Volunteering Maldives – Sabine
Sabine travelled to the Maldives with us to help research endangered whale sharks as a conservation volunteer. Learn more about her volunteer adventure in Southeast Asia
Project: Whale shark conservation in the Maldives
Duration: Beginning until mid-June 2019 – 2 weeks
Support from the Natucate team:
Volunteering in the Maldives – Eight questions for Sabine
1) Could you give us a brief overview of your tasks in the project?
As a volunteer, you spend about 6-8 hours a day on the boat (if the weather or visibility is good, you may also stay on the boat for longer; on rainy/storm days it is less). The main task is looking out for whale sharks. Documenting larger animals (e.g. turtles, rays) and other boats including their passengers is just as important. When a whale shark is spotted, you need to jump into the water and take photos of the animal to identify both the sex and the individual whale shark. If there are a lot of other people in the water, the mission is aborted as soon as all necessary pictures are taken to give the animal its space. If you and your team are lucky and the only ones that are present, you might be lucky and enjoy a whale shark sighting of 30 to 50 minutes. Back on board, weather and water conditions are recorded (measurement of wind force and direction, visibility in the water, current). At the end of the day you and your team meet to put the data into a database and identify the whale shark using the photos and an image database. Our group consisted of 7 volunteers, so that this task did not take longer than an hour.
2) What were the biggest challenges for you during the project?
There were quite a lot of mosquitos – but as I was rewarded with an incredible volunteer experience, I was happy to accept that circumstance.
3) Was there something you liked most? Or something you remember particularly negatively?
I don't remember anything particularly negative. However, I think it would have been great if we had gained a deeper insight into the data collected so that e.g. effects of weather and water on the whale sharks could have been identified.
The list of positive memories, on the other hand, is quite long. This included, of course, the encounter with a whale shark – a lifelong dream came true for me! It's a unique feeling. It’s so sad when you witness that some tourists do not respect the habitat of the whale sharks. It leaves a bitter taste, but that is one of the reasons why this project is so important.
On the other hand, the discussions with the other volunteers and the project managers were also very exciting. The accommodation has also clearly exceeded my expectations.
4) Did you have certain expectations before you travelled to the project?
Before departure, I tried to lower my expectations as much as possible. After all, there is no guarantee that you will actually see a whale shark within the two weeks. The fact that we had a whale shark only for us who swam curiously next to our boat for about 50 minutes exceeded all hopes and expectations.
5) Have you done anything in your free time that you can recommend to future participants?
Sometimes we got up early in the morning to walk to the end of the island in the dark and watched the sunrise. That was fantastic, especially because there's no one else on the beach. Besides that, I went diving once. However, I have to admit that the dive was not quite as spectacular as the snorkeling trips we did during working hours every day anyway.
6) What recommendations would you give to other participants?
Protecting yourself from the sun is actually the most important thing. However, sometimes so many whale sharks are seen one after another that you will have hardly enough time to apply enough sunscreen. If you have sensitive skin, don’t forget to bring a hat/cap and a long-sleeved swimming shirt with you.
7) Can you estimate how many additional costs you had on site?
I think a dive costs about 70 €. Otherwise I only spent about 1 € per day on ice. And that was it. The daily catering is included in the programme fee, it’s both plentiful and very tasty. In addition, alcohol is forbidden and there is a free water dispenser in the hotel, so no costs need to be calculated for that either. I didn't buy any souvenirs, even though I had the chance to.
8) Here is still room for other suggestions or stories from you:
Basically, everyone who can swim can participate in the project. We also had a woman with us who had never been snorkelling before. But she quickly learned how to do it. Moreover, all of us got a training session for free diving in between. If you have the chance, you should have tried diving before, though (and then the photos will be better as well) ;-)
Make a contribution to species conservation and help protect vulnerable whale sharks in the Maldives