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Plan My Gap Year

Marine and Beach Conservation

Plettenberg Bay, South Africa show on map

The PMGY marine conservation volunteer programme is a hands-on experience that combines conservation, education, community development and research.

The Programme

Plettenberg Bay is the home of the programme and is a location that represents one of the most spectacular outdoor classrooms for volunteers to engage with in southern Africa. Its towering indigenous forests, fresh rivers and sea, pristine golden beaches, intriguing lagoons and remarkable rocky peninsula allows you to fully take in the amazing coastal scenery and marine conservation aspects all in one place.

With Southern Right Wales, Bottlenose Dolphins, Great White Sharks and more fascinating marine species being spotted at the bay; such a placement location allows for you to engage with and observe some truly magnificent marine species whilst participating in conservation and education oriented volunteer work. Such activities are headed up by our experienced local team who come as qualified marine guides and interests and accreditations in research and conservation biology.

Naturally there are a variety of factors which influence at what times and how often activities take place such as the season, weather and need at the time. Below is just some examples of the conservation and research aspects of the programme that volunteers usually get involved in.


Identifying Marine Species

Volunteers join on the adventure marine boat trips to get the opportunity to see a variety of the marine life (dolphins, whales, seals) within the bay and its surroundings. This a common research activity for the volunteers as they fill in data sheets investigating things like number of sightings, at what times, species type, marine life behaviours and such data and sightseeing is shared within the local area across different projects to maximise the overall data research.

Fin Profiling

Another key component to the conservation aspect from the boat trips is fin profiling. Each individual fin for dolphins and whales is quite unique and volunteers are instructed on how to take fin profile photos of the whales and dolphins they encounter for the purpose of building an identification catalogue based on fin profile photos. The long-term goal from fin profiling is to have a catalogue for each of the three dolphin species and two whale species that can be regularly seen on boat trips across the year. When processing the data, it is then possible to look into variations of damage to the fin, any nicks and notches to the fin etc.

Alien Vegetation Removal

Saws and pangas are used by volunteers to assist in removing alien vegetation and alien trees. Alien invasive species absorb lots of water taking this away from the native species and indigenous plants and hindering their development. Processes are then put in place to ensure the alien vegetation do not regrow and the area can return to its natural vegetation composition. Any removed vegetation is then used constructively for example building fences and structures in the local area. Volunteers also assist in planting indigenous trees at various sites as part of offsetting some of their carbon footprint.

Bird Ringing

Bird ringing helps us answer a number of important questions. The activity is done before sunrise to maximise a variety of bird species caught and helps us learn more around how long birds live, where they go, how they breed and how climate change affects them. The birds caught have a metal band engraved with a unique code placed on their leg and a number of body measurements is then taken to upload onto a central database. Volunteers learn the process, assist with the data entry, are exposed to a different research method and can release the birds once the ringing process is finished and more longer-term volunteers can even be taught how to extract birds from the nets and how to ring.

River Health Assessment

Monitoring the health of the rivers and keeping fingers on the pulse of the ecosystem we depend on is another key aspect of the programme. Usually this is done weekly across four sites in the greater Plettenberg area. Macroinvertebrates are collected by volunteers drawing a net through the water and surrounding vegetation and identified. Each group present is given a sensitivity score that therefore allows for the relative health of the river to be assessed. Volunteers then support in uploading results onto on an online database that monitors river health across South Africa.

Elasmobranch Egg Case Collection

One of the long-term research monitoring projects that volunteers have active involvement in is the collection of washed up elasmobranch (shark, skate, and ray) egg cases across different sandy beaches in the area. Volunteers spread out across the designated length of the beach covering as much area as possible scanning for egg cases. Attention to detail is required as the egg cases can be small and easily missed. All egg cases found are placed in a numbered bag with GPS coordinates recorded. The egg cases soak overnight so they can regain their true size and shape and the following day volunteers assist in identifying, measuring and inspecting the cases for damage as well as for any coral attachments. The cases are then dried and stored away for future reference.

Beach Clean Ups

Whilst this is often not done as a separate activity and instead combined into other activities such as the egg case collection; the cleanliness and maintaining of the ecosystems that our programme works in is really important. Therefore litter collecting, learning about marine debris and just generally keeping the beaches clean may be a more mundane task, but essential nonetheless.

Community Education

At least one day every week volunteers partake in pre-school and primary school environmental education programmes. Our programme partners with local under-privileged preschools and primary schools working with vulnerable children from the ages of 2-4 and 5-7.

Whilst the syllabus is generally flexible and emphasis is on teaching basic English, care and attention, we encourage participants to introduce aspects via educational entertainment around ecology, diversity, Plettenburg Bay, scenery, conservation etc. The facilities can be limited and classroom sizes overcrowded and noisy so volunteers are encouraged to plan well in advance and be as creative and engaging as possible. 

Please note

Naturally when bad weather days delay or limit the conservation and research activities then more days and opportunities are usually available to support at the pre-school and primary school as well as involvement with other indoor activities.
Likewise, volunteers are advised to be flexible that daily activities and plans can change at a moment’s notice if something exciting comes along. For example, the local team are always on high alert and standby to assist with any marine rescues and beach patrols in times of rough seas and strong onshore winds to search for stranded birds and animals.

Other ad-hoc activities that volunteers may get involved in on their time includes hikes across nature reserves where volunteers see more of the beautiful area they work in as well as learning more about the different biomes, plants, birds and animals. Supporting at an animal welfare shelter providing enrichment, training and walks for the animals as well as helping at a coastal bird programme usually once a month supporting in maintenance, handling and feeding and the rehabilitation and release of the birds.

Volunteers are advised to note that data capturing, processing and entry underpin a lot of the activities and conservation research that takes place on the programme. So, whilst the outdoor fieldwork is perhaps the more enjoyable, the office work and data entry that follows this is integral to the running of the programme. Although perhaps a bit more mundane, volunteers play a key role in this process across the activities and are taught how to accurately manage the information collected and set up spreadsheets for further statistical analysis.

No previous knowledge or experience around conservation and research is required to volunteer on this programme. The programme is designed to place all participants who have a passion for conservation in a diverse environment and support with much needed conservation assistance.

Typical day

Some days will move at a more leisurely pace and other days will involve a heavier workload with more work and assistance required from the volunteers. Usually the plans for each day are communicated by the programme co-ordinator the night before. 

Details on Arrival

The programme starts on the 1st and 3rd Monday every month.

You should book your flights to George Airport (airport code GRJ) on the selected Monday start date.

The programme ends on the Sunday of your final week.

Free-time activities

Enrichment activities such as scuba diving can be organised for volunteers at the local dive school, but this comes at an additional fee and participants are advised to inform our local team as soon as possible on arrival if interested in completing any of the courses.

You’ll have plenty of opportunity to travel during your time with PMGY. In fact, we encourage you to travel during your free time. All of our programmes have been designed so that you have weekends off. This gives you the opportunity to explore the local area or even travel further afield within your host country. Our local coordinators will provide you with all the travel tips you need to help you plan any independent adventures. 

Furthermore, you’re going to meet so many new people during your time with PMGY that you’ll definitely meet some travel buddies along the way!

Before booking your flights we recommend that you look into travel opportunities within the relevant country either side of your volunteering placement. It is always great to spend some time travelling and seeing more of the country you wish to volunteer in. If you do plan to travel extensively please factor this into your flight itinerary, as we only encourage travel during weekends while you’re volunteering as you have made a commitment to the project.


Program 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 English (fluently)
Criminal Background Check
Education Requirements
at High School level
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
You should also be physically fit, as volunteering overseas can be quite strenuous. If you have any medical/mental health conditions that may affect your participation overseas then these must be declared to us during your online application.
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday

Suitable for


Included Services

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Before your journey

Profound consulting and ongoing support (free)
Plan My Gap Year (your host organization) provides consulting and is keen to answer all your questions. Once you reserved your spot, you will receive the contact details of your volunteer project.
Online preparation course (optional, from $49)
Prepare yourself and become a confident and well informed traveler. Global Travel Academy takes you on a journey before you leave home, helping you to become one of the world's greatest travelers. Our trusted partner for online learning offers courses in "International Volunteering", "Travel Health & Safety" and "Travel Safety Abroad".

On-site services

Services by Plan My Gap Year
  • Accommodation
  • 3 meals a day
  • Airport pickup
  • In-country orientation
  • 24 hour in-country support
  • 24 hour UK-based support
  • Comprehensive volunteer handbook
  • Live pre-departure webinars
  • Certificate of completion
Airport Pickup at George Airport

You will be met at the airport by one of our local staff or an appointed driver who will be holding a named sign. They will take you to your accommodation where you will spend the rest of your day at leisure.

The transport time is about 90 minutes.


The accommodation is basic but comfortable. Each room has either single beds with up to 4 people per room in same-sex rooms. Volunteers are provided with bedding and are advised to bring some warm clothes as temperatures can drop through the night.

Bathrooms are shared, have hot shower and western style toilet. There is a member of staff who comes through the week to keep the communal areas of the house tidy and laundry services are also available.

We encourage you to bring some small padlocks for your suitcase and/or store any valuables with our local team in their private area. There will also be fridge space available for volunteers to store any items they need to keep chilled. Wi-Fi is available at the accommodation but may be intermittent.

There are communal areas across the accommodation where volunteers can relax including a living room with TV as well as a balcony area at the top of the house to take in some breath-taking views and sunsets of Plettenburg Bay.

The volunteer accommodation is located right next to where our local team live and on the same site to where we run the project. Although volunteers have their own private space there is still the security of living next to our local team and volunteer co-ordinators who can assist you if need be.

During our busiest months (June to September) you may be placed at alternative accommodation. This could be a nearby guesthouse or one of our summer Volunteer Houses.

Food & Beverages

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided with the Programme Fees through the week. At weekends there is food stuff in the fridge for volunteer use but should volunteers stay in the house across the weekend they will need to prepare all their food accordingly.

For breakfast and lunch this operates on a self-service basis. For dinner from Monday to Friday, a fresh meal is prepared daily with a rotating menu and left for volunteers to heat up when they wish to eat after a long day volunteering.

If you fancy eating out, Plettenburg Bay offers many options within a 15-minute walk of the accommodation whether it be restaurants by the beach, cafes in town centre or fast food outlets by the retail park.


Here is an example of the meals you can expect:

Breakfast: eggs, toast, jam, cereal, tea/coffee

Lunch: sandwiches - chicken, ham, cheese

Dinner: pizza, spaghetti, sausage & mash, burgers, fish & chips

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 George Airport (GRJ) in George. We assist you to find cheap flights to South Africa.
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 South Africa provides security and is a plus to have.
If you are intending to volunteer in South Africa you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for South Africa.
Costs (Prices in USD)
1 week (min. stay)
2 weeks
3 weeks
4 weeks
6 weeks
8 weeks
12 weeks (max. stay)
Average fees

You can volunteer at the project site in Plettenberg Bay/South Africa between 1 week and 12 weeks. Please note that the above shown program fees are estimated and subject to exchange rate fluctuations. Plan My Gap Year will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Crowdfunding Service
Generally, volunteering abroad involves certain costs. In case you need financial support, we will assist you to fundraise your volunteer program in South Africa.
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 Plan My Gap Year during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.

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