Dolphin behavior and conservation

Non-profit
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founded in 2019
Pamela
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Coordinator | Pamela
Coordinator | Pamela
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High­lights

The giant and remote atoll of Rangiroa is one of the most famous diving destination worldwide.
Our fieldwork aims at collecting demographic and behavioral data on a small dolphin community.
Our long-term research program focuses on each of the dolphins’ history and personality, and issues related to their conservation.
Understand more to care more is an essential axis of our volunteer program.
The Tuamotu islands are a perfect location to enjoy the kindness of Polynesian people.
We are looking for certified scuba divers to help collecting demographic and behavioral data on a small bottlenose dolphin community impacted by wildlife tourism. This volunteer program is especially suitable for:
Age 18+
Singles
Couples
Families
Groups

THE TUAMOTU ARCHIPELAGO

The Tuamotu Archipelago - population of 15,000 people -, an area highly threatened by climate change, contains 78 atolls spread across an 800,000-square-kilometer ocean surface. It has 800 square kilometers of land for 20,000 square kilometers of lagoon - 0.1% and 2% of its maritime area respectively -, demonstrating how fragile this oasis of aquatic biodiversity is. The Tuamotu atolls are characterized by their height, shape, exposure to the ocean, population, and the activities performed there. There are small, closed lagoons, both hypersaline and brackish, and large lagoons open to the ocean like Fakarava, which features the largest pass in French Polynesia at 1,600 meters, and even a raised coral atoll, Makatea. Coral growth, which allows these small island reefs of only a few meters in altitude to exist, is directly affected by the slow and irreversible acidification of the oceans - a 30% increase over two and a half centuries. Here, as anywhere else, ecosystems are defenseless against commercial, demographic, and climate pressures.

RANGIROA ATOLL

Yet 350 kilometers from Tahiti in the northwest Tuamotu Islands, the giant atoll of Rangiroa - ‘Great Sky’ in Paumotu -, a true oasis of life and diversity in the heart of the tropical Pacific, stretches its 170 kilometers of coral reefs, sands, and coconut trees around a 1,600-square-kilometer area with waters so fish-laden that it has become one of the world's top diving destinations. The atoll's impressive size - 80 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide on average - and its two large passes, Avatoru and Tiputa, make it home to marine wildlife as exceptional as it is impressive.

THE NGO

Dauphins de Rangiroa - DDR - is a French Polynesian NGO dedicated to research, citizen science, conservation, and education on Rangiroa common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia.

Born in 2019, DDR benefits from a 13-year scientific monitoring experience on Rangiroa bottlenose dolphins and a 10-year experience with ecovolunteers from all over the world who join us every year to help the NGO complete its field missions.

We focus our research and education programs on 1. A demographic and social monitoring of the small bottlenose dolphin community inhabiting Tiputa waters, on the northern part of Rangiroa atoll ; 2. A better understanding of the behaviors observed in these animals as part of their interactions with diving tourism ; 3. The implementation of ethical and sustainable dolphin watching activities on the Tiputa area. Within our survey, we are focusing on each of the dolphins’ history and personality.


THE COMMON BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN

The common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is distributed throughout French Polynesia. However, the species is most easily and regularly observed in Rangiroa atoll than in other Polynesian islands. Here, adults can reach up to 3.3 meters and weigh up to 450 kilos. They are commonly identified by their stocky and grayish body prolongated by a thick rostrum. The line of their mouth, curved upwards, gives them a ‘smiling’ appearance. Nevertheless, this morphological feature does not reflect the overall species’ behaviors as these dolphins have an extremely complex social life and may display affiliative behaviors such as play and petting behaviors as well as agonistic behaviors - e.g. intimidation, aggression. The numerous scars and notches visible on the adult males’ bodies perfectly illustrate these animals’ strength.

RANGIROA DOLPHINS AND THE DIVING TOURISM ISSUE

Since 2009, DDR's research director has been studying the bottlenose dolphin community inhabiting the northern part of Rangiroa atoll. Her work mainly focuses on the impacts of tourist activities on each of the dolphins’ behavioral repertoire. Indeed, these animals are targeted daily by ‘dolphin watching’ activities. Literature and the media have endowed cetaceans with a reputation that predisposes people to expect friendly interactions with free-ranging dolphins. Theme parks and aquaria, where people can touch, feed and swim with captive dolphins, enhance this reputation.

The popularity of marine mammal viewing activities can result in conservation and socioeconomic benefits for the animals and local communities alike if they are conducted responsibly and with care, in accordance with existing regulations that protect these iconic species. However, if viewing activities are not conducted appropriately, they can place marine mammals at significant risk of harassment, injury or death.

Some of Rangiroa bottlenose dolphins have been conditioned on the medium to long term to tolerate or even seek out physical contact with scuba divers. Such a situation raises concerns about the risks associated with unmanaged interactions between humans and dolphins in their natural habitat. These risks include:

1. An increase in the number of accidents involving dolphins and divers through, for example, ‘pushy’ behaviours or intimidation attempts from the dolphins and / or divers who forget basic diving safety rules;

2. Disease transmission from the dolphins to humans, and vice versa;

3. An increased vulnerability to human activities of dolphins which have become too familiar with humans - loss of vigilance toward human activities -, resulting in collisions with boats, propeller injuries, fishing gear entanglement, etc.;

4. Changes in ranging and social patterns;

5. The implementation of an ‘open water dolphinarium’ situation lacking basic educational components.

OUR GOALS

For many years, divers have been illegally encouraging physical interactions with Tiputa bottlenose dolphins, especially with young individuals. Some of these dolphins are now extremely familiar with humans, making them particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic activities. Indeed, overconfident animals may easily be injured or even destroyed if they display intrusive or aggressive behavior toward humans.

1. Through our long-term demographic and social monitoring of the Tiputa bottlenose dolphin community, we want to be able to spot any deleterious impact of human activities on the dolphins.

2. Through our long-term ethological monitoring, we want to describe and better understand the impacts of tourism on the dolphins’ behaviors and identify the risks associated with close interactions between dolphins and divers.

3. Through our education program, we want to share our results and recommendations with the general public to help developing responsible tourist activities and improving our relationships with wildlife.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE VOLUNTEER?

First, volunteers will discover the dolphins' habitat and our dolphin monitoring program. They will be trained to identify the dolphins individually, to spot basic affiliative and agonistic behaviors, and help collecting underwater and land-based photo and video data. They will be asked not to attract or otherwise disturb the animals and other marine wildlife but to adopt a passive attitude underwater and just observe and film the dolphins and their environment. After the dives and land-based sightings, volunteers will fill our databases.

Our 2-week missions need certified divers who are minimum level 1 or Open Water with an experience of at least 15 to 20 dives at sea. Divers must be in good physical condition and demonstrate good team spiritThey should not be too sensitive to seasickness. They will show their credential and logbook before starting the dives.

In order to enjoy the lagoon during free time, we advise every participant to bring his / her own fins, mask and snorkel.

WHAT ARE THE VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES?

1. Underwater sightings.

All the dives will be supervised by our diving instructor. Before each dive, a briefing will focus on the dive spot, safety procedures, and marine life. The dive spot is located at about 5’ by boat from the diving center. The volunteers must remain with their diving instructor throughout the dive which will generally last between 45 and 70'. The divers will be asked to video record any dolphin sighting in a passive way. The divers without camera will have to record other parameters of interest. After the dives, a debriefing will focus on the environmental conditions and sightings.

We strongly recommend you to bring your own underwater camera. 

2. Land-based sightings.

All the land-based sightings will be supervised by DDR's research director. Long breaking waves - called ‘mascaret’ - resulting from the meeting of a tidal current coming out of the lagoon with ocean water run through Tiputa pass two times a day. This exceptional setting constitutes a privileged socialization ground for the bottlenose dolphins which regularly come to surf and leap into the waves. This is a perfect location to spot and take pictures of the dolphins without influencing their presence and behaviors. This is also a perfect location to record all the boats and divers that are frequenting the dolphins' core habitat. This 1:30 activity will be strongly dependent on the currents.

3. Part of the day will be dedicated to data processing, training courses, comments, and debates. Depending on the time of the year, the volunteers may also participate in school presentations.

WITH WHOM WILL THE VOLUNTEERS BE WORKING WITH?

The volunteers will be supervised by DDR's research director, diving instructors and captains.

WHAT DO WE EXPECT FROM THE VOLUNTEERS?

Our mission is a participative tool for the demographic and ethological monitoring of a small bottlenose dolphin community strongly impacted by wildlife tourism. It will allow you to observe and better understand these animals' routine, all the issues related to their conservation, and the complexity of relationships between humans and wildlife. We expect volunteers to get involved in our fieldwork to help the NGO sustaining its long-term dolphin monitoring program.

WHAT CAN THE VOLUNTEERS EXPECT FROM US?

DDR's research director has been working on this small dolphin community for about 15 years. She will share her experience and knowledge objectively and with passion. Volunteers usually leave the mission with a new perception of the dolphins and their environment. Our captains and diving instructors know the location very well and will also share their knowledge with pleasure and spontaneity.

DO THE VOLUNTEERS HAVE TO BRING SPECIAL EQUIPMENT?

We strongly recommend volunteers to bring their own fins, mask and snorkel, a lycra or wetsuit, and their own underwater camera. It may be useful to bring a laptop and hard drive. We also advise everyone to bring a hat or cap, polarized sunglasses, a seasickness remedy, a raincoat, a mosquito repellent, and a tube of antibiotic ointment.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Volunteers must be in good physical and mental condition, with no heart disease or treatment requiring immediate proximity to hospitals.
  • We strongly advise people who have not dived for more than six months to do a security visit to an ENT and a refresh dive.
  • Volunteers must be able to live and share with other people.
  • Adaptability, patience, thoroughness and good humor are welcome.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • A biometric passport and an ESTA form are required for stopovers in the USA.
  • The voltage used in French Polynesia is 220V.
  • All field activities are dependent on the weather and currents.
  • It is prohibited to dive less than 12:00 before a domestic flight and 24:00 before an international flight.
  • Water is always at perfect temperature - between 25 and 29°C. However, you should beware of currents, especially along channels.
  • Avoid swimming at night or wearing shiny jewelry while swimming or diving near the reefs - moray eels, barracudas. We do not recommended swimming in areas where fish have recently been cleaned. Beware of stonefish and do not touch the coral or other animals. Never collect live coral or shells.
  • We recommend wearing a Neoprene suit. You should generally avoid walking barefoot in the water.
  • Be careful of the sun and dehydration. We strongly recommend you to bring sunscreen, antibiotic ointment, and antihistamine cream.
  • Beware of mosquitoes.
  • Fresh water is a rare and precious commodity in the Tuamotu Islands.
  • Be careful not to feed stray dogs and cats to avoid familiarizing them near the bungalows or kitchen.
  • The local currency is the French Pacific franc, which is indexed to the euro. €1=XPF 119.33. Cash is handy when you want to buy yourself a sandwich or a drink, or take a taxi. ATMs are found at Rangiroa airport and Tiputa village. A meal at a snack bar costs about XPF 1,700 - €14. Expect to pay XPF 3,000 / person in a small restaurant and XPF 6,000 in a large restaurant. 1.5-liter soft drink > about XPF 600. A box of inexpensive cakes > XPF 250. Taxi ride > XPF 1,000 / 12 kilometers in Tahiti; XPF 500–1,000 / person on the islands. Land-based Wi-Fi internet connection > XPF 500 / hour – XPF 12,000 / 50 hours. Phone card > XPF 1,000. If you want to use your cell phone in Polynesia, please contact your carrier before the trip.
  • Rangiroa has a dispensary, doctors and a pharmacy.
  • Baggage from overseas cannot exceed 30 kilograms.
  • Drugs are strictly forbidden.

Typical day

WHAT DOES THE VOLUNTEER DO ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?

We will first meet on Monday at 10:00 am at the 'Teina and Marie' guesthouse in Rangiroa to introduce the team, location and safety tips. The mission will then take place over 14 days: one dive will be scheduled every day and part of the day will be dedicated to debriefings and training courses. When the conditions will be good, land-based sightings will be organized.

The first Sunday and second Monday of the mission will be free.

The mission will end on the last Sunday morning. A general debriefing and sharing of photos and videos collected during the mission will be done.

ARE THERE SPECIAL WORKING HOURS?

Field sessions typically last about three hours. Training courses and data analysis typically last about three hours every day. These activities will usually take place somewhere between 7:30 and 11:30 am and 13:30 and 16:00 pm.

Free-time activities

SWIMMING

In French Polynesia, water is always at perfect temperature. However, you should be careful of currents, especially along channels. We also recommend swimmers to wear a wet suit and avoid walking barefoot in the water.

SCUBA DIVING

It is possible to book exploration dives.

HIKING

Volunteers can visit Avatoru and Tiputa villages. They can also book local tours.

Diving/
Snorkling
Hiking
Shopping/
Souvenirs
Sightseeing
Swimming

Require­ments

In order to join the program you need to be at least 18 years old on the program start date. There might be exemptions if you can provide the permission of your legal guardian(s) or if your are accompanied by your parents.
Language Skills
You need to speak French (basic level) or English (basic level)
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
Scuba divers must have minimum an Open Water or Niveau 1 certification, an experience of at least 15 dives at sea, and must have dived less than 6 months before the mission starts​.They should not be too sensitive to sea sickness​.
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 08:00 - 16:00

What's Included

Services by Dauphins de Rangiroa (DDR)


The fees include:

- The round trip between Rangiroa airport and the guesthouse

- The accommodation in a dorm room at the ‘Teina & Marie’ guesthouse (you can book a single bungalow but the fee will be higher)

- Breakfast and dinner

- Per diem for lunches

- 10 dives at the 'Rangiroa Diving Center'

- Training courses, presentations and supervision

They do not include international and domestic flights to Rangiroa and extra expenses - e.g. restaurants, extra dives, excursions.

Airport Pickup at Rangiroa Airport


Volunteers are expected at Rangiroa airport by the guesthouse. The taxi may take some time to arrive.

We will meet at the guesthouse on the first Monday at 10:00 am.

Accommodation


DDR works with a local guesthouse, ‘Teina & Marie’, located close to the lagoon, the pass, the diving center, restaurants, and our dolphin sighting spot on shore. Accommodation is in a dorm room with shared bathroom fitted with a toilet, cold shower and access to electricity.

It is possible to request a private bungalow with hot shower but the fee will be higher.

DDR works in partnership with a responsible dive shop, 'Rangiroa Diving Center', located next to the guesthouse.

Bungalow Dorm Room
Food & Beverages


Breakfast and dinner are prepared and served at the guesthouse. Local meals are often based on fish but may be adapted for vegetarian diets. Lunches may be organized collectively and cooked in the guesthouse’s kitchen or taken at a local snack or restaurant.

Two food stores, three snacks and a small pizzeria are located a few minute-walk from the guesthouse. The shops are relatively well stocked but fruits and vegetables are scarce in the atolls. A meal at the snack will cost about 2,000 XPF. Alcoholic drinks are not included in the fees.

Internet Access
Limited access at the project site
What's NOT included?
Visa, flights, travel insurance or vaccinations are NOT included in the program fees.
Flight Tickets
The nearest airport is Rangiroa Airport (RGI) in Rangiroa. We assist you to find cheap flights to French Polynesia.
Travel Insurance
Going abroad is an adventure and it is always best to be prepared. Sudden illness or injury, cancellation or theft - a travel insurance for French Polynesia provides security and is a plus to have.
Vaccines
If you are intending to volunteer in French Polynesia you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for French Polynesia.

Dates & Fees

NO CREDIT CARD FEES

Details on arrival

International flights to Tahiti will often arrive at night. You can book a night at a guesthouse in Tahiti. From Tahiti international airport participants will have to take a Tahiti-Rangiroa domestic flight - 1:00 for a flight without stopovers.

At Rangiroa airport you will meet a taxi provided by the guesthouse. The taxi may take some time to arrive. The six-kilometer taxi ride between Rangiroa airport and the guesthouse will take about five minutes.

Between 3 and 5 participants are required on each of our 14 day-missions.

2023 PROGRAM

  • 5th June > 18th June
  • 26th June > 9th July
  • 17th July > 30th July
  • 7th August > 20th August
  • 28th August > 10th September
  • 18th September > 1st October

Availability
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Duration
2 - 2 weeks

Program fees

Costs: Prices in USD
2 weeks (min. stay)
$2,562
2 weeks (max. stay)
$2,562
Average fees
$1,281 /week

The organization charges its fees in EUR. The price table in USD is subject to currency fluctuation. Dauphins de Rangiroa (DDR) will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Deposit (15%)
The deposit is simply to reserve your volunteer placement. Payments are handled by PayPal, our trusted global payment provider. If you don't have a PayPal account, you can also pay using a credit card.
Final Payment (85%)
Your final payment will be agreed with Dauphins de Rangiroa (DDR) during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.

Why book with Volunteer World

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All program fees are charged directly by Dauphins de Rangiroa (DDR).

What are people saying about Volunteer World?

Dolphin behavior and conservation

We are looking for certified scuba divers to help collecting demographic and behavioral data on a small bottlenose dolphin community impacted by wildlife tourism.

$1175/week

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