Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation internships in South Africa are based at Sodwana Bay, situated just outside iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Sodwana Bay is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one of the world’s prime dive locations, its world-renowned coral reefs are frequently rated in lists of the top five global dive destinations. The reefs support some of the world’s most diverse fish communities and stunning macro life. Humpback whales migrate past Sodwana annually, leatherback and loggerhead turtles nest on the beach each summer and whale sharks and manta rays are periodically seen.

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation interns participate in a number of marine projects and are assigned a variety of responsibilities. Activities vary, depending on the season and weather conditions, however general activities include underwater scuba surveys, data collection on the megafauna populations (including turtles, manta rays and sharks) living on the reefs, and data entry into global or regional databases. Photos are also contributed to the Southwest Indian Ocean database for Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead Turtles.

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay

Interns learn various skills while in the marine camp, including the use of underwater camera equipment for photographic databases and identification techniques. During the first phase of their stay, interns will undergo their initial scuba dive training (if not yet qualified), or any further advanced or speciality courses (if already qualified).

Once this course has been completed, they will begin the Marine Ecology Training Course and lecture series presented by the resident marine coordinator. Training covers the methodologies that are required to collect data or contribute to databases throughout their stay, including fish, coral and invertebrate identification, data collection and survey techniques.

The program endeavors to cover 20 dives per month, or 10 dives for durations of 2 week stays (subject to conditions). Any optional additional dives must be paid for by interns in-country. The expected work schedule is, on average, 8 hours per day (depending on weather conditions, longer or shorter work periods may occur). Generally, the work week is 5-6 days. However, interns must also be available to sometimes work over weekends, depending on the research requirements, data collection times and workload / nature of activities.

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Minimum Duration

2 weeks

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

How to intern

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.

  • Wildlife Veterinary Course at Gondwana Game Reserve: The Wildlife Veterinary Course at Gondwana Game Reserve is an exclusive two-week course beginning on Friday June 12th, 2020. All participants fly into the Cape Town International Airport (CPT), in order to receive their airport pick up on Friday June 12th and be transported to the accommodation and internship site at Gondwana Game Reserve. Arrivals will be transported as one group to Gondwana Game Reserve, departing the CPT airport in the morning. Transportation time from the CPT airport to the Reserve is approximately four hours. There is a stop for lunch en route and interns arrive at Gondwana Game Reserve in the afternoon.

  • Reserve Management at Kruger National Park: Internships begin the 1st and 15th of every month. 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 interns connect onto a further domestic flight to Hoedspruit Airport (HDS), which is located adjacent to the Kruger National Park and just outside the town of Hoedspruit. Interns are met on arrival at Hoedspruit Airport and transferred to the reserve, departing at 3:00 p.m. on the 1st and 15th of each month.

  • Reserve Management at Dinokeng Game Reserve / GIS Specialization for Environmental Conservation: Internships begin the 1st and 15th of every month. Interns can choose to spend a minimum of 2-4 weeks, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg (JNB) is the international gateway, from where interns are collected and transported by vehicle on a 100km journey to the camp (about 90 minutes driving time). Dinokeng Game Reserve is located approximately 45 kilometers north of the urban center of Pretoria, Gauteng. Airport pick-ups are coordinated to occur on the 1st and 15th of each month only, departing at 1:00 p.m.

  • Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay: 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.

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.

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.

Wildlife Veterinary Course at Gondwana Game Reserve:

Accommodation is in an established research camp within the Gondwana Game Reserve. Interns are accommodated in shared safari tents (two people per tent) on raised platforms. Each tent is equipped with beds, an overhead light, bedside tables and lamps, cupboards and USB charging stations. Please note that as these run on solar power with a backup generator and the charging of electronics will be in rotation. Common areas include a fully equipped lecture/lounge tent with power, tables and chairs, comfy couches, and a library of guide books, scientific readings, maps and equipment. Bathroom tents, each equipped with a gas hot-water shower, toilet and basin are located on site. Each unit will be shared by two to four people. Please bring your own towels and toiletries. Supplies for hand-washing are supplied and there is a weekly laundry service which will collect, wash, and iron your laundry at your own cost. Wi-Fi will be available to use in camp.

Reserve Management at Kruger National Park:

Interns are housed within the Rusermi Camp in Balule Game Reserve and it is not uncommon to see African wildlife grazing throughout the day. This riverside camp has awesome sweeping views over the Olifants River and distant Drakensberg mountains, with huge Jackalberry and Maroela trees providing ample shade from the afternoon heat. The camp has a true safari feel with abundant game and bird life all around. A number of sleeping quarters provide dormitory style accommodation with bunk beds, mattresses and sheets. Bed sheets are provided but interns must also bring their own towels, sleeping bags or duvets. Bathrooms are separate and have warm and cold running water, as well as standard toilet facilities. There is an outside dining area and braai (barbeque) area (known as a ‘lapa’) where interns enjoy their meals and socialize in the evenings, as well as an outside swimming pool and open-air lounge.

Reserve Management at Dinokeng Game Reserve / GIS Specialization for Environmental Conservation:

Interns are accommodated in a comfortable and spacious research house, which is located inside the reserve and it is not uncommon to see African wildlife grazing throughout the day. The accommodation provides four shared bathrooms and seven large bedrooms. The bedrooms are fitted with 2-3 double bunks in each and there is ample storage space. The bathrooms provide warm and cold running water and standard flush toilets. Comfortable beds, bed sheets, pillows and pillow cases are provided but interns must bring their own sleeping bags and/or duvets. Common spaces include a large dining area, lounge, kitchen, outside verandah, swimming pool, and ‘braai pit’ for barbecues. The fully-equipped kitchen has a stove, oven, microwave, fridge and freezer.

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay:

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 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.

  • Wildlife Veterinary Course at Gondwana Game Reserve: As part of the Wildlife Veterinary course, all meals are prepared by an on-site cook, and includes a continental breakfast, lunch (either in camp or in the field), and dinner. Fresh fruit and snacks are also provided throughout the day. Our local team can cater for most allergies and diets, be they vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, so please inform us if you have particular dietary requirements.
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
  • Comprehensive internship guide
  • Reflection learning course
  • Flight and travel insurance deals

Program fee

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

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!

Wildlife Veterinary Course at Gondwana Game Reserve:

The Wildlife Veterinary internship is an intensive two-week course. Interns will spend this period performing various tasks related to the program. However, this doesn’t mean that before or after you’ve concluded the activities, you can’t enjoy some of what the Western Cape province and wider South Africa has to offer. There will be a free day off during the mid point of the program where you can opt for one of several excursions to local cultural and historical sites. These include commercial ostrich farms, shark-cage diving, a visit to the Diaz museum, or a trip to the famous Mossel Bay beach. Or, if you wish, you can spend the day relaxing in camp, catching up with reading or going for a hike in the non-Big-5 section of the reserve.

Reserve Management at Dinokeng Game Reserve / GIS Specialization for Environmental Conservation:

The nearby town of Pretoria has many restaurants, pubs, shops and supermarkets. Interns will be allowed the opportunity over weekends, and by arrangement with the Camp Manager, to spend 1-2 nights at a back packers lodge in the city. There are a number of adventure activities offered by tourist suppliers on the reserve which may interest interns. The Camp Manager can assist with such accommodation, tour arrangements or adventure activities, but interns will sign off the project and have to pay for such tour services at an additional cost. For example, our local team recommends a budget of approximately R1500 – R2500 (US$100 - US$200) for a 2-night stay at a Backpacker Lodge and weekend activities, such as restaurant meals, evening entertainment, etc.

Reserve Management at Kruger National Park:

The nearby town of Hoedspruit (50 kilometers via mostly unpaved road) is a very popular tourist stop and has many restaurants, pubs, shops and supermarkets. Camp supplies and groceries are bought in town every 2 weeks and interns are welcome to join these shopping trips, by arrangement with the Volunteer Coordinator. (These trips also provide a good opportunity to topup your prepaid phone data).

Marine Biology and Reef Conservation at Sodwana Bay:

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.

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).

The Gondwana Game Reserve is located on the Western Cape, near the coastal town of Mossel Bay. The climate typically has average temperatures of around 55°F (13°C) in winter and 66°F (19°C) in summer. During the winter months (including June) there can be regular rain and wind. Wind-chill can make the environment feel quite cold, so warm and waterproof clothing is essential.

The Dinokeng Game Reserve, located in the Gauteng province, falls within the savanna biome, where the climate is humid and subtropical. The warm season, from September through March, is hot and rainy (most rainfall occurs during the afternoon). The colder months, May through July, are dry and cool. The average lows during winter are mild, but it can get cold due to the clear skies, bringing temperatures in the range of 36 °F to 23°F (2°C to -5 °C). The average annual temperature in the region is 65.7°F (18.7 °C). The Dinokeng Game Reserve and Gauteng region is a malaria free area.

The Kruger Park region also experiences wet summer months, from October through April. Hot and humid weather can be expected at this time, with average daytime temperatures reaching 90°F (32°C). It seldom rains all day, but the pattern is afternoon storms. The dry season is from May through September. During this time of year, it can cool off considerably at night and it’s advisable to bring warm clothing for early morning and evening activities. During June, July and August (“winter”) the average morning temperature is 48°F (9°C) but afternoons temperatures are pleasant - typically 79°F (26°C). Traditionally, the best game viewing is in winter when vegetation becomes sparse and water is restricted to rivers and water holes.

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.