When I first signed up for the Marine Science field course at Cape RADD, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived in Cape Town feeling nervous about what the course would be like, whether I’d get along with the people, and if everything would be as amazing as I’d seen it advertised on their website and social media accounts. When I arrived as a volunteer on my gap year before university, I was looking for something to learn more about working in the field of marine biology and to help me choose which field I may specialise in for my masters after my undergraduate degree in Biology.

Now in my fourth week at Cape RADD, I can say for sure that the Marine science field course and everything about it soared high above my expectations, teaching me so much about the good parts and bad parts of working as a marine biologist (definitely more good things than bad… ) and allowing me to experience all the unique marine life in False bay, see so many endemic species, and learn so many interesting things about them all.

In my first week at Cape RADD, everyone at the Ocean Hub did a great job of easing me back into Scuba diving and I went for a few refresher dives at the beach before I conquered the famous kelp forests, shipwrecks, and seal spots. After getting back into diving, I was introduced to scientific diving, learning about all the many fish, invertebrates, and nudibranch species to look out for on my dives. We then started going on some spectacular scientific dives in the kelp forests, conducting fish and nudibranch surveys which allowed us to gauge these species’ abundances in these environments.

It was the most amazing thing to be scuba diving between kelp, seeing species you won’t find anywhere else, and learning what it is to be a marine biologist at the same time. Some other scientific diving techniques we used included using quadrats and transects to count species’ abundance of invertebrates and algae within various environments. We also learnt about the limitations of each scientific diving technique and why different techniques are used for different locations and different data which was extremely interesting & really taught me to think like a marine scientist.

As well as scientific diving, we also learnt about some marine science data collection techniques which can be used without the need to scuba dive. For example, I had the opportunity to learn about the use of kayaks in citizen science as one of the master’s students at Cape RADD was conducting his thesis on this topic & he took us out on a few kayak trips, where we got closer to seals than I had ever been before and were able to see the kelp forests from a different perspective. We also conducted some quadrat data collection on land, studying species abundance along the rocky shore at Boulder’s beach and allowing us to practise using a quadrat before doing it underwater. 

Aside from the scientific diving and data collection, at Cape RADD I also did so many amazing recreational dives and had lots of opportunities to do other things. For example, one of the days we did a free diving workshop, something I had never done before and was feeling slightly unenthusiastic about as holding my breath is not one of my greatest skills. However, after a few free dives, I discovered that it enables you to approach shy sharks, octopuses, fish, and other marine creatures much more closely. They became less wary of me without all the scuba gear, and I found myself enjoying free diving just as much as scuba diving.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to complete several more SSI specializations at Cape RADD. One of these was the deep diving course, which expanded my knowledge of scuba diving and allowed me to explore various environments, including deeper shipwrecks and species that inhabit greater depths.

The wildlife in False Bay is also like nothing I’ve ever seen. Volunteering at Cape RADD allowed me to get so close to species like shy sharks, cat sharks, gully sharks, octopuses, seals, and many other species. I’d say the best experience I had diving during the course was with the seals at Partridge Point as, unlike other marine life, they came right up to us, playing with kelp branches almost like dogs, and interacting closely with all the divers. It was also amazing to learn that the Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean and the Benguela current from the south mix to form conditions in South Africa, allowing so many endemic species to survive here that can’t survive anywhere else. 

Puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii)

In my first week at Cape RADD, I also had some anxieties about whether I’d get along with the workers at the Ocean hub and other volunteers which quickly disappeared as I found that everyone was so welcoming, friendly, and easy to get along with. I realised even on the first day that all the people at the Ocean hub are not only colleagues but also good friends, making Cape RADD such a nice place to spend every day with the perfect balance between being a relaxed and good-natured environment but also very professional and making sure that we make the most out of every day as a volunteer.

I made some amazing friendships with the other volunteers and marine biologists I hope to keep in contact with after leaving. We ended up spending many evenings together and fun days out exploring Cape Town’s land and its sea on the weekends, braaiing (BBQ) together at the volunteer house, climbing up Table Mountain, and often having people over to the RADD pad during evenings. My advice to anyone curious or anxious about the social side of this volunteer program would be to not stress and keep an open mind to all the great opportunities for friendships there are in this volunteer course. 

I can say that doing the Marine Science field course at Cape RADD is so far one of the best things I’ve done in my gap year and as I’m writing this and reflecting on the course I’m feeling sad to be leaving – My advice to anyone thinking about signing up for the course is to stop hesitating and if you have any curiosity in ecology or marine science just to do it!


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