Eligibility requirement: Interns must be competent swimmers. Dive training from a certified PADI Dive Instructor is included in the program, however all participants must have a full physical examination by a qualified Dive Medical Practitioner, before departing to intern abroad, to obtain medical approval for diving activities

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

Minimum duration: 2 weeks

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.

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.

The exact nature of marine biology internships will change with different seasons. However, 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.

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay

Interns are based in a marine camp, where you’ll 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. Those without scuba training can get certifications, and advanced and specialty courses are also available. The internship endeavors to include 20 dives per month, or 10 dives every two weeks, however this is subject to weather conditions.

You’ll help to use underwater cameras, adding to photographic databases and helping 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.

Marine biology 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
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.
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
Types of host organizations:
  • Marine research camp

Intern review: Sarah Leaman

South Africa - Reserve Management at Dinokeng Game Reserve

"Once winter break commenced, I happily packed my backpack (binoculars included) after my last final exam of fall semester, headed to the airport, and thirty-some hours later (San Diego to Johannesburg) landed in South Africa. There I interned at Dinokeng Game Reserve focusing on a comprehensive understanding of wildlife conservation. I chose this specific internship provided by IAHQ because it aligned perfectly with my particular career goal and path. I am extremely passionate about wildlife and consequently the conservation of wildlife. While there, I learned so much about strategies and practices, and so many valuable skills to address and improve the dilemma of the rise of endangered species and extinction epidemic. The skills I was so grateful to learn and improve on consisted of learning all about savannah ecology, animal behavior, GPS, GIS, and other navigational skills, biodiversity survey techniques, habitat assessments, bird point counts, monitoring the range and activity of wildlife species, and ways in which to mitigate human to wildlife conflict. Everyday started in the early morning just before the sun came up as many of the bird species started to come out and ended just after the sun would set as many of the other native species are crepuscular, mostly active in the cooler temperatures of dawn and dusk. It was truly a beautiful, wild, and wonderful time that I will forever cherish."

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Program fees

Internship Duration Program Fee (USD)
2 weeks $1360
4 weeks $1990
6 weeks $2790
8 weeks $3590
10 weeks $4390
12 weeks $5190

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.

  • To convert these prices to your local currency visit the XE currency converter.
  • All Intern Abroad programs attract a Registration Fee of US$299 in addition to the Program Fee.
  • All payments attract a 5% transaction fee to cover international banking fees and currency charges. International wire transfer payments attract a minimum fee of US$75.
  • * Terms and Conditions do apply

What extra costs will I have?

  • Visa, flights, travel insurance (mandatory), vaccinations, criminal background check.
  • Souvenirs + tourism/leisure activities during free time.
  • Personal spending money to cover basic expenses such as drinks, snacks, laundry, and public transportation. Interns generally find US$50 per week to be sufficient.

Registration fee

What it covers
  • Dedicated intern support
  • Personalized internship abroad plan
  • International internship reference
  • Experiential learning curriculum
  • Affordable internship fees
  • Flexible booking options

Program fee

What it covers
  • 24/7 in-country support
  • Airport pick-up and return
  • Program orientation
  • Internship placement
  • Learning support service
  • Accommodation & meals

Keen to get started?

Taking the first step is easy! Our team is here to provide friendly assistance, from your initial research and planning phases, right through until your internship completion. To get started, submit an application. It is free to apply and takes just 5 minutes.

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Arrival and Orientation

Once interns have arrived at their accommodation and the internship site - after having received the airport pick up - there is time for introductions and settling in, which is followed by orientation. Orientation covers important details concerning schedule, support, safety, program rules and expectations, and more.

Return transportation is provided for all interns, according to a set schedule. All interns are advised not to book their flights until they have first confirmed their participation and received further guidance on making travel arrangements.

Sodwana Bay Marine internships begin on the 1st of every month only. Interns can choose to spend a minimum of 2 weeks, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. 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 Domestic Airport (RCB) in KwaZulu-Natal. The local connecting flight from JNB is serviced by SA Express Airways and airport pick-ups are coordinated to occur on the 1st of each month only. There are multiple daily connecting flights between JNB and RCB, however all newly arriving interns are transferred to the marine camp as one group, departing at 3:00 p.m.

Accommodation

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. 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. All of the bedrooms can accommodate two to four interns in bunk or single beds. 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).

On all of the Environmental Internships, the local team stay on-site in order to provide supervision and support. This provides an ideal opportunity for interns to gain firsthand knowledge from experienced staff about the challenges and rewards of living and working in Africa reserve areas. Interns are required to share accommodation (same sex sharing cannot be guaranteed) and private rooms are not available. Interns are also responsible for daily cleaning of their own living space. As everyone on reserve camps live together in a group environment, interns are expected to maintain cordial relationships with fellow program participants and reserve staff.

Accommodation camps have a desktop computer onsite (used for data entry), that can be used by arrangement with the Camp Manager to send basic emails. However, is highly recommended that interns bring their own mobile phones and then purchase a “pay as you go” SIM card and airtime vouchers (available from local stores and airports) as a means to stay in touch with family and friends. Data charges are very reasonable and MTN and Vodacom are preferred network suppliers. Cell phone signal is typically good but can sometimes be intermittent. There is electricity available at all of the program accommodation camps, so mobile phones, cameras, iPods and laptops can be easily charged.

Meals

On the Environmental Internships, 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. For interns participating on the Sodwana Bay Marine National Park internship program, 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

It is important to know that South African Environmental internship programs are located in rural areas, where there are limited social activities and attractions. Distances between towns are great and public transport is very limited. The typical work schedules on these programs keep interns pretty busy throughout the week - and sometimes over the weekends too - but shorter work days can sometimes occur if weather conditions are not suitable for various activities. We recommend that interns bring ample reading material, card / board games, iPods, and similar personal entertainment items, for periods when there is “downtime”. If you feel the need to be in or near a big city, then these programs might not be for you. But if you have a passion for the great outdoors, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime!

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.

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Country profile

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.