|ORCA FOUNDATION – VOLUNTEER PROGRAM – 2018|
Guided dolphin and whale watching boat trips
Depending on weather conditions and space availability, you will join commercial dolphin and whale watching boat trips to collect opportunistic data on marine animal sightings. You will also assist in data capture as part of ongoing collaborative research projects.
Skills gained: marine animal species identification, GPS usage, assessing Beaufort scale, data capture.
Marine mammal stranding response and necropsy
You will assist the Plettenberg Bay Marine Animal Stranding Network during irregular marine mammal strandings and necropsy events in the greater Plettenberg Bay region. You will assist in the collection of entire carcasses that wash ashore, or parts thereof, and temporarily store them for future research at the Port Elizabeth Museum. During your stay you may also get the opportunity to assist stranding biologists during the capture, tagging, translocation, treatment and/or release of any live seals that may come ashore.
Skills gained: Marine mammal stranding response, necropsy techniques, anatomy, sampling protocol, data capture.
Seals in estuaries monitoring
You will assist seal biologists during dedicated boat-based surveys to monitor the presence, individual identity, behaviour and habitat preference of Cape fur seals that utilize the Keurbooms River estuary.
Skills gained: Boat-based survey design, photo-ID techniques, observational skills, GPS usage, data capture.
Seal population monitoring and tag re-sights
During January-February you will assist researchers during opportunistic boat-based surveys to Robberg Peninsula to monitor the number of Cape fur seals pups ashore and perform re-sights of stranded individuals returned to the colony.
Skills gained: Tag-resights, boat-based population monitoring, tally counts, data capture.
Seal-shark interaction monitoring
You will assist researchers during land-based observations of Cape fur seal behaviour, the presence of great white sharks and seal-shark interactions in the Robberg MPA.
Skills gained: Land-based behavioural observation, species interactions, assessing Beaufort scale, GPS usage, data capture.
Seal-fisheries interaction monitoring
You will assist researchers with independent land-based observations of irregular fishing activity and seal-fisheries interactions in the Robberg MPA.
Skills gained: Land-based behavioural observation, data capture.
Seal diet studies
You will assist researchers with irregular seal scat processing and preliminary prey remain identification to update the current diet of Cape fur seals that haul out on Robberg Peninsula.
Skills gained: Seal scat processing, prey remain identification, data capture.
You will assist with the capture, measuring and tagging of fish for the ORI (Oceanographic Research Institute) during irregular fishing activities.
Beach Surveys and hikes
You will hike the length of local beaches to collect shark egg cases and nurdles, and to search for stranded marine mammal carcasses as part of various ongoing research projects. You will also hike the Robberg Nature trail on a regular basis to perform routine land-based observational research at the Cape fur seal colony on Robberg Peninsula. We also incorporate hikes in Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve during alien plant clearing activities. The hike is multifaceted such that the volunteers are able to see more of the beautiful region while learning about different biomes, plants, birds, and animals, as well as do litter clean-ups along the way.
While we do not generally include this in our program as a separate activity, we do a lot of litter clean-ups during our research activities on local beaches. The cleanliness and health of the coastal environments we work in is important to us and we try our best to carry bags to collect litter. Volunteers can learn about marine debris and the associated problems, and do their part to keep our beaches clean. Once a year we also participate in the Kurland clean-up during the International Coastal Cleanup program.
MiniSASS River health assessments
The ORCA Foundation is monitoring 4 sites in the greater Plettenberg Bay area. Macro-invertebrates are collected by drawing a net through the water and surrounding vegetation and identified. Each group present is given a sensitivity score and thereby the relative health of the river can be assessed. These results are uploaded to an online database (www.minisass.org) monitoring river health throughout South Africa. Volunteers are exposed to a different research method, and a different focus group.
Sample processing and data capture
While our outdoor fieldwork projects are enjoyable, office work is not so much. Although very few people like data entry and sample processing it is an integral part of our research projects. Volunteers are taught to accurately manage information, and how to set up spreadsheets for further statistical analysis.
Public talks and scientific presentations
When there are public lectures available in the Plettenberg Bay area volunteers are encouraged to attend. Also, when there is interest researchers may give presentations on their studies in the area.
Investigating intertidal rock pools
Volunteers will spend some time investigating the diverse life that occurs in rock pools at two sites, Nature’s Valley and the rocks off Beacon Island. This allows them a close up look at some creatures they will have never seen or really closely examined. Volunteers are exposed to a different focus group, and learn about the ecology and conservation of these. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to find something that really interests them and take photos of the species to identify at home. Many of these species are not well documented or found in common identification guides so this process teaches them how to begin identifying species.
Aquarium maintenance, bait collection, and fish capture
The marine aquarium at Ocean Blue Adventures needs regular cleaning and backwashing to ensure the aquarium remains pristine and the indigenous fish are in a healthy environment. To ensure a varied diet volunteers are tasked to collect common sandprawns Callichirus kraussi to feed to the fish. Occasionally, volunteers catch fish to restock and add variety the tank. Volunteers gain a sense of responsibility for the duration of their stay to ensure the fish and their environment are healthy.
Museum and Rehabilitation centre visits
Once a month volunteers will accompany researchers on a fieldtrip to the Port Elizabeth Museum to deliver samples collected by the Plett Stranding Network. Depending on availability of stranded animals you will take part in full necropsies on fresh marine mammal carcasses. Volunteers will gain valuable necropsy skills under the supervision of experienced marine mammal scientists and sometimes veterinary students. We will also visit SANCCOB (www.sanccob.co.za) on a monthly basis where you will get the opportunity to assist with and gain exposure to world class seabird rehabilitation. The Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Plettenberg Bay will be visited during live stranding response activities of injured seabirds and seals.
Citizen science project contribution
While the ORCA Foundation runs independent research projects we aim to regularly contribute to online citizen science projects, including iSpot (which links to a number of other projects using tags), MammalMAP, ELMO, as well as miniSASS (see above) and SAfring (see above). Most of the volunteers who join our project are not in the environmental field, and are not planning to get into the environmental field and as such will never independently run a research project. However, they are able to easily use online citizen science websites to contribute valuable biological and environmental data, something many volunteers show an interest in – iSpot in particular is a worldwide citizen science project. We strongly encourage volunteers to find something during our regular activities on the beach or other areas that really interests them that they want to know more about. This not only encourages the volunteers to pay more attention to their surroundings, and the incredible diversity of this area, but they learn more about the natural environment. This also teaches them about what citizen science projects are, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they can be used. Often people are unaware of projects in their area, or are intimidated by what these projects entail, and by walking through the upload step by step volunteers can gain confidence to do this themselves in their home countries.
Alien vegetation clearing
Volunteers assist where needed to remove alien vegetation using saws and pangas. These plants take up a vast amount of valuable water away from our indigenous plants and removing them allows for the area to return to its natural vegetation composition. Once these trees and plants are taken down it must be ensured that they will not grow again and stumps are often painted with old oil to prevent regrowth. The removed vegetation will either be used constructively (such as building fences and boma walls) or will be burned on a later date once burn permits have been approved. Volunteers have assisted with controlled burns of alien vegetation. This is done with permitted permission and has to be done according to strict protocol. After 12:00pm no more fuel can be added to the fire.
Volunteers have also been assisting at Brackenburn CREW (www.brackenburncrew.com). This includes general maintenance, alien clearing and loads more. Volunteers are thanked for their hard work with a free guided hike at Brackenburn.
In order to offset some of the carbon footprint of the ORCA Foundation staff and volunteers we plant indigenous trees at various sites. The processes of photosynthesis and respiration are explained, as well as that of global warming and the role carbon dioxide plays. The ORCA Foundation also takes part in the yearly Kurland Greening organized by Nature’s Valley Trust.
KAWS Animal Welfare Services
KAWS cares for a number of homeless, abused, and/or lost dogs and cats. They are in constant need of donations as well as helpful hands. Volunteers assist KAWS with cleaning of their facility as well as with animal enrichment, and basic training of the dogs.
School and community outreach programme
Twice a month volunteers assist at Siyakula Creche in Qolweni by giving a 45 minute lesson, which the volunteers themselves plan and prepare, and have included a variety of topics. Thereafter they read a story and interact with the children. They also help serve and clean-up after lunch. Volunteers are able to help a disadvantaged community, and are exposed to a different culture.
Siyakula soup kitchen
On a Friday afternoon volunteers may also assist at the soup kitchen which runs out of Siyakula Creche. Volunteers help by dishing up soup and handing out bread. Volunteers are able to help a disadvantaged community, and are exposed to a different culture.
Occasionally volunteers spend time at Sterreweg playing with the children and learning about the difficulties associated with having a disabled child and how these can be overcome.
ORCA Foundation funds Lunchbox Theatre shows which use dance, song, and acting to educate school children in Plettenberg Bay and the greater Bitou area about environmental and sociological issues including HIV/AIDS, littering, water usage, and animal cruelty. Volunteers are made aware of the end result that they help fund, they are exposed to local primary schools, and a fun and meaningful way in which children can be educated.