Volunteer to research migrating whale sharks around Mafia Island, Tanzania.

The Great Projects

Mafia Island Whale Shark Conservation

: The Great Projects

Where: Mafia Island, Tanzania

Focus: Swim with, and research, whale sharks

When: October to February | Peak season – October to December

Duration: 2-12 weeks

Suitability: Over 18s | Volunteers should be confident swimmers

Cost: 2 weeks from GBP 870

As a volunteer, you will:

  • Support whale shark research and help increase knowledge of their activity around Mafia Island to allow for a sound conservation strategy.
  • Gain valuable skills and experience in both marine conservation and the eco-tourism industry.
  • Work directly with a resident marine biologist.
  • Interact with whale sharks on a daily basis by boat, learn to recognize individual whale sharks and ID them, and input the findings into the global database,
  • Contribute to the global spot-pattern photo identification project, which seeks to identify individuals and subsequently map the movements of whale sharks.
  • Learn coral reef ecology, tropical Indo-Pacific fish identification, whale shark biology and ongoing whale shark research.
  • Learn snorkelling and skin diving techniques.
  • Support research related to whale shark tourism, such as adherence to codes of conduct and the behaviour of whale sharks in encounters with tourists and fishermen.
  • Manage tourist participation during boat trips, and perhaps spot humpback whales and turtles
  • Receive first aid tuition, including marine specific accidents.
  • Participate in 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.
  • Receive twice weekly classes on the Swahili language and local culture.
  • Get an introduction to photography and videography and their invaluable use as conservation tools regarding the identification of individual whale sharks.
  • Learn to scuba dive, have recreational dives, relax on the beach, explore the island by bicycle, go bird watching, or learn to sail a traditional dhow or ngalawa.

Whale Shark Migration

This project runs from October to February as whale shark 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: Peak season for whale shark sightings.
  • January and February: Less ideal for seeing whale sharks as days of rough weather 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.  However these are the best months for scuba diving with incredible visibility underwater.

The Base

Accommodation: The Magemani Camp is 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 with dry, composting toilets and outside showers.

Sleeping: Shared, same-sex dorms that sleep 3 people. Bed linen and mosquito nets provided.

Food: 3 meals per day.

Working week: 1.5 days off.

Number of volunteers: 12 max.

Support: 24-hour in-country volunteer support.

Transport: Pick up from Mafia Island airport.


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