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Volunteer on a Dolphin Research Project - Kenya | Kenya | Volunteering

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Volunteer on a Dolphin Research Project - Kenya

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2 week

From £1125

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Volunteer for two weeks to assist vital conservation efforts on this long running research project in Kenya.

Volunteer on Dolphin Research projects in Kenya with Smaller Earth

Smaller Earth Volunteers will live and work in the beautiful Shimoni Archipelago, off the coast of the Indian Ocean on the border with Tanzania, Africa, a world class location for dolphins as well as other wildlife. Volunteers will conduct dolphin research from a surface vessel and have the opportunity to snorkel coral reefs to survey turtles. Full training is provided by the full time research staff allowing volunteers a hands on and invaluable contribution to the preservation of these majestic animals. Volunteers can also choose to combine this project with other Smaller Earth programs in the area including our teaching english project and primate research project.

Five Reasons to Become a Smaller Earth Dolphin Research Volunteer

  • Immersing yourself in traditional coastal Swahili culture
  • Snorkel some of Kenya’s finest coral reefs in search of turtles
  • Shimoni -  a tropical haven and divers’ paradise
  • Gain valuable research and monitoring experience and training
  • See dolphins in their natural environment

Be A Volunteer in Kenya With Smaller Earth

The Government of Kenya has expressed a strong interest in developing marine conservation and sustainable resource use along the southern coastline, but lacks the finance and scientific expertise to do so. Our partners offer support to Kenyan organisations by examining how the local communities affect and utilize the region’s natural resources. The project also assists communities in development initiatives, such as how to use resources in a sustainable manner. Our associates on the ground assist partners in promoting this local framework as the basis for a larger conservation-research initiative in tropical coastal waters and terrestrial areas around Shimoni. Volunteers live and work alongside local researchers, students and staff from the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

This volunteer project is making a difference by supporting our partners, including Kenya Wildlife Service, in cetacean research. Through education, environmental awareness and current wildlife monitoring studies, our collaborative work has been building capacity within the communities, assisting them in developing sustainable tourism practices and protecting cetacean and primate species within the area.

Program Details

Through collaboration with local conservation groups, tourist operators, and local villagers, the project combines ecological research with grass-roots conservation efforts. The ultimate aim is the self-financing of conservation through regulated ecotourism and resource use. Community interaction via English language and environmental education is central to the success of the project, alongside the scientific research itself.

The projects include: collecting population and distribution data on marine mammals, determining residence rates and habitat relationships, assessing current anthropogenic impact on cetaceans, assisting partners in developing a ‘code of conduct'.

Marine days are great fun! After  breakfast  we head out on the water in search of dolphins, turtles, whale sharks, manta rays and other wonders of the sea, on board the mighty Stingray. With captains Kyla, Hugo, Rachel or Shaffi at the helm ably assisted by trusty captain Haruni we plod up the channel between Shimoni and Wasini Island into the Kisite- Mpunguti Marine Protected Area.

When you spot a group of dolphins there is a series of forms and tasks to carry out as part of the ongoing research within the marine reserve and park. After making note of general environmental conditions such as cloud cover, swell and wind direction in the Event Log we record the sighting and carry out a dolphin behaviour survey. If we are able we then carry out photo identification of individual dolphin dorsal fins which each have specific markings. During the course of the morning we may also spot a turtle or two, which we again record on data sheets. After a morning out on boat we head back to Wasini Island in time for a generously prepared lunch of bean burgers, salad and flat bread, a Kenya specialty! The trip back to the island is usually great fun as we pick up speed bouncing over the waves and getting refreshingly wet!

The afternoons generally consist of data entry into the computer and trip to the mangroves to carry out bird surveys or mangrove clean ups with the collection of flip flops which are recycled into unique crafts by members the village and plastic bottles which are recycled in Mombasa- again earning community members money whilst cleaning up this important marine environment.

Overall camp life is a lot of fun, once you get use to the drop toilets, the resident noisy goats and the buckets showers. The community is fantastic; extremely welcoming. You get a true taste of coastal African life. The kids never forget your name, and you literally get treated as part of the family. It’s an experience of a life time.

Side Trips

During their project volunteers will be taken on the Mwauzi Tumbe village tour of Mkwiro, a community-based tourism initiative that our partners have been working to develop with the villagers of Mkwiro. As well as being shown around the village and aspects of daily life here, the tour finishes with the legend of Mwauzi Tumbe a Persian princess who is said to have betrayed her people to Wasini village at the other end of the island, in a battle in which the famous wooden drums of Mkwiro were stolen.

Program Highlights

  • Assisting local and international researchers to monitor dolphins
  • Living on an African island adjacent to Kenya’s finest marine protected area
  • Developing your knowledge of marine studies
  • Experiencing the amazing mega-fauna of the island that includes whales, whale sharks and manta rays (seasonal),

Location & Accommodation

If you are looking to volunteer in Kenya in a truly exotic location, this is the project for you! Shimoni is a peninsula located next to the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area, which lies at the tip of the Pemba Channel. With scattered islands covered by coastal forest, mangroves, rocky shores, sandy bays and fringed by coral reefs, Shimoni is a tropical haven and divers’ paradise. The projects main base is located on Wasini Island, which is situated alongside the famous Kisite National Marine Park.

Facilities will be more basic than you are accustomed to so please travel with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to local conditions. Accommodation is in shared (mixed-sex) rooms with shared bathroom facilities at the field station. There is fresh water available for cooking and drinking only. Showers are by bucket-wash using sea water. Bucket flush, squat toilet facilities are available, and participants share base duties, including cleaning and other chores.

Volunteers take it in turns to prepare meals for the group. Food is basic, cooked in traditional local style. Breakfast could be cereal, porridge, fresh fruit, pancakes, etc., lunch is sandwiches, pasta and sauce, etc. and a typical evening meal may include beans, rice, fresh veg and occasionally fish or meat.

Age & Required Experience

No previous experience is required, but volunteers must be able to work as part of a team, have a strong interest in wildlife and conservation, a sense of adventure and be prepared to enjoy Africa in a rustic way. Days are hot and dusty, and volunteers can expect to experience all the adventures and rigors of Africa on a continual basis. In addition, all volunteers will have to complete a swimming test on arrival at the base (an unaided 200m surface swim, followed by a ten minute float in the open sea environment). Participants must be enthusiastic, adventurous and respectful of their host country’s culture and environment. Minimum age limit is 18 years old

Project Support

Throughout your stay at your placement you will have the support and guidance of experienced field-workers and coordinators. They are part of our Smaller Earth support team, and will provide you with competent 24-hour field support and assistance.Staff in the field will provide training on the skills required, but you may benefit from learning more about local history, culture and customs before you travel.

Getting There

Volunteers should get a return flight to and from Mombasa airport (MBA). Smaller Earth can provide airport pick-ups between 6pm and 12am the night before the expedition begins – please inform us if you require this pick-up.

Travel Opportunities

Kenya is a large and extremely diverse country in terms of both culture and nature. Over three to four days you can undertake a safari that takes in the vast Tsavo East and West National Parks and famous Amboseli National Park, home to lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, elephant, rhino, hippo and numerous antelope species as well as incredible bird life. Safaris can be arranged to start and end from Shimoni, Diani or Mombasa. Safari’s to the world famous Maasai Mara can also be arranged, flying from Diani or Mombasa. Over the duration, you can journey further up Kenya’s coastline to visit Watamu and Malindi with the Gedi Ruins and Arabuko Sokoke Forest National Park or Lamu Island, a tranquil getaway, steeped in Swahili history, tradition and culture.

During the programme, volunteers have the option to experience the following additional side trips. These are not included in the programme and must be paid for separately:

  • A weekend trip to nearby Funzi Island, where a community-based Turtle Conservation Group under our partner Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation Committee, are establishing eco-tourism to support their conservation work and sustainable development, supported by our partners on the ground. The trip includes a homestay with traditional local food provided and a tour of the village and their conservation work; depending on the season volunteers may have the opportunity to join the group on night time beach patrols to look for nesting turtles or hatchlings. There is also the option to take a boat ride amongst the mangroves of the Ramisi river in search of crocodiles.
  • Volunteers will also experience the community-based eco-tourism Slave Cave Tour in Shimoni village, exploring the natural caves that are currently home to bat colonies but over the years have served as a refuge for local people during tribal clashes, a slave holding pen on the way to markets in Zanzibar and more recently a kaya shrine.
  • The Three Sisters Cave at Tswaka, about half an hour drive from Shimoni is a community eco-tourism project where you can be guided on a half day trip through a network of 3 large natural underground limestone caves.
  • An overnight trip to Shimba Hills National Reserve, home to African elephants, buffalo, giraffe, warthog and the country’s only breeding population of sable antelope. As well as game drives, you can take a walk to Sheldrick Falls to cool off in the plunge pool below. Shimba Hills is about 2 hours drive from Shimoni, from where the tour can pick you up and drop you.
  • A day trip to Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, a community reserve in the hills near Shimba where game drives will bring you close to herds of protected African elephant protected and revenue is used to support community development. You can also see how the community turn elephant dung into recycled paper products for sale to tourists. The sanctuary is about a 2 hour drive from Shimoni and tours can be arranged to collect and drop you from here, or from Diani, our nearest tourist beach resort.
  • Closer to home, volunteers can support eco-tourism initiatives in the communities we are working with, such as traditional fishing trips with the Mkwiro fishermen in their dug-out canoes and Swahili cooking classes with the women of the village.

Volunteers can also organise their own trips during time off. Over a weekend, a popular destination is the lively tourist beach resort of Diani, about one and a half hours drive away, accessible on public minibuses, or the quieter, more tranquil Tiwi beach where a further 20 minutes by taxi from Diani. Mombasa city can also be visited over a weekend, about 2 and a half hours on public minibuses, combining both the historic old town and traditional Swahili culture, with modern city life, restaurants, bars and clubs. As well as Mombasa’s beautiful beaches, Haller Park is an ecological restoration project that offers opportunities to get close to giraffe, hippopotamus, buffalo, waterbuck, crocodile and giant Aldabra tortoise.


What's Included?

  • Airport pick-up and transfer to base
  • All food and accommodation
  • Training materials and science equipment
  • Comprehensive training necessary for research techniques
  • 24-hour in-country support and a 24-hour emergency phone line
  • All normal Smaller Earth pre-departure support and services

What's Not Included?

  • International flights
  • Medical and travel insurance.

Program Start Dates & Price



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