Help with vital marine conservation research of the world's largest fish - the magnificent whale shark!
Have you ever dreamed of swimming beside the world's largest fish? Well now you can with this once in a lifetime experience, which allows you to help through vital conservation work with the magnificent whale shark - all within one of the most beautiful locations anywhere on earth - the Maldives!
About the Project
Situated in the stunning island paradise of Dhigurah Island in the Maldives, this is a fantastic project offering you the chance to get up close and personal with the world's largest fish – the magnificent whale shark.
Formed in conjunction with a not-for-profit charity and active member of the international conservation coalition ‘The Shark Alliance’, this project offers volunteers the chance to “conduct integral whale shark research and foster community-focussed initiatives throughout the Maldives region”. The project is very lucky to have the help of some world renowned marine biologists, and with their help have been building up an ongoing demographic profile of the whale shark population through a non-invasive process called photo identification. Having documented (via ground-breaking satellite tagging and DNA analysis programmes) over 3000 encounters with whale sharks, the team have identified over 208 individuals, cataloguing them into a worldwide database, ultimately helping to assess and understand the wider importance of whale shark conservation.
The aim of this project is to increase knowledge of whale shark activity within the Maldives to allow for a sound conservation strategy. By encouraging community and stakeholder participation we are able to leverage scientific research to safeguard the marine ecosystem in the Maldives. All volunteer work will be carried out on the stunningly beautiful island of Dhigurah. With crystal clear waters, kaleidoscopic coral reefs and a fantastic array of marine life - this really can be considered paradise!
As a volunteer on this project you will spend much of your time out at sea, keeping your eyes peeled for the distinctive shapes of these graceful giants. Once spotted, you will then get the chance to enter the water with these magnificent creatures, measuring the sharks from head to tail and recording data via photo ID and written logs. The South Ari Atoll area is one of very few in the world to boast a year-round population of whale sharks, and you will most likely begin to recognise some of them! What's more, you may also have the chance to see some of the Maldives' other famous marine inhabitants – including manta rays and whitetip reef sharks. The chance of swimming with whale sharks does not come around too often, so you should be sure to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Another integral aspect to this project is the community outreach programmes that it promotes. You will be able to spend part of your time here talking and working with the local community, learning from their experiences and helping to promote the importance of whale shark conservation.
Prior to Arrival
Getting to the island is relatively simple. You will need to book a flight out to the capital of the Maldives, Male. Many airlines, including charter airlines, fly here so you should be able to find yourself a relatively cheap flight. It is better to arrive on either a morning or early afternoon flight. Once in Male, you will need to catch a domestic flight on FlyMe Airways - the only carrier plying this route - to Maamigili Island where you will meet up with a member of staff from your accommodation. Once in Maamigili, you will then be transferred via speedboat to Dhigurah Island - the site where the project is based. Please note that domestic flights will cost extra and you will be billed for these through The Great Projects and TME Resorts.
Today you will arrive into Male's Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (preferably in the early morning or early afternoon to make the transfer) and then take a domestic flight to Maamigili Island. Upon arrival at Maagmigili, you will be met by staff from the project accommodation, and then accompanied via speedboat to Dhigurah Island. On arrival you will settle in to your new accommodation and meet your fellow volunteers and the project facilitators. After the first night and a healthy breakfast you will get an initial briefing and then the project work begins.
You will head out to sea in search of whale sharks and assist with the identification and tracking process. Please note that activities will depend on the day and also on the weather conditions out at sea. From midday on day 6 (Friday) till day 7 you have free time which allows you to have a rest, enjoy the local area or take part in a different activity.
Activities during this project include:
This is the principle activity you will be involved in. You will be able to spend all day out at sea trying to spot the inconspicuous shapes of the graceful whale shark. You will also log any sightings of other marine animals including turtles, dolphins, reef sharks and even manta rays! When a whale shark is spotted you will be able to get into the water to take photos, measure and sex these fascinating creatures.
You will need to collate all of the collected data and whale shark encounters that are logged whilst out at sea. After this data has been extrapolated, you will then input this into an extensive database which will help to log and identify the individual sharks.
Local Community Work:
Your role whilst on Dhigurah Island, aside from helping with whale shark conservation, is also to improve the local communities' knowledge and understanding of these beautiful creatures and the marine protected area in which they reside. This is a great time to interact with the locals and understand a different way of life.
Beach Clean Ups:
Rubbish is a major problem in the Maldives, so you will also be involved with regular beach sweeps. This makes a big difference to everybody on the island, so there will often be half day beach cleans. Previously, volunteers even made a giant model of a whale shark out of old plastic bottles to highlight the problem of plastic on the island!
After your final goodbyes you will fly back to Male in order to catch your return flight home or continue with any onward travel.
Project start dates for 2017:
During your free time, you can fully enjoy the beautiful location you're set in and join a variety of water sports or just relax at the beach. Please not that the costs for water sports are not included in the program fees so make sure to bring some extra money for that.
You will need to book a flight out to the capital of the Maldives, Male. Many airlines (including charter airlines) fly here so you should be able to find yourself a relatively cheap flight. It is better to arrive on either a morning or early afternoon flight. Once in Male, you will need to catch a domestic flight (on FlyMe Airways - the only carrier plying this route) to Maamigili Island where you will meet up with a member of staff from your accommodation.
Your time here will be spent living on a local island called Dhigurah – literally meaning ‘long island’ in Dhivehi. Accommodation is in a guest house and rooms are on a shared basis of two people. There are 4 rooms so the project can have up to 8 volunteers at any one time. Dhigurah will be your home and being a local island you can get involved with the community. There may be opportunities for you to go to a local house for some traditional food, go on a fishing trip or have a look at some local arts and crafts in the gift shops.
Three meals per day will be provided for you for the entirety of your time on the project. The food provided will be a mixture of traditional Maldivian cuisine – with delicious fish, curries, cassava and coconut - as well as western choices. All food, apart from packed lunches (which will be eaten on the Dhoni), will be served in a buffet style.
Please note that there is a NO ALCOHOL policy anywhere on the island, and you will not be able to purchase any alcohol during your time here.