use in existing collaborative research and citizen science projects and will provide the team with information on aspects such as the spatial distribution of various species within the bay, individual movement patterns, changes in group sizes, population health, predator-prey interactions and human-wildlife interactions.
I will also have the chance to head out to sea and assist the cetacean biologist during dedicated boat-based surveys to collect sighting and photo-identification data of the endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphin. Data will contribute towards an existing collaborative research project which aims to increase our knowledge of this species, assess trends in population numbers and inform conservation management decisions with scientific advice. Not only this, but I will also be required to record the presence, individual identity and behaviour of Cape Fur seals that frequent the Keurbooms river estuary.
The team are always on call to attend to dead whales, dolphins and seals that have washed ashore. When called upon, I will get the unique experience to assist biologists with scientific dissections and the collection of samples for research. I may also get an opportunity to assist with rare events involving live seals ashore to capture, tag, move and/or release them.
- Sophie Cunningham
- Campaign Owner
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