Volunteer Stories

Jess Grimbley, ShoreFin Volunteer 2016, England

After reading positive comments, I decided to apply for a volunteer position at CBMWC to gain more experience in the field of conservation. After initially applying to be a Living Seas volunteer, I was encouraged to apply for the ShoreFin position as I was interested in photography. After becoming extremely invested in the project I continue to volunteer with CBMWC to aid the continuation of the project, and help photograph and identify dolphins throughout the winter.

I would absolutely recommend applying for the ShoreFin position. Nothing compares to the satisfaction attained from carrying out this research project which contributes to a long-term examination of individual dolphins in New Quay. It feels like you have a deep connection to the research as you get to know individual dolphins, and can recognise them from sight and their behaviours when they visit New Quay bay.

For example my favourite dolphin Jacky is known for foraging within New Quay harbour itself, and is always seen in close association with her juvenile calf Joey. A particularly exciting time for me was when I recently photographed Jacky with a newborn calf! It will be interesting to see how the social dynamic between Jacky and her older calf Joey change now that she has a new calf, and this is just one of the fascinating aspects of photo-ID work. This work is also very important for tracking individuals and conducting population estimates.

On completion of the project a report is written up, which not only emphasises the importance of this volunteer position, but also gives you great experience in report-writing for a non-profit organisation. During this position you can also gain experience in public engagement, use of social media for conservation, production of educational materials such as newsletters, and ultimately learn a lot about marine wildlife through first-hand experience. Many of these skills are invaluable and are what employers look for in the field of conservation.

Hetty Upton 9th May- 4th July 2016, England

After completing my undergraduate degree in Conservation Biology, I was faced with the realisation of how competitive the conservation career industry really is. Understanding that experience is a key addition to qualifications, I began researching volunteer/intern opportunities and decided to apply for CBMWC after reading many positive comments.
I have taken part in various other voluntary conservation roles, but nothing honestly compares to CBMWC. This volunteer programme has provided me with the most useful experience and skills than the rest put together, as the staff are all really dedicated and enthusiastic about their roles and you can gain as much experience as you like – the more you put in, the more you get back!
The wide range of activities and tasks that you are responsible for as a volunteer allows you to gain so much experience, particularly if you are hoping to pursue a conservation-based career as there are research, data, field work, environmental education and community outreach aspects that you can get involved with. No two days are the same either, which makes a nice variation – some days you could be assisting with rock-pooling sessions with local schools or out surveying dolphins from a boat, whilst other days you could be helping with GIS mapping of data or even being interviewed for the BBC! It’s also a great chance to gain some general customer service and communication skills if you want some more experience in these areas, as these are highly transferable into any role.
I couldn’t believe the wealth of wildlife that was inhabiting a small town in West Wales – it really felt like you could have been in a tropical country with pretty much daily dolphin sightings and so many amazing species of sea birds, jellyfish and other wildlife to study. If I could have stayed longer, then I certainly would have! Since volunteering with CBMWC I have gained employment within the Outreach Team of my old university, which was certainly helped by the development of my communication and public engagement skills whilst based in Wales.

Susan Vester 14th March – 5th September 2016, Germany

Almost six months spent by the Welsh coastline have left a lasting impression on me. After graduating from university I decided to pursue my interest in wildlife conservation and marine biology by volunteering at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. I learnt a lot during my time there, both personally and professionally. Surveying bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise and Atlantic grey seals was an amazing experience. We got the opportunity of doing survey work from New Quay harbour wall, Birds Rock and on the boats with Dolphin Survey Boat Trips. Beside the rich marine megafauna found in Cardigan Bay, I learnt much about the interesting birdlife as well. Not only was the field work great fun, but the opportunity of interacting with the public was a very beneficial experience. One part of the volunteer work I personally found very important was doing regular beach cleans to raise awareness of marine litter, as this is one of the biggest issues of today.

New Quay is an amazing place to spend time, with a beautiful coastline and stunning wildlife just on the doorstep. While bank holiday weekends and the holiday months are very busy, it is a very peaceful place out of season. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the CBMWC, the whole team was brilliant and if anything I wish I could have stayed longer. I would not want to miss any of the experience I gained or the memories I made and cannot wait to get back for some dolphin spotting again.

Siobhan Edney 14th March – 8th May 2016, England

I had an amazing time volunteering at Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre for 8 weeks from March to May 2016. I was very nervous before I came to volunteer, but there was no need for me to worry as all the staff and other volunteers were really friendly and made me feel at home. Even though it was hard work I loved helping out and really enjoyed being on the wall on sunny days during land watches and on the all-day boat surveys. You can often spot dolphins from the harbour wall and it was interesting to record and observe their behaviour. We regularly had sightings of: bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic grey seals, harbour porpoises, gannets and lots of other birdlife from the wall.  I also had a great time on the boat surveys and enjoyed watching the dolphins especially when they would bow ride the boat. On an all-day boat survey, we went on we could even spot the dolphins bow riding the boat underwater before they surfaced. The water was so clear we could have been in far more tropical waters and shows you don’t need to travel far as there is also amazing local wildlife here in Wales!

The volunteers would often have film nights and venture out to the pub for quizzes which was fun.  New Quay is a really lovely laidback place to live for a few months and the surrounding areas are also great to explore. I went to University in Aberystwyth so knew a little about the surrounding area but had never ventured as far as New Quay. There is also an hourly bus service that runs daily which takes you too places such as Aberystwyth and Aberaeron which you can easily explore on your days off.


Rachel Buckley Education Volunteer 8th July-1st November 2015, England

I recently completed a master’s degree in Wild Animal Biology and having previously enjoyed working with children as a teaching assistant I was keen pursue a career in environmental education. I joined the CBMWC in July as an Education and Awareness Volunteer hoping to gain essential practical experience and it was a very good decision, becoming a valuable and enjoyable few months.

Having moved from London to New Quay there was a definite change in lifestyle but when walking to the office on a beautiful morning looking out across Cardigan Bay, I quickly began to love this small town. It was extremely easy to settle in, with everyone at the centre being very welcoming and friendly so I soon felt as if I had always been a part of the team. It was great to work in an environment in which the volunteer’s work was greatly appreciated, as stated in every team meeting, creating a positive and enthusiastic atmosphere (often helped by Radio Ceredigion being played in the office!).

I worked closely with the Living Seas Awareness Officer, Natalie, developing and running a range of educational activities including “Seashore Safari” rock pool sessions and “Dolphin Detective” sessions. Every day was varied and I was lucky to gain valuable experience leading activities over the summer holidays and developing my marine wildlife knowledge. I also ran an education stall, interacting with the public and raising awareness of the centre’s work and the local wildlife. It is hard to pick only one memorable moment but there was one day when I spoke to a young boy, under 5 years old with his parents on the education stall, showing him some marine mammal skulls and crab shells, which he seemed really intrigued by. Later that day they approached me again because the boy wanted to show me a similar crab shell he found on the beach and gave it to me to keep. To see his enthusiasm for wildlife at such a young age was really rewarding and definitely made my day!

After the summer holidays,  I started to get involved with the other work at the centre, carrying out land and boat surveys, inputting and checking data and helping to run the visitor centre. This was great for getting marine research and monitoring experience, adding more skills to my CV! When watching dolphins leaping from the harbour wall, spotting harbour porpoises or watching seal pups from a boat, it was a privilege to be able to call it work.

I would definitely recommend this opportunity to anyone wanting to gain practical experience in environmental education and working for a marine wildlife charity. I am grateful to Natalie, Laura, Sarah, Steve and all the volunteers there this year that have helped create a very memorable experience for me, which has been significant in developing many skills relevant for a career in the conservation sector. I will miss New Quay (and the local pub quiz!) and being reluctant to leave I have already planned to come back for the Christmas meal

Rhi Nichol 23rd March – 28th August 2015, England

I had an amazing time at CBMWC over the summer.  I came to volunteer for one month but wound up staying almost six months! Honestly if not for heading off to university I would have tried to stay longer.

The work was tough, but extremely rewarding as you start to learn the dolphins’ fin markings and know their names and there is always plenty to do, from helping out in the visitor centre, to racing to catch up on boat data input, to doing your own personal project for your studies or just because you want to! I was able to use my skills in video making to produce short films about what we got up to during my stay (stay tuned!).

It can get pretty grim out there on the harbor wall but the fantastic people you get to live and work with will have a cup of tea brewing for you when you return! The volunteers are people you will hold on to as friends- I’ve been gone for only a couple of months and I’ve met up with two people and have plans to see at least four others over Christmas.

For anyone with a passion for marine biology and a will to work hard and meet great people I can’t recommend CBMWC highly enough. Even the location is wonderful (have fun at the watersports centre and eat far too much fish, chips and luxury ice cream while you’re there) New Quay is really beautiful and you’ll get views of wildlife you’d never expect to see.

Matt Allen 23rd March – 5th July 2015, Republic of Ireland

For my third year of college I was required to go on a work placement. Many of my class headed off to exotic places such as New Zealand and Greece but I had my heart set on a little village in Wales called New Quay.  Having done some research on Cardigan Bay beforehand I knew that it was an incredible diverse and rich location for marine life but after my time there I am truly astounded by the sheer quantity of marine life.

Having seen my first dolphin of the season on day one, Daily the common dolphin, my hopes were soaring for my five planned months with CBMWC. My hopes were not misled as with each passing week the sightings became more frequent and more breath-taking. One of my fondest memories during my time in New Quay was a four hour boat in which there was a pod of ten bottlenose dolphins swimming all around the Anna Lloyd with me sat on the roof whilst Sarah and Steve ran around taking photos of them.

All of the staff at CBMWC and the volunteers were absolutely incredible and became like family during my time there, even if I was the only guy, having all those sisters was brilliant. I miss it already and would love to go back and do another few months of volunteering and hopefully get involved in the photo I.D. taking place. Arriving back in college in September and catching up with all my class mates they were all incredibly jealous of my five months sat on the harbour wall of New Quay watching dolphins for hours on end. Even if they had travelled across the world and I had only hopped across the Irish Sea. The people of New Quay were amazing and I’ll never forget all the volunteers singing our hearts out to The Smiths, There is a Light that Never Goes Out with Sumo at the pub quiz every Thursday night. It is a must!

James Clarke 6th July – 1st November 2015, Northern Ireland

From my experience, volunteering with CBMWC is the best possible way to spend a summer (and the beginning of autumn).

I arrived into the CBMWC family from Northern Ireland with a little bit of knowledge of the area and the centre from childhood holidays, but overall didn’t know what to expect. I needn’t have worried, I was welcomed into the crew from the very first day. You can’t beat days sitting on the harbour wall in New Quay in the blazing sunshine, (it’s true, believe me), and watching a large group of dolphins leaping around you. Then there were days spent on boat trips and watching the dolphins, porpoises and seals, as well as all of the rest of the wildlife, research just doesn’t get much better than this!

Then after a hard day’s work I got to spend the evening with my new mates all of whom shared the same passion as me. I look back fondly on the movie nights we had in the volunteer houses as well as the nights we put our fingers on the beating pulse of New Quay and met the locals, immersing ourselves in the community. On days off I was never a fan of relaxation and opted mostly to explore the beautiful and buzzing Welsh coastline and countryside, my motto was: if I knew where I was, I wasn’t having a successful day off. From the lush valleys to the fresh, rolling rivers to the vibrant coastline, I got lost around them all!

So there you go; dolphins, socialising and an obvious lack of any sense of direction, my memories of my time in New Quay. The only regret I had from my time with CBMWC was that I didn’t stay for longer. Thanks CBMWC, thanks New Quay and thank you guys, it was a pleasure.

Milly Metcalfe ShoreFin Volunteer 7th April-3rd November 2014, UK

My time at Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre was an experience I couldn’t appreciate more. The work, the people and the place were all incredible and I’ve gained so much from my time there.

I was working on CBMWC’s first land-based photo-ID project, the ShoreFin project, for the entire season. This was an incredible experience and I couldn’t thank the Centre enough for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic project.

However the work was only half the experience, New Quay itself is beautiful, you don’t mind working early as it means seeing the sunrises across the bay and you don’t mind working late in the office to hear only the sea from your desk. The coastline is astonishing and you never tire of seeing it from the boat and it’s just as fantastic from the coastal path. The CBMWC team – Laura, Sarah and Steve were such great people to work for and provided me with endless entertainment and laughs. They were so friendly and welcoming and it was such a great experience to be working with three individuals so passionate about marine conservation. The fellow volunteers I met, both local and seasonal, were a big part of my experience and with the many faces I met over my 7 months in New Quay, they provided me with so many memories and made the little town of New Quay a lively and a fun place to be. The locals of New Quay were so welcoming and such a great bunch of people to get to know. To live and work with them was really special and I’m so grateful for them for making me feel so at home in New Quay!

As for wildlife in New Quay, you will never leave disappointed. On both land and sea I saw wild animals in abundance. In my time in Wales I saw bottlenose dolphins, grey seals, harbour porpoises, sunfish, spider crabs, badgers, foxes and deer to name a few. With bottlenose dolphins as the focus of the project I was expecting to see a few but I was not prepared for how many I actually saw on a daily basis. I would be photographing dolphins round the harbour wall and in the bay throughout the majority of the day over the summer months and to witness amazing behaviours at such close encounters was incredible. I was very lucky to stay all season as a lovely part of the project was getting to a point where I would instantly recognise individual dolphins and you would almost ‘get to know’ them watching them for days on end through the summer.

I can’t cover how great my time with CBMWC was, as a graduated marine biologist this was a perfect first volunteering experience for me to gain new knowledge and put to test the skills learnt at university and to work with others passionate about marine conservation. But the benefits are so much more!

Thank you CBMWC it was a privilege to be a part of your work!

Alex Bolland 31st March-2nd November 2014, UK

Volunteering with the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre is an excellent way to gain practical experience that you simply don’t get at University and to improve your C.V. You will be responsible for data collection in the field, data handling, working with the public to increase awareness of environmental issues both local and on a wider scale and educating both children and adults. There are also additional opportunities such as managing the aquarium and other computer based projects. During my stay I managed the aquarium and began the development of a new Atlantic Grey Seal photo-identification project to be pursued by the centre.

Cardigan Bay itself is a beautiful part of the world. You never get tired of looking at the coastline when you are out on the boats and there are plenty of places to walk and get out especially if you are usually stuck in a city like me. New Quay is great as well; it’s a small place most of the year until the tourists turn up and then things get a bit louder. I would recommend going any time, busy or not and if you are there during the summer holidays then the New Quay Music Festival is worth going to!

The CBMWC team are great. Thank you Laura, Sarah and Steve for putting up with me all summer. Thanks as well to all the local volunteers, I am sure I will visit again sometime soon.

I would recommend volunteering at the CBMWC to anyone who is looking for additional experience. The positions available are ideal for anyone currently doing a degree or just having finished it.

Abbie Mabey 31st March–7th September 2014, UK

Volunteering at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre was a special experience that I will remember forever. The tasks were varied and interesting, allowing us to get involved in all aspects of the centre, from helping in the visitor centre (taking boat bookings and talking to the public), to litter picks, updating social media, running educational activities, and doing land and boat surveys. These were particularly fun, even in the rain! New Quay itself is a lovely little place; with friendly locals and gorgeous scenery (the coastal path is especially beautiful).

And of course there were the dolphins. I gained a real understanding of how clever and complex these animals are, and I had some amazing encounters with them, especially on the all-day boat trips. The mother and calf pairs were extremely cute.  There is plenty of other wildlife too, kestrels, razorbills and lots of seals. My favourite memory was during a land watch, when we saw a harbour porpoise almost strand itself on one of the beaches, which the volunteers then had to save!

The other volunteers were some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, and I have made some amazing friends. We filled the evenings with pub quizzes, beach barbeques and rock pooling, it was great fun. I was only supposed to volunteer for two months at the start of the season, but I loved it so much I went back for the summer as well.

It was my first time away from home, but everyone was really supportive and welcoming, making it easy to settle in. It definitely prepared me for university life. I’ve learned so much from the staff and all the volunteers and it’s inspired me to dedicate my career to conservation. I’m so grateful to the wonderful staff that allowed me to do it, I would recommend it to anyone!