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Turtle Conservation in South Africa


Contribute your energy and a helping hand to rehabilitate Africa’s amazing sea creatures. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to assist in vital conservation efforts saving the lives of residing sea turtles, through an awareness program, for both the habitat and the breeding patterns of endangered turtles. You will experience Africa’s coastal wilderness up close and personal, whilst living in the one of the most beautiful areas of the world.

Female turtles come ashore at night, eggs incubate approximately 60 to 70 days later. Hatchlings emerge as a clutch and find their way into the oceans. This happens all year round for the various species. All of the turtles found in South Africa including loggerheads, leatherbacks, green turtles and hawksbill turtles, are classified as endangered on the IUCN red list.

Not only will you work on the beaches here you can explore other renowned South African tourist attractions nearby. This volunteer experience is a perfect combination of making a difference and living your life to the max.

Emerge yourself in South Africa’s first World Heritage Site the “place of miracles or wonders”. The Wetland Park incorporates the following ecosystems: the ocean with pristine coral reefs; estuaries; the highest forest dunes; wetlands; sand forests and savannah grasslands. This is the only place on earth you can find the largest mammal (elephant), the oldest land mammal (rhinocerous) the largest sea mammal (whale) the only living fossil fish (Coelacanth) and one of the largest reptiles, the Leatherback turtle all with 40 km of your turtle project.

Turtles you will see nesting here were born on the beaches, and they return to these natal beaches once they reach sexual maturity. Five species of sea turtle are found in the area and all are listed as endangered. 

 They are:

o  Green Turtle

o  Olive Ridley Turtle

o  Hawksbill Turtle

o  Loggerhead Turtle

o  Leatherback Turtle

Trip highlights:

Be a part of conserving Africa’s turtles for future generations to enjoy. Save the lives of existing turtles through an awareness program, for both the habitat and the breeding patterns of endangered turtles.

Participate in turtle monitoring within an exclusive Protected Marine Area.

Exclusive night time beach excursions to record turtle eggs during mating season

Epic adventure to be involved in the deep sea tagging and release

An opportunity to pick up a new hobby like snorkelling or diving in world class coral reefs with magical water wildlife to explore.

Enjoy surfing the awesome waves on the rugged coast

At a Glance

At a Glance>

Project duration:  2 to 6 weeks.

Location of project: Kwa Zulu Natal

Arrival airport: Johannesburg (JNB), South Africa. Oliver Tambo International Airport

Seasons: Turtles Season is from Nov – April – during this time the turtles nest on the beach. April the project is closedMay to October  – The turtles are no longer on the beach – and will be out at sea. Sometimes they will be difficult to track as they breed in different places. Turtle research would be boat based.

 Working hours: Flexible - 5 days per week start at 06:00 when the boat goes out to sea until 14:00. Otherwise start at 07:30 if the boat does not go out that day. Afternoon at leisure and preparation for the turtle monitoring. Dinner at 19:30 followed by the evening turtle monitoring excursion

Getting to the project: Daily transfer by car. 

Requirements: minimum age 16

Accommodation: Comfortable shared accommodation with shared facilities. Couples and single rooms could be accommodated upon request and availability.

Food: Scrumptious dinner is provided. There is a kitchen for your own self-catering breakfast and lunch preparation.

Airport pickup: Included on the arrival day before 16h15

You will need to organise: Flights, insurance, visa's, return airport transfer

Please note: The sanctuary does have mosquitoes and it is considered a medium risk area. We recommend taking the advice of your medical professional for the prevention of malaria.

Your Role

Your role is in a local project initiative to support residential responsibility in the conservation of both the area and marine life. Help education such as involvement at a local Zulu school.

South Africa has the longest continuous turtle monitoring program, and important research has been conducted that has contributed to the conservation of turtles globally. You will take part in tours to collect data in Sodwana Bay, which will be shared with various research institutions.

Be prepared for diverse experiences from day time to the night time encounters. The mysterious world of turtles, very secretive animals, will unfold during your time here. Get up close with the magic of this endangered marine life population like never before, hands on.


Day 1 (Monday): Hello, Welkom, Sawubona!

Arrive at Johannesburg Airport (airport code JNB) where you’ll be picked up and taken to our backpacker’s hostel in Pretoria. The trip will take about 45 minutes and we ask that you book your flight to arrive before 4.15pm so that you’re there for orientation at 5pm. Orientation will take you through what you can expect from your project, dos and don’ts and safety. It’s also a great opportunity to ask any burning questions you’ve got. Then dinner will be served and you can relax and prepare for your first day.

Note: If you aren’t able to arrive before 4.15pm we recommend you fly in a day early. We can arrange an early airport pick-up for you including one night’s accommodation. Please give us a call for more information.

Day 2 (Tuesday): Early morning departure at 06:15 heading for Richards Bay, arrival at 18:15. This is an exciting part to soak in the sights and get familiar with South Africa before being engrossed in your project. The scenic beauty will unfold as you wind down to the coastal wilderness of The Isimangaliso Wetland Park. You go straight to the project and your new base.

Day 3 (Wednesday): Introduction and get started.

On this day you’ll learn see it all and get to know your fellow volunteers, and be given an introduction from your guide. Orientation will take you through what you can expect, etiquette and local information. Now is a great time to ask any questions. Don’t worry you’ll get the hang of things in no time.

Day 4: Let’s get stuck in!

The First Weekend: After working every day in the first week, now is your first chance to get some free time. Later you can see which days of the week you would prefer to take off by checking with the other team members. On your free days you can explore the area, relax at the pool or escape to the beach and other fantastic places in the area. You can pick up snorkeling or even do a diving course and explore the coral reefs. A short distance away in the park is a fantastic lake and wilderness to go camping and exploring. 

Your last day – goodbye, we’ll miss you!

The project team will drop you back at either Richards Bay or Durban International Airport. If you intend flying home or elsewhere in South Africa on the same day, we recommend you book your flights for after 8pm so you have enough time to get to the airport. 

Return transfer to Richards Bay or Durban is not included but our team will be able to help you arrange your travel – the journey will cost around US$60.

About the Project

This turtle program strives to play a participative role in the conservation of residing sea turtles, through an awareness program, for both the habitat and the breeding patterns of endangered turtles.

The facilitation of regular observational turtle tours, both on foot, and at sea, during breeding season, as well as outside of breeding season.

The breeding habits, as well as natural predator impact will be noted, to assist with the estimation of the turtle population of Sodwana Bay.

Providing updated education relevant to Turtle activities to all participants former to any participation.

Accurate data will be shared with authorities with a focused interest in the protection of the Leatherback, Loggerhead Turtles of the area.

Consideration will be given to current research activity in the area to synergistically influence the conservational outcome of the species.

The habitual offering of Sodwana Bay, and surrounding areas, is considered “one of a kind”, and supports residential responsibility in the conservation of both the area and marine life.

The aim is to involve all people in such a way, that the turtles, and other marine life, remain the main beneficiaries. Consideration for the protected habitat during any sightings and activities, both on the beach and out at sea. Respect for the local residents.

Five of the seven sea turtle species occur in South Africa. Loggerheads and leatherbacks nest along the northern beaches along the east coast of South Africa. The nesting area completely falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and is protected and managed by the Ezemvelo KZN-wildlife. South Africa has the longest continuous turtle monitoring program, and important research has been conducted that has contributed to the conservation of turtles globally.

Female turtles come ashore at night, almost exactly where they once hatched many years ago, and start digging an egg chamber. Then with their hind flippers, they hollow out the chamber, and lay a clutch of between 80 to 120 eggs at a given time.

Eggs incubate approximately 60 to 70 days later. Turtles don’t have sex chromosomes like humans, but the temperature of the nest determines the sex. Average temperatures of above 29.2 degrees produce mostly females and below males.

Hatchlings emerge as a clutch and share the workload of digging to the surface. They then remain just below the sand surface until night fall, when the temperature drops, before breaking the surface.

During their journey from the nest to the sea, they dodge hungry ghost crabs, and waiting in the sea, large fish, sharks and sea birds. It is estimated that only one to two in a 1000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Hatchlings travel with the currents and feed on mainly jellyfish and blue bottles. Not much is known about hatchlings and immature turtles and this stage is known as the “lost years”. All turtles found in South Africa that include, loggerheads, leatherbacks, green turtles and hawksbill turtles are classified as endangered on the IUCN red list.

Data collected during turtle tours in Sodwana Bay, will be shared with various research institutions. Once the female starts laying her eggs, she is almost in a “trance”, and not easily disturbed. This is when a turtle is approached by the guide and introduced to the touring group.

Turtle Interaction:

The following data must be collected:

o  General conditions of the habitat

o  Temperature of the sand

o  Measurements of the size of the Carapace

o  The location of the nest

o  Number of eggs

o  Record Tag numbers if observed

Excursions can last between 3 to 4 hours, and only occur at night. Turtle interactions are conducted in season between October and March, and the out of season observations at sea, during the remaining months of the year.


Hundreds of individuals are tagged, so that their nesting patterns can be determined. Very little is known about male turtles, as they never come to shore and thus cannot be tagged. DNA samples from hatchlings will shed some light on the activities of males in the SA loggerhead and leatherback populations.

Humans are the major source that threatens the survival of turtles.

Satellite tracking was also introduced; the shell of the turtle has to be scrubbed to remove algae, before a glue mixture is applied to the shell. The transmitters attached to the turtles will show post nesting migration routes, and will indicate their overlap with other activities like fisheries, as turtles are often caught incidentally in long line fishing gear and trawl nets. Often loggerheads with satellite transmitters are seen while diving or snorkelling on the shallow coral reefs off Sodwana Bay.

Typical Turtle Interaction Day

  •  Transport from the Lodge to the beach – am
  •  Record the temperature and wind conditions
  •  Briefing on the beach – observation of beach
  •  Observation for any new nesting sites
  •  Beach tracking is only allowed  two hours either side of low tide (2 hours before and 2 hours after low tide)
  • Vehicle speed limit on the  beach – km per hour

7.  On sighting:

  •  All lights are turned off immediately
  •  Guide approaches the turtle first on foot
  •  Guide passes the situation as “safe for the breeding turtle” , invite the rest of the guests to   approach from the back of the turtle
  •   Approach when the egg chamber is 30 – Cm deep
  •  Movement and noise have to be limited
  •  All movements must be calm and unhurried
  •   Nesting females should not be approached when exiting the surf
  •   No more than 40 people around the nest
  •  Vehicles are only allowed to use low frequency lights during tour
  •   All individuals should stay behind the shoulders of the nesting female
  •  No person may touch the turtle , nest or egg
  • Smoking and drinking is forbidden during the tour 

While you're here

  •  Safe and neat accommodation
  •  Bedding is provided
  •  Dinners only
  •  Fully serviced rooms
  •  Snorkeling from Sodwana Beach  (you need your own mask snorkel and fins)
  • Educational program included
  •  Recreational and personal free time on the beach to have fun
  •   One trip to Mbazwana per week included for shopping
  •   All beach and turtle activities
  •   Deep sea trips with boats
  • Small town for shopping – 10km from the Charters (Mbazwana)
  •   Doctor services available in Mbazwana city.
  •   Safes are available to lock away valuable items
  •  All necessities are available inside the Nature Reserve for emergencies
  •   The washing of your clothes can be arranged on the premises at a charge. There are washing facilities on the premises
  •   There are limited resources try bring what you can from home such as DVDs, books, kindle, iPod, earphones etc.
  •   Internet and computer services (at an extra charge)
  •  Self-catering units with cooking facilities are available. Dinner is included. Look forward to some authentic South African braai’s (barbeque) and delicious Cape Malay cuisine or Indian Curries.
  •  Please bring light clothing, beach ware, sandals, a hat, rain jacket. Pack sunscreen factor 50, and mosquito repellent. A mosquito net is optional as are malaria tablets.
  •   Bring your own towels
  •  You can arrange extra trips into town for shopping at Mbazwana on top of the once a week trip for an adiitional charge

Fun and must do activities in the area:

Lake Sibaya guided trip: R250 per person

Thembe Elephant Park – R450 per person

Surfing Lessons

Scuba Diving: Dive Gear rental available

PADI DISCOVER SCUBA = R 850.00, two days long, diving up to 12 meters

PADI OPEN WATER =R 3000.00, a four day course diving up to 18 meters 

PADI ADVANCED =R 2300.00 an additional three days diving up to 30 meters. (Only after completion of the Open Water program.)

Medical clearance essential before joining this project.

Sodwana is considered the ultimate dive site in South Africa and is the tropical dive site in South Africa. One of the few places in the world where dive sites are reached by weaving a path through breaking waves on semi-rigid boats.

Lying within the boundaries of The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Sodwana Bay offers a vast array of unspoilt coral reefs, populated with a huge diversity of Indo-Pacific fish and invertebrates.

What you get

Expert help-desk

We're always available to offer support and guidance before, during and after your trip.

Thorough project briefing materials

Once you’ve booked you'll receive a full pack of all the information you need for the project. It contains general information about volunteering, your specific project and South Africa as well as advice on safety, visas and inoculations.

Airport pickup

Don’t worry about arriving in a new country on your own. We’ll be there to welcome you and take you to your accommodation.

Arrival orientation

Soon after you arrive you’ll attend a thorough orientation with our team. It covers everything you need to know about your next few days, dos and don’ts and your safety. You can ask any questions and find out more about the fun stuff to do around Cape Town and South Africa.

Accommodation and meals

Accommodation is included with all projects and meals are included with some. We only use locally-owned and operated accommodation so that part of your placement fee is filtering back into the local economy. Most projects offer homestay, guesthouse or shared volunteer houses as standard accommodation, but some offer the chance to upgrade to a more comfortable living standard.

24/7 emergency support

We’re always on hand in case of an emergency.

After you've booked

  • You will receive a welcome email confirming your booking
  • You’ll receive a full project pack with all the info you need
  • You’ll be asked for any extra info if we need it – such as doctor’s notes for medical conditions, or maybe a CV on some projects
  • You’ll need to pay if you haven’t paid already (at least 90 days before travelling)

Then the fun starts!

Next you should:

  • Book your flights
  • Arrange suitable travel insurance
  • Get a visa for your trip if it's needed
  • Visit a nurse or travel clinic for advice on inoculations and malaria prevention
  • Start packing and come and join us!

*Remember to keep our contact details in a safe place in your hand luggage in case you need to contact us during your travels.

About South Africa

South Africans are patriotic and passionate about their country. And it’s not despite the country’s famously troubled history – it’s because of it! The people of this democratic country are so proud of how far they have come from the dark days of Apartheid and it makes us grateful for the diversity of cultures and languages that make up our amazing rainbow nation.

South Africa is a country of diversity in so many ways. It’s not a big country but travelling across the length and breadth of it, you’ll encounter an incredible range of climates and landscapes. There’s beautiful Cape Town, with its Mediterranean feel, pristine white beaches, sparkling oceans and magnificent Table Mountain providing the craggy backdrop for every setting. Travel east along the Garden Route with its picture-postcard coastal villages and you’ll eventually reach Durban and surrounds, a tropical area where the sun shines almost every day, the sea is warm and the surfing is fantastic! Then there’s the rugged Drakensberg mountain range, a place of rich Zulu heritage, spectacular views and jagged sweeps of peaks.  Further north you’ll hit South Africa’s famous ‘veld’ or bush where you’ll find Africa’s big five and many thousands of other species of animals, hiding out in landscapes that are lit at sunset by the most vivid orange, pinks and purples.

There are so many things to see and do here that you’ll need years. But if your time is limited, here’s our top five must-dos:

Game viewing

You can’t come to Africa and not experience the amazing animals, the wild and beautiful African bush and the chorus of an African dawn. Kruger National Park is the most popular choice but there are a host of other parks in the northern parts of South Africa and the Free State as well as KwaZulu-Natal, offering a range of options from the most luxurious accommodation with chefs at your service to DIY game viewing and camping.

Adrenalin adventures

Adventure is the name of the game in this crazy country and if it’s outdoors and adrenalin-inducing, you’ll find it here. From the highest bungee jump and highest commercial abseiling in the world to shark cage diving, downhill mountain biking, trail running, walking safaris, big wave surfing and multi-day hiking, there’s something for ever thrill seeker.


South Africa has thousands of miles of glorious coastline, with Blue Flag beaches and hidden gems dotted along its length. There’s beaches for the glamorous, where you can go to see and be seen, beaches perfect for families, beaches for walking, beaches for swimming and beaches for watersports. There’s probably beaches which have never been trodden by a tourist before. Go on, we dare you to find it!

Nightlife, restaurants and entertainment

No holiday would be complete without a few good nights out and South Africa knows how to entertain. With so many cultures making up our population, there’s loads of delicious food on offer full of every fresh ingredient you could think of. There are pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes to suit every taste. South Africa is famous for its wonderful wines and there’s a craft beer revolution happening right here. Pack your dancing shoes!

A taste of township and culture

South Africa has a rich, tumultuous history dotted with dismal lows and incredible highs – and full of astounding stories from amazing people. It’s what makes South Africa the colourful place it is. Museums of every shape and size document the various aspects of our human and natural history, arts and culture – you’ll find them all over the country. Or why not take a township tour and experience the true heart of South African culture?  If you’re visiting Cape Town, come to Kommetjie and visit Masiphumelele with the Township Sisters, our special Volunteer and Explore partners, and help support the sustainable development of this vibrant township.


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