Penguin and Marine Bird Rescue Center

If you are a real animal lover, this is just the volunteer project for you. The endangered African (also called Jackass) Penguins are supported by the rehabilitation and conservation centre in Port Elizabeth and need volunteers to assist with the hands-on caring of these remarkable penguins, and other marine birds.

Project includes the following

Accommodation Yes
Meals Yes
Transport Yes
Project co-ordinator Yes

Cost of Project

2 weeks 615 euro 660 USD 440 GBP
3 weeks 880 euro 945 USD 630 GBP
4 weeks 1145 euro 1230 USD 820 GBP
Extra weeks 240 euro 260 USD 170 GBP

About this Project

Happy and safe at SAMRECIn 2000, the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC), a non-profit organization, was formed in Port Elizabeth after the disaster of the sinking of the ship the Treasure close to Cape Town in 2000. A large amount of oil was spilled in the ocean threatening the lives of 20.000 penguins. They were initially removed and transported to Port Elizabeth but swam back 800 km to Cape Town in only 11 days.

The realization of how vulnerable the African Penguin is and their declining numbers created the awareness to have facilities available to cope with any such new disaster which could threaten the largest breeding colony of African Penguin in the world.

The main focus of SAMREC is to care for sick or injured African Penguins (also known as Jackass Penguins) because of their vulnerability as well as other marine birds such as gannets, cormorants and seagulls. Their work is vital for the safety of the largest breeding colony of African Penguins in the world which is situated on St Croix Island right in front of Port Elizabeth.

One of the main causes of the decline in the numbers of African penguins is that the cold currents in which penguins find their food have been pushed further out to sea due to climate change. This results in them having to swim almost 60 kilometers away from their burrows on St Croix and by the time they get back to feed their babies much of the food has been digested. This results in the young chicks not being fed properly and therefore taking much longer to fledge and become independent.

When the chicks are left to fend for themselves, not knowing how to catch their own meal, they slowly weaken and struggle with the sometimes rough conditions, wash up on our beaches.

SAMREC is the only center in Port Elizabeth that has the capacity to collect washed up penguins sick, hurt or exhausted and to treat any diseases they may have, give them a vitamin boost, fatten them up and release them into the bay again.

They will still have to learn how to catch fish independently but at least being fit and fat they have a proper chance to survive.

There are currently only 25.000 breeding pairs of African Penguins left in the world and 21.000 of those are mostly right here on our doorstep in the Algoa Bay.

Other great concerns are the influence of modern day marine traffic and the large seaport of Coega in the Algoa Bay. Ships sail right past the breeding colony and while pollution is strictly controlled and monitored in the harbor itself, spillage can occur as ships will approach and queue in the bay before getting into the harbor. A penguin only needs to get a spot of oil as small as a 5 cent coin on its feathers to render it helpless and basically cause a slow death.

SAMREC rescues these birds and after cleaning them and boosting their health gives them the chance to be released successfully.

In September 2009, SAMREC moved into new premises in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve which is specifically designed for sick African Penguins and other marine birds.

The building provides a huge concrete area which can accommodate 2000 birds if there is a bad oil spill as in 1998 when an emergency area had to be set up at the harbor.

Cleaning the penguin enclosureThe center’s purpose isn't just to rescue and rehabilitate, but also to inform and educate the general public through their different programs. The extensive displays at the center give tourists, school groups and other visitors the opportunity to learn about these endangered birds but also a wider variety of marine life in the beautiful and incredibly diverse Algoa Bay.

Project needs
The center is in need of a variety of support and volunteers will need to be all-round available to assist with all every day duties.

Volunteers contribute financially which is part of your fees and by joining this program you can not only help with your hands but also with the financial contribution the volunteer coordinator makes.

Tasks & Activites

Daily activities


  • Volunteers will be assisting in a variety of tasks and activities such as;
  • Welcoming visitors
  • Answering the phone and office duties
  • Guiding visitors and school groups through the center
  • Helping at the coffee shop when needed

Cleaning an oiled penguinSea school

  • Teaching the visiting children about the center
  • Helping with rock pool and ship wreck lessons
  • Looking after displays and educational material

Bird hospital

  • Scrubbing and cleaning the bird hospital facilities
  • Preparing food and medication
  • Feeding the penguins and other birds
  • Cleaning and caring for the birds that are brought in
  • Joining the staff (when possible) at rescues in the Port Elizabeth area

Working days and hours
Working days are generally from 8.00 until 16.00 on all weekdays and weekends are off!

Daily Guidance
You will be supervised by our Volunteer Coordinators who will pick you up upon arrival, make sure you are settled in, show you around the city and prepare your work activities at SAMREC. They will transfer you to and from the project, make sure the shopping is done and organize fun outings for the weekends.

At SAMREC your work will be supervised by one of the staff members who will allocate daily tasks and activities to you. They will also be the people to report to in the mornings and sign out before you leave again at the end of the day.

Other volunteers
You most likely won’t be alone when volunteering at SAMREC and meet both local as international volunteers. We get volunteers from all over the world, from the USA, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the UK and many other countries.


The following costs have been carefully calculated and long term costs of the house, staff and vehicles has been taken in consideration.

2 weeks 615 euro 660 USD 440 GBP
3 weeks 880 euro 945 USD 630 GBP
4 weeks 1145 euro 1230 USD 820 GBP
Extra weeks 240 euro 260 USD 170 GBP

Included in the volunteering fee:

  • Information and assistance before departure
  • Pick up upon arrival and drop off at the end of your stay
  • Welcome pack with information guide, free SIM-card, maps, etc. upon arrival
  • City Tour and Introduction Programme
  • Accommodation in volunteer house close to the beach (7 nights per week of volunteering booked)
  • Volunteer coordinator available 24/7
  • 3 meals a day
  • Direct donation to the project’s needs
  • Transport to and from the project
  • Offer of weekend trips and outings (extra costs apply)

Excluded are the following:

  • Private Luxuries (snacks, soft drinks, alcohol etc.)
  • Costs for weekend outings to safari parks etc.
  • Air tickets
  • Insurance

Starting dates
Starting your volunteer work is on Mondays only. If you will be arriving before the Monday, we will gladly assist with accommodation and your pick up, extra days will be charged prorate.

On the Monday, you will be given your introduction and shown around the area so that on Tuesday you can start your volunteering.

Participation is per full weeks only and the project will be closed for about 3 weeks over Christmas and New Year’s every year.

Accommodation and Meals

Volunteer houseOur volunteer house is situated at 27B Marshall Road, Humewood, 6013, Port Elizabeth.

The volunteer house is situated in the popular beach front area of Humewood, and is only a five minute walk away from the beach. Shops, beachfront cafés, restaurants and access to other facilities are all within easy reach. It’s the perfect location to enjoy the beach after work or during weekends.

The volunteer house offers spacious living conditions and is shared with other volunteers who work at Door of Hope, Missionvale Care Centre and Izizwe Township Projects making it the perfect place to enjoy your stay with other volunteers from all over the world.

It is fully furnished and has all the facilities needed and more; two kitchens, two washing machines, a dining room and TV lounge with satellite TV, a garden with a swimming pool to cool off, great views of the ocean and 9 bedrooms offering a variety of sleeping options. Wireless internet is free; just bring your own laptop or any other device to access the Wi-Fi network.

We even have a full time cleaning lady, as we believe in offering local employment but especially in offering clean and well looked after accommodation. All bedding is provided, but no towels, so please bring your own.

Depending on how busy it is, you will share a room with other volunteers, some rooms are very large, which offer dorm style accommodation (4 beds in a room), others are a bit smaller for only 2 volunteers sharing. Male and female volunteers will have separate rooms and bathrooms to use. We have a total of 6 bathrooms in the house.

If you would like to have a private room, we will gladly see if we can arrange that for the small surcharge per week. Couples and older volunteers will have preference for private rooms if available, but if you want to be guaranteed a private room we will have to charge this extra fee. Let us know if you want more information.

Feeding a Cape GanetThree meals per day are included and we work on a set menu per week. There is free coffee, tea and cordial juice available at any time.

For breakfast you will have toast, fruit yoghurt, cereal and/or eggs. For lunch you can have sandwiches with cheese, marmalade, cold meats or other spreads.

There will be a variety in our dinners, since all of the volunteers have different skills and preferences. So, if you would like to show off your cooking skills, then please do!

Please tell our coordinators about any wishes, vegetarian wishes and allergies concerning food.

Included in your fee is your daily transport. We have well looked after vehicles, which are properly insured and driven by our drivers who all have required Professional Driving Permits.

Transport to and from the volunteer house, and the project is included but if you like to go out after work or in the weekend, you will be able to walk during the day or use a taxi at night, at your own expense.

Living with other Volunteers
As a volunteer you will be staying in a house with many different nationalities. Which means you will eat together, work together and so on. We arrange an informal social on a weekly basis where you can relax and have some fun, get to know other volunteers as well as your coordinators. Every Friday is "Casual Day" and after your volunteering at your project we have our "Social Outing" - free of charge of course. The outing is weather permitting. It can range from a trip to the beach where we can have a picnic and swim; we can go for a walk or a hike; to the city center or even some retail therapy at the shopping mall or a pre-weekend drink at a pub.

General Information

South Africa; the country….
South Africa has been referred to as the 'rainbow nation', a title which shows the country's cultural diversity.

The population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world. South Africa has approx. 52 million inhabitants of which 80% is Black African, 10% is white, 10% is coloured or mixed race and the rest is Asian/Indian.

South Africa also has 11 official languages with isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans spoken in the Area description.

Port Elizabeth and area
LocationPE is the biggest city of the Eastern Cape, with approximately 1.2 million inhabitants (including the Northern areas, Despatch and Uitenhage). In the Eastern Cape you will find cities such as Bisho, King William’s Town and Umtata which can be found in the regions of the Transkei and Ciskei, which were known as ‘homelands’ in the Apartheid years.

During the Apartheid era, the ‘homelands’ were the home of the Xhosa speaking people. There weren’t a lot of facilities and work opportunities in those areas. Many off the Xhosa people worked in the bigger cities, but went home every year to visit their families. Fort Hare University was the only university in the area where Xhosa people were allowed to study. Famous politicians namely Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Steve Biko completed their studies at this university. Although Bisho is the capital of the Eastern Cape, it remains poor and an undeveloped city. Many people moved from these homelands to Port Elizabeth in search of employment and a better life.

The Eastern Cape is as culturally diverse as it is in nature and the climate of the region. The diversity in culture is represented by the black population (mostly Xhosa speaking), coloureds, Indian and white people of Port Elizabeth. As you can see here and will surely notice in South Africa; we do not mind using the colour of our skins to be identified with, so there is nothing insulting to call somebody black if they are.

The Eastern Cape and the surroundings of Port Elizabeth show a large variety of natural beauty and make PE a great central place to visit the variety of South Africa. To the East you will find the Wild coast (former Transkei and Ciskei) which is mostly rural and undeveloped, but closer you will find Addo Elephant Part and great coastal villages such as Port Alfred. To the North you will find the great Karoo; a semi desert area with wide open spaces, large nature areas and long open roads with historical places such as Graaff Reinet, the Baviaanskloof Wilderness and much more. To the East towards Cape Town, you will be amazed by the Tsitsikamma National Park, holiday villages such as Plettenberg Bay, Knysna and natures Valley or the surf mecca of Jeffrey’s Bay. This gives you plenty to see and visit while you are here.

Especially for a country like South Africa, researching the history before you go will explain the cultural differences you will see and will add a whole new dimension to your experience. If you understand the history of a country, you will understand not only the country better but also the people, their culture and customs.

Way of life in SA
It is important to prepare yourself and obtain local knowledge about the country you are about to visit. Go get yourself a good guide book and talk to people that have visited South Africa before or contact us to get some answers.

This will help you to understand the country more and will help you to not offend people or breaking local laws. Show respect towards the people and culture of the local communities. You might not agree with certain things you see during your stay here, but please don’t forget you are a guest here, and you can’t try to change everything in a period of just a few weeks.

The way of life in South Africa is a lot different from other continents. Foreigners may consider South Africans as lazy, always late, talking loudly, chaotic and hot blooded. But are you, just because of the fact of being from overseas and not from South Africa, then automatically hectic, not enjoying life, always focused on work, always on time, humourless, serious and cold blooded?

We are pretty sure you are not like that, so please think twice before you set opinions.

Books to read

  • Nelson Mandela – ‘Long walk to freedom’: While not travel literature, Nelson Mandela’s superb and inspirational autobiography, is one of the best ways to prepare for a South Africa trip.
  • lan Paton – ‘Cry - the beloved country’: A beautifully told and profoundly compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set in the troubled and changing South Africa of the 1940s.
  • Steven Otter – ‘Khayelitsha’: The account of the year journalist Steven Otter spent in the township, drinking in shebeens (unlicensed bars) and challenging his preconceptions about race.
  • Jason Carter – ‘Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders’: The chronicle of a Peace Corps volunteers perspectives on the still-deep divisions between white and black South Africa.

Penguin rehabilitationMovies to watch

  • ‘Long Walk to Freedom’: Based on the book of Nelson Mandela’s biography.
  • ‘Invictus’: A biographical sports drama film about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
  • ‘Bang Bang Club’: A drama based on the true-life experiences of four combat photographers capturing the final days of apartheid in South Africa.
  • ‘Goodbye Bafana’: The true story of a white South African racist whose life was profoundly changed by the black prisoner he guarded for twenty years. The prisoner's name was Nelson Mandela.

South African slang….

Pick up on some of the local slang and understand what they actually are saying:

just now sometime soon, shortly
now now sooner than "just now"
howzit hello (a greeting), as in "how is it going?"
bakkie pick-up truck
robot traffic light
braai barbeque
garage petrol station

Other Practical Information

Shopping and supplies
Within walking distance, there are some shops such as a SPAR and you can easily take a taxi bus along the beachfront to go to the shopping centre. Otherwise you can always join one of the coordinators on their shopping trips.

Possibilities for arranging your own transport

If you like to do your own thing for the weekend and rent a car; no problem, there are several car rental options available, with which we will gladly help you when you are here. Car rentals start from R120 (12 euro or 17 USD per day) for a basic older car, but there are lots of options, just ask us and we can help you out.

Travelling in South Africa
Most volunteers come to South Africa to see as much of the country as possible. You can do that in a variety of ways before, during or after your stay with us. We will show you the surrounding areas such as Addo Elephant Park, the Baviaanskloof, Tsitsikamma National Park and other areas during our weekend outings, but if you want to visit Cape Town or see more of the country, we gladly assist to make this happen.

We have secured some great discounts for our volunteers, offering some exciting ways of travelling through South Africa and neighbouring countries.

This popular backpacker’s bus drives daily routes between the best backpackers and places of interest, making it very easy to travel by yourself or with friends. This Hop-On-Hop-Off bus starts in Cape Town or Johannesburg and offers flexible tickets to fit to your traveling needs. If you would like us to book any tickets for you, we offer a 5% discount.

Overland ToursNomad Overland Tours 
For the more adventurous; overlanding is a great way to see lots of highlights in a short period of time, without needing your own 4x4 vehicle or camping gear.

Reputable overland company Nomad offers a variety of tours throughout South Africa but also Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and much more. There are quite affordable camping tours that are very popular with younger international travellers, while their accommodated tours tend to be smaller groups with an older crowd. The volunteer coordinator has secured a 10% discount on all their tours, so have a look at their website and let us know if we can book anything for you, to offer you the discount.

If you have any other travel related questions, please let us know, as we have explored South Africa extensively and love to share our experiences and travel tips.

Staying in touch
As we offer free WIFI, you will be able to Skype, use Facebook or other forms of social media to stay in touch with the family and friends back home.

To be connected in South Africa, we will give you a free local SIM card to use locally and to phone us if you need us. Please make sure your Smartphone is SIM lock free to be able to use this card.

The weather in this part of Africa can be diverse and summers can get really warm, while winters can get quite cold. Port Elizabeth has a very moderate climate though due to the ocean currents and winds, cooling things down on those hot summer days.

Not what everybody expects of Africa but bring a jacket and warm sweater to be prepared for some of those colder days, if you come in our winter months (June, July, and August).

Summer (Dec, Jan and Feb) 16 – 40 ˚ Celsius
Autumn (Mar, April and May) 10 - 32 ˚ Celsius
Winter (June, July and Aug) 8 - 25 ˚ Celsius
Spring (Sep, Oct and Nov) 10 - 32 ˚ Celsius

Bring clothing for a variety of weather conditions. Even though it is Africa, it is not always hot and especially in winter the nights can be cold. So bring a wind jacket and some long trouser, a hat is always handy on sunny days and good shoes for weekend outings and running around with the children.

Extra money
Your fees will cover most of your expenses but if you like to enjoy a beer or soda, want to buy some souvenirs or fancy a nice dinner eating out, we advise you to bring some extra money.

Assist with caring for injured penguinsAccidents can happen to anyone. Make sure to get a comprehensive travel and medical insurance. Next to your international travel insurance, the volunteer cooridnator advises you to get the VOLUNTEER CARD; this will not only cover your volunteering activities but will also give you an incredible amount of discount options throughout the world! USA and Canada nationals can order the card online, other internationals can email us for the order form:

Your passport must have enough pages for any visa. Your passport should have 2 pages free for every country to be visited. Please ensure that you take your own passport out from your hotel / backpackers safe the night before departure. It is absolutely necessary, that you make a copy of your passport and give it to your supervisors; we strongly recommend that you also leave a copy at home or with some friends. Please note that South Africa insists on people having 2-free pages available when you enter. Keep this in mind if you are going to fly home from South Africa after completing a tour to multiple African countries. Please ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months after your date of departure from Africa. You are personally responsible for ensuring that passports, visas, vaccination certificates and other travel documents are in order and for all costs relating thereto.

As visa requirements vary considerably, please contact the various embassies or a visa service agent to recheck, visa requirements at least 4 weeks prior to departing. Please note that visas are the responsibility of the volunteer, and that the coordinator will not be held responsible for clients being denied entry, should they not be in the possession of the relevant visas. All travellers must be in possession of a valid onward/return air ticket.

Health & Safety

Immunization, Vaccination & Health Tips
Port Elizabeth is a malaria free area; in fact we have very little mosquitoes at all. It is best to contact your local physician before you leave your country to check what inoculations they advise you to have. Rabies is NOT common here and no real risk, so no need for that.

However, while there are risks anywhere you travel, South Africa has a relatively salubrious climate and the levels of hygiene, health care, and water treatment make it a pretty safe destination. Our policy is that we do not allow volunteers to be exposed to any serious health risks. Guarantees are impossible to give but we do believe that we can offer healthy working environments for volunteers, staying within reasonability of risks involved of course.

Education and awareness are vital in preventing HIV spread and obviously avoidance of activities and behaviours that can transmit HIV.

HIV can be transmitted by unprotected sexual intercourse; Mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, at the time of birth and through breastfeeding; intravenous injection of infected blood. HIV cannot be transmitted by salvia, sweat, urine or faeces. It cannot be transmitted by touching, hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing food utensils, towels, bedding, baths, swimming pools, telephones or toilet seats.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem in South Africa. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease, spread through the air when a person with untreated TB coughs or sneezes. But prolonged exposure to a person with untreated TB is usually necessary for infection to occur. With the right treatment TB can be cured. Once on treatment, a person is no longer able to spread TB to their family or community.

Safety in South Africa
Safety is an issue that is paramount in the minds of volunteers visiting South Africa. Safety is important to us and by following just a few guidelines your safety in South Africa can be increased incredibly. Although South Africa is in many aspects a developed country, much of its population, particularly in rural areas, lives in great poverty.

When you stay in South Africa, the odds are that you will have a safe and incident-free volunteering period. However, crime and violence, as well as unexpected difficulties, can happen.

Hoping to help you avoid serious difficulties during your visit to South Africa, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Safety on the Street: use the same common sense travelling in South Africa that you would at home.
  • Don’t walk around with all your valuables visible.
  • Use taxis at night and let somebody always know where you are going.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. When possible, ask directions from individuals in authority.

The volunteer coordinator looks after your safety in multiple ways during your stay:

  • We offer safe and well equipped accommodation. The volunteer house has perimeter walls, burglar bars and a dog on the premises.
  • Our coordinators are prepared for your stay, and have been instructed to keep you as safe as possible.
  • Our Code of Conduct, which will be spoken about and signed has clear ‘do’s and don’ts’ which we urge volunteers to stick to.
  • All activities and visits in the townships are supervised by our coordinators, who will walk with our volunteers and make sure they are safe.


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