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Marine Biology & Reef Conservation Internships in South Africa

Marine Biology & Reef Conservation Internships in South Africa

If you’re passionate about marine conservation and diving - or if you’ve always wanted to learn - this is the opportunity for you! Sodwana Bay is a World Heritage site with renowned natural beauty and coral reefs that are home to turtles, whales and manta rays. Learn about Indian Ocean reef conservation, gain marine ecology training and scuba experience in one of the world’s prime marine habitats.

Internship Highlights:
  • Regular scuba diving in a world-renowned dive site
  • Encounters with a wide range of marine life, which can include whale, turtle and manta ray sightings
  • Get real understanding about conservation efforts in a rich marine environment
Type of host organizations:
  • Marine research camp
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Fully hosted experience from US$1,834
Includes shared lodging accommodation
Start dates every Monday
Minimum duration 2 weeks, up to 12 Weeks maximum
Go on safari & discover wildlife
Get job-ready with our Experiential Learning Curriculum
Internships align with UN Sustainable Development Goals
Eligibility requirements and Associated career paths
Eligibility requirement

Interns must be competent swimmers. Dive training from a certified PADI Dive Instructor is included in the program. All participants must complete the PADI Medical Questionnaire & Statement to determine their fitness and ability to participate in scuba diving activities. Depending on responses to the PADI Medical Questionnaire, it may be necessary to complete an examination with a Physician, to obtain medical approval for diving activities. High School graduates aged 18+ are welcome to apply, provided that you have a genuine desire to learn and grow within this field.

Language requirements

This internship is conducted in English.

Associated career paths

Environmental Scientist (Policy/Planning/Law), Environmental Impact Assessment Specialist, Research Scientist, Ecologist, Biologist, Geologist, Ranger, Education and Outreach Program Coordinator, Climatologist, Eco-Tourism Guide, Marine Oceanographer, Diving Instructor

Internship details

If you’re passionate about marine conservation and diving - or if you’ve always wanted to learn - this is the opportunity for you! Learn about Indian Ocean Reef Conservation, gain marine ecology training and scuba experience in one of the world’s prime marine habitats.

This is an in-country internship, with accommodation and meals provided. Click here to view remote Environmental & Marine Sciences internships, which you can undertake from home.

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay

This internship is tailored towards providing young people with 5 star PADI dive tuition, along with an excellent introduction to Indian Ocean marine ecology (via online training presentations).

Sodwana Bay is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, with world-renowned dive sites and coral reefs. It’s home to some of the world’s most diverse fish communities, including turtles, manta rays and sharks, and is a main highway on the seasonal migration routes of humpback whales. It’s also the base for this Marine Biology and Reef Conservation internship, where interns assist with a wide range of marine conservation and research tasks.

Interns are based in a marine camp, where they learn and utilize scuba diving skills to aid research into the health of the marine ecosystem and effectiveness of reef conservation methods in the area. The internship endeavors to include 20 dives per month, or 10 dives every two weeks (subject to weather conditions).

  • If not already dive certified, you will be trained as a PADI Open Water Diver. Following successful completion of the training, you will receive your PADI Open Water certification. This certification qualifies a diver for open water dives to 18m (with a dive buddy).

  • Already qualified divers will get the chance to complete further advanced dive training, allowing them to dive to 30m and experience some of Sodwana’s deeper reefs. You can also choose from a range of dive specialty courses, which may be available at an additional cost (e.g. Deep, Nitrox, Peak Performance Buoyancy, etc) or the Rescue Diver course.

Interns contribute to creating marine conservation awareness for Sodwana Bay through interpretive sea dives. This can involve the capture of underwater photographs for the iNaturalist citizen science database, to support awareness around the keystone species inside the marine protected area. Such species include sea turtles (Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead), potato bass grouper and nudibranchs.

Please note that on this particular internship, there are limited research opportunities and no specimen collection or lab work being conducted. General activities include underwater scuba surveys, collecting data on the population of species such as turtles, manta rays and sharks, species photography, and data entry into global or regional databases.

Interns help to use underwater cameras, add to photographic databases and assist with species identification. Interns can learn a range of data collection methods, using various techniques to contribute to databases of fish, coral and invertebrates. Monitoring populations, densities, locations and behaviour of different species helps to provide feedback on the health of the marine environment and the effectiveness of conservation strategies.

Not only does your internship offer incredible opportunities to enjoy your unique natural surroundings, but you’ll have plenty of spare time to explore too. No trip to South Africa is complete without doing a safari, and you’ll be able to glimpse incredible wildlife up close in an ethical, responsible way. Internships in South Africa are perfect for nature-lovers, or anyone looking for a digital detox.

Typical Schedule

  • Internship activities are usually full time (up to 8 hours a day), though this is subject to weather and seasonal conditions. You’ll be expected to assist 5 days a week most weeks, but some weekend activities may sometimes be available. Your schedule will be arranged with your supervisor.

Career Benefits

Marine Biology & Reef Conservation interns learn from a qualified and experienced supervisor, and can be involved in:
  • Scuba surveys

  • Collecting population data for turtles, manta ray or sharks

  • Underwater photography

  • Research data entry

  • Different data collection techniques for different marine species

  • Providing feedback on different conservation techniques

Professional development opportunities:
  • Learn to scuba dive or upskill your certification

  • Gain experience and understanding about one of the world’s best and most diverse marine environments

  • Learn and use practical research techniques

  • Gain scuba diving abilities for research purposes

  • Gain experience working with underwater cameras

  • Gain practical skills and boost your employability, with guidance from Intern Abroad HQ’s Experiential Learning Curriculum to support your learning and cultural intelligence

South Africa photo gallery

”The most unexpectedly fantastic two months of my life! I lived a whole lifetime of joys jam-packed into a few short weeks. The most rewarding thing about my stay was definitely the PADI Rescue course. Never before have I felt such strong imposter syndrome at the beginning and then so confident in my abilities at the end.”

Read reviews from our South Africa Interns

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Program fees

It’s free to apply for this internship. Once we have reviewed your suitability and accepted you onto this program, you’ll need to pay a deposit of US$449 to confirm your place. The remaining balance of your Program Fee (less your initial US$449 deposit payment) will be due no less than 60 days before your internship start date.

Duration
Program Fee (USD)
2 weeks $1,834Equivalent to $131/day
4 weeks $2,489Equivalent to $88/day
6 weeks $3,314Equivalent to $78/day
8 weeks $4,139Equivalent to $73/day
10 weeks $4,964Equivalent to $70/day
12 weeks $5,789Equivalent to $68/day
  • Accommodation
  • Meals
  • 24/7 in-country support
  • Airport pick-up
  • Program orientation
  • Dedicated support before, during, and after your internship
  • In-country guidance for social and tourist activities
  • Sourcing and securing your internship placement
  • Personalization of your internship plan
  • Coaching from your supervisor
  • Documented portfolio of your experiential learnings
  • Academic credit facilitation
  • International reference letter
  • Certificate of Internship Completion
  • Visa (if required), flights, travel insurance (mandatory), vaccinations, criminal background check
  • Transfer back to the airport at the end of your internship program
  • Optional extras, such as language lessons
  • Souvenirs and leisure activities during your free time
  • Personal spending money to cover basic expenses such as drinks, snacks, laundry, public transportation, and any meals not included in your Program Fee
  • A deposit of $449 USD is required to secure your internship
  • Please note that program fees for all South Africa Environmental internships include return transportation to the airport. This transportation service is scheduled on specific dates and times. To ensure the schedule works for you, check with your Internships Manager for details before booking your departure flights.
  • Balance of your Program Fee is due 60 days before your internship start date.
  • All payments attract a 5% transaction fee to cover international banking fees and currency charges.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.

Arrival and Orientation

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation internships in South Africa begin on the first and third Monday of the month. Exceptions may be made to this schedule if a Monday start date falls on or near a public holiday. Note that the internship has limited capacity and we encourage interns to plan in advance, to secure your preferred internship dates. Interns may choose to spend a minimum of 2 weeks, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.

Airport pick up, drop off and accommodation are included in the Program Fee. The accommodation is covered from the Monday night of your start date - interns are required to arrive on their start date and are asked not to book flights until your placement has first been confirmed. Specific instructions will then be provided for arrival and departure logistics.

O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg (JNB) is the typical international gateway, from where a domestic connection to the nearest airport in Richards Bay is required.

Interns are met on arrival at Richards Bay Airport (RCB) in KwaZulu-Natal and transferred to the reserve, departing as one group. Upon arrival to the site, interns will be welcomed and receive guidance in regard to orientation, safety, and getting settled in.

The last night of the accommodation is the Sunday night of your final week. Departing interns are provided return transportation into Richards Bay, for departure from the Richards Bay Airport, on the first and third Monday of the month.

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Accommodation and WiFi

Interns are accommodated in a camp, in Sodwana Bay village. This is within walking distance to the local restaurants and shops. The beach in iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is about a 10 minute drive away.

Shared rooms are provided, either in the main house or smaller wooden cabins. All of the bedrooms can accommodate two to four interns in bunk or single beds. The main house is fully furnished with all modern conveniences, including large outside gardens with ample shady trees and a swimming pool. There are four bathrooms in the house with flush toilets, shower or bath, hot and cold water; an indoor lounge area (with TV and DVD player) and an outdoor relaxation area where interns can spend their time in the evenings. There are also laundry facilities, a fully equipped kitchen and dining unit outside the main house with gas stoves, microwave ovens and fridge/freezers. All interns share communal living areas in the main house at the camp.

It’s important to be aware that the facilities expected are more rustic than luxury. However, there is a camp cleaner on-staff for maintenance and servicing of communal areas.

WiFi for personal use is available in the main house at a charge of R100/month (approx. US$7 per month). Satellite television is also available in the main house at a cost of R50 per month for each intern (approx. US$4 per month).

Meals

All meals are prepared by interns themselves from the groceries and food provided by our local team (the program fee covers the cost of the food). Interns will be scheduled to assist with cooking and cleaning duties as a group effort during their stay and this schedule, along with any other important camp duties, are typically coordinated at the program orientation. Packed lunches may sometimes be made in advance and brought down to the beach.

Vegetarian and other dietary requirements must be communicated in advance, so that we can cater for any special meals. Note that there is an additional weekly surcharge if a gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian or vegan diet is requested. This is in order to provide speciality grocery items, which are often more expensive in South Africa (i.e. soy milk, gluten free bread/pasta, protein supplements, etc). The extra cost is US$30 per week if a gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan diet is required. For vegetarian diets, the surcharge is US$20 per week. This amount will be included in the internship Program Fee quoted to you by Intern Abroad HQ when you apply.

Activities and tourism

Sodwana Bay is a world class dive destination and small holiday village, mostly frequented by divers, snorkelers, deep sea anglers and beach lovers. The nearest largest town, Richards Bay, is approximately 200km away, so interns should be prepared for a rural setting. However, there is enough development to provide more than adequate comfort and activities. The small and close-knit local community provides a warm welcome and interns have the opportunity to feel like a local. Should interns wish (and time-permitting) they can join extra shark ecology and biology courses (this is not covered in the program fee and only available on request in-country). The northern region of KwaZulu-Natal offers many pristine beaches, as well as natural and scenic wonders such as Lake Sibaya (the largest freshwater lake in southern Africa), nearby Big Game Wildlife Reserves (Mkhuze, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Tembe Elephant Park), local community and craft villages, and access to some of the world’s southernmost coral reefs.

Essential country information

Capital Pretoria (Executive), Bloemfontein (Judicial), Cape Town (Legislative)
Population 55.91 million
Languages Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Swati, Tswana
Currency South African Rand (ZAR)
Time zone UTC+02:00
Weather and climate:

South Africa is generally temperate, however due to varied topography and oceanic influence, a great variety of climatic zones exist. This ranges from the extreme desert of the Namib (northwest South Africa), to the subtropical climate along the Mozambique border and the Indian Ocean (eastern South Africa).

Sodwana Bay has a tropical climate. The temperature average is 72°F (22°C) and the warmest month of the year is January, with an average temperature of 79°F (26°C). In June, the average temperature is 64°F (18°C) and it is the lowest average temperature of the whole year. The driest month is June and most precipitation falls during February. The Sodwana Bay marine camp is located in a low risk malaria area.