Monday, July 31, 2006

First Blue Ventures TEK report online

Research undertaken by Blue Ventures' social scientist, Josephine Langley, between 2004 and 2005 used guidelines developed for coral reef managers to document the knowledge of the local Vezo of Andavadoaka. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and the process of documenting TEK provide local communities with information on local resources and resource users. A new report available online presents the first compilation of the various forms of TEK documented by Blue Ventures, and reviews available information relating to TEK of the Vezo.

Many fisheries and marine conservation management projects throughout the world have failed as a result of a lack of acceptance of management interventions by local communities. Community engagement, participatory research and promoting the use of local knowledge have repeatedly emerged as steps necessary to address the problem of managing the development of people and their economies while simultaneously protecting the environment.

To make coral reef protection effective in an underdeveloped community such as Andavadoaka it is necessary to understand the relationships between marine resources and their users. Identifying ways to avoid the potentially conflicting needs of economic development and conservation is essential.

The report can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The World Cup might have ended...

Football match this afternoon against the village a splendid victory for the men's team: 1-0! Women's team drew 0-0.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Whales - watching platform

And now here's a blog update from Lea:

Once more I wake to a fantastic sunrise with the early morning rays shimmering off the tropical lagoon that lies approximately 20 metres from my hut. However, on this particular morning I won't have time to sit back in admiration for I have bigger fish to fry. For the past month I have been attempting to construct a whale watching platform on a small island in the lagoon that will be used to spot the humpback whale populations that grace this coastline between July and September. One would think that a small platform 5 metres high would be a simple task to achieve, and if we were back in the UK this would indeed be the case. However, here in Madagascar we work to a very different time span and with all manner of complications which, for my own sanity and for your amusement, I will regale you with now.

First up, we need four large corner pillars, not an easy thing to find, especially when working for a conservation organisation where one feels slightly guilty about using local materials from our mangrove forests. We hear a rumour that there are some telegraph poles just 'lying around' in Morombe, the nearest large town, so we dispatch Bic, our local superman, to locate these precious items and bring them home. After some furtive sneaking around Morombe he finds some suitable poles (“only a little woodworm”) and attempts to send them back to camp on 2 tiny pirogues (small, hollowed-out canoes used by the local Vezo fishermen), which will not be rivalling cargo ships for their weight-bearing abilities. Unfortunately, the Vezo fishermen take one look at our posts, jump into their boats and sail off into the sunset shaking their heads furiously and lamenting upon the crazy veza (foreigners). Plan B: we find a 4x4 camion, which takes 4 days to arrive on camp, and upon unloading the first pole is unceremoniously dumped to the ground by the unloading crew (including myself) where it splits in half. Excellent. We now think about changing the platform plans to a tripod-style building but realise that health and safety regulations just will not allow it, so opt to get some metal braces to seal the broken shaft of the problem pole. The local blacksmith can do this, but unfortunately this coincides with the annual Madagascan holiday of Independence which goes on for about a week, so approximately a month on we have our 4 main posts.

The rest of the materials should be slightly easier to find, I think, but it then takes 5 days for our boat driver to attain this on his pirogue as the wind dies and he is stranded literally 10 miles from camp. Anyway, we finally have all the materials, all we need to do is go to the local Catholic mission to cut some of our wood into planks and we are done. Unfortunately the father is not there for 4 days and on his return he informs us that he will not allow us to use his saw but he may change his mind later on. This little fit of pique comes to an end 3 days later and we lug our wood through the village to be altered, then back again to camp. We are drawing ever nearer to our goal but the finishing line still alludes us. We need to get the four posts over to Nosy Hao (aforementioned small island) and it takes another 3 days to find two sufficiently insane pirogue drivers to do this. They then discard our precious cargo on the wrong side of the island so the staff and volunteers have to go over and manhandle them across to the other side.

The wood is in place, we just need someone to turn it into a whale watching platform. The carpenter we had lined up apparently left Andavadok the previous week for pastures new (not exactly a common occurrence here) so we find a suitable replacement in the local bar. Stupidly, we think the price we agreed whilst he was full of bonhomie would stand, but as we discover the following day this is not the case, so after another full hour of negotiation we settle for good, with the promise that in one week we will indeed have our platform. As I sit here typing I am filled with cautious optimism that my project will finally get underway sometime between now and Christmas, just in time to see the last humpback straggler pass through. But like I said, we are on Madagascan time - soooo, watch this space!

Lea Fennelly - Field Scientist

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

BBC Radio 4 Excess Baggage

On 15th July 2006, Richard Nimmo, our Managing Director, appeared on BBC Radio 4's travel programme, Excess Baggage. Listen to it via the BBC website until 22nd July or get it via our website

Monday, July 17, 2006

Some Sciency Stuff

It's been an interesting weekend in Andavadoaka on the science front, with visiting teams here from the IHSM (the 'Institute Halieutique et des Sciences Marines' - the national marine research institute) and from our project partners the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The IHSM team we here to work with us on a pilot algae farming project, and we spent a happy few hours on Saturday standing in the sea near Ampasilava tying small, carefully weighed bunches of seaweed to long nylon cords. We'll be going back there in a fortnight at the next low tide to see how much of the installation has survived being beaten by the waves and whether the algae has done any appreciable growing during our absence. WCS meanwhile are here to attend a meeting on the marine protected area we're working on together - the aim being to bring all the different villages together and to agree on map of different sites and reserves that will be included in the management plan. Before that meeting however we'll be off with WCS doing some exporatory diving on reef sites that have been suggested as potential no-take-zones. Some of them we know and have dived before, but others are totally unknown to us and are probably places that no one has ever dived before, at least not with a scuba tank.

Expect further updates over the coming weeks on new sites explored. In the meantime here's a report from one of our field scientists Ashley Sprague on another acquaculture project that we're planning with the IHSM - this time on sea cucumbers:

During our last interphase in Tulear the Blue Ventures science team met with staff from Copefrito and a leading Belgian researcher to discuss the possibility of bringing sea cucumber aquaculture to Andavadoaka. Research has been underway for some time at the IHSM on sea cucumber reproduction and growth. Recently IHSM conducted a trial experiment using juvenile cucumbers reared in a lab and transferred
them to the sea for 9 months to mature into adults. The results from the trial period look very promising, with the only major problem encountered being that several adult sea cucumbers were stolen from their underwater growth chambers by local fishermen before the 9 month growth period was over. Sea cucumbers have a relatively high
market value, so unfortunately the temptation was too much for some and in the end very few adult cucumbers were harvested. Therefore IHSM - with the help of Blue Ventures - would like to conduct another trial growth study in Andavadoaka. An area of Mangrove Bay, including all of the mangrove forest and a neighboring seagrass bed, has been proposed as a potential site in the Marine Protected Area (MPA) that
is being established as a joint project between fishermen from Andavadoaka and surrounding villages, IHSM, WCS, BV, IRD and others and we're hoping that this bay will prove to be a suitable environment for sea cucumber aquaculture. The fact that it is to be include in the marine protected area should also mean that it will be
relatively easy to guard, as fishing activity in the area will in any case be regulated and enforced as a result of the MPA plans. In the longer term it is possible that sea cucumber farming could provide a source of alternate income for the people of Andavadoaka, as well as relieve some of the fishing pressure on octopus and reef fishes. If all goes well, we may be starting a trial in-water growth period in
six months from now, when a new batch of juveniles are ready.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What the Volunteers Have to Say:

Hello again from sunny Andavadoaka! Today we have a blog update for
you from Katia Cherel, who worked as an intern in the Blue Ventures
office in London before coming out to join us on site. Here it is:

Expedition 23 is now well on its way with the second week nearly
over, 6 new open water divers, and a few more soon-to-be advanced.
Everyone is getting stuck into camp routine happily and, after the
initial awe, getting used to living and working in such an amazing
place. Lectures on the marine environment, point-outs underwater, and
every spare moment spent learning benthic and fish, is getting
everyone prepared for the computer and in-water point out tests and
we hope to get started on the PIT and fish belts as soon as possible.
Its not all hard work though: a football match with the local
village revealed some hidden talents (boys: 2,2, girls 2,1, looking
forward to the rematch!). A beach clean-up on the 6th of July (to
celebrate international environment day - ahem, one month late)
provided lots of entertainment, gathering all the children from the
village together with a promise of notebooks and pens for the team
who collected the most rubbish (sometimes censorship of items was
necessary to prevent wood being considered as scrap) and a moment of
repose as we were rewarded around the burning rubbish with a
beautiful song on marine life protection the children had learnt in
their weekly environmental club. On the marine life sighting front
three whales were spotted swimming around the lagoon and were
followed by pirogue by Ben and Bic on the 7th July. We hope there
will be more of those to report soon. In the meantime I leave you
with an account of Ben's very exceptional 19th birthday - from the
horse's mouth...

From a personal point of view, the 9th of july was a day that won't
be forgotten in a hurry, mainly because it was a certain special
someones birthday! The presents came thick and fast, starting early
on with a nice morning swim at 6.45, courtesy of Micah, Gary and Lea
very kindly pouncing on me, taping me up and throwing me in (watch
closely on 'you've been framed' and im sure youll see me somewhere in
there). After a dive to near shore Andavadoaka to point out some fish
and benthic, Bic took me out on our new pirogue (which we call Yogi
the Pirrogui!) to go pirogue surfing on the breakers a few hundred
meters out. Hard work but defiantly worth it, especially for the
amazed looks from the locals! After lunch and a bit of down time it
was time for party night and the best part of all - dressing-up. A
few days before I had decided on 'superheros' as a theme and no-one
disappointed. Whether it was Bolo baby, Captain Maintainance, Stevie
Wonder the sea cucumber (?!?!?), Tarzan or Captain Sea Grass, I
thought we all looked fantastic (or is that ridiculous?) for dinner,
much to the kitchen staff's delight! The fun didn't stop
there...there was even some cake with toffee made by Jo our camp
doctor (I nearly passed out from excitement)!! I don't think I have
ever been so excited to see condensed milk in a new form!!

I have to admit, it was most probably the strangest birthday I have
ever had, or ever will have for that matter. I mean, making a speech
in front of various people dressed up and looking utterly hysterical
whilst eating zebu by candle light in a place that is the most remote
I will possibly ever be in my life! Beat that! It also made me really
appreciative of how people making that bit of effort can make such a
huge difference. Even though I've only known some of the people for a
week or two, they all made me feel as if I were with my friends from

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Radio 4 Brings You Richard Nimmo....

For all those interested in Madagascar and Blue Ventures we have some essential listening for you. At 10am on Saturday 15th July our very own Richard Nimmo will be appearing on Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4. If you are unfortunate enough to miss out on this acoustic treat you will be able to listen again, or on loop, all week at
We hope you enjoy the show.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Notes from a small hammock

It's been a while since the last blog update and lots has happened in the meantime. An expedition has ended, a new one has started, staff have come and gone. I'll try and cover everything that's happened here on site, plus report back on events in Toliara and Tana.

I'm writing this to you from my hammock - the generator here at Coco Beach gave up the ghost the other day and I've resorted to pen and paper. Hotel staff have been tinkering with it, and beating it encouragingly with hammers, but so far no permanent solution has been found. It's roared into life a couple of times, but after half an hour or so the string, elastic bands or trousers that it's been fixed with give way and we're back to candlelit suppers and head torches again. If you're reading this, however, then that means all is well and we have power for computers and modem again. One day we're hoping to get green energy installed on camp in the form of wind and solar power - indeed, one of the reasons the volunteers here collect weather readings every day is to prove the viability of such an option and provide data for a funding application. Until then, however, we'll have to put up with the occasional blackout.

So what's been happening here? Well as I said in the last blog update, Minna and Mark have now left us, and new staff have arrived in the form of Jan and Abby, who arrived with me and our seagrass researcher Micah from Toliara on a yacht (a lucky find by Jan, who overheard a Frenchman in a bar in Toliara saying that he'd just arrived from South Africa and was looking for passengers to share the voyage north to Morondava). So instead of grinding our way here in a bumpy taxi-brousse or lying around on a boutre for half a week we arrived in some style, on a forty-two foot cruiser. Nearly ran it aground on the reefs next to Andavadoaka rock, but never mind. Abby has taken over from Mark as Diving Manager, and has already shepherded new volunteers through an open water course and half of the advanced course. Jan meanwhile will be taking over from me as Expedition Manager, as I move into a slightly different role as project co-ordinator.

It was with this new job in mind that I left site at the end of last expedition and flew to Antananarivo (or 'Tana', the capital), both to meet with our existing project partners such as WCS and also to attend a high profile international conference organised by Conservation International (CI). The event in question was a prestigious and lavishly organised gathering of people from CI and elsewhere, and was titled "Global Symposium 2006 - Defying Nature's End: The African Context. Running over five days, from 20-24 June, it brought hundreds of people from the world of conservation, government and industry together to talk about environmental and poverty issues in Africa. Although primarily a CI event, and a forum for CI staff from all over the world, the guest list was diverse, and included people working in conservation all over the African and Indian Ocean region. Madagascar's President, Prime Minister and other Ministers were there, as were members of NGOs from all over Madagascar, and discussions covered everything from terrestrial and marine protected areas to the bush meat trade and HIV prevention.

The symposium was also of course a fantastic opportunity to network, and that's one of the reasons I was there, armed with a set of pretty BV business cards. BV is a small organisation, and we don't often have the resources to send people off site in Andavadoaka, so this was a chance for us to see what else is happening, to tell people about BV's work here, and to make contact with other research and conservation organisations in the region. I'm still ploughing through all the information I gathered and notes I made during the trip, but I can already see several interesting new possibilities for collaboration with other organisations, notably on bird-related research in the spiny forest and along the seashore, and on the work we're doing here establishing a marine protected area (MPA). And of course (most importantly) I was able to go to the supermarket in Tana and stock up on things that we can't get in Toliara, including marshmallows to toast over the campfire, and the priceless treasure that is peanut butter...

While I was in Tana the last expedition team were planning their departure, and getting in a few last days of exploratory diving. Most significant was the exploratory dive on the new site south of Recruitment that the village of Ampasilava had suggested as a no-take-zone to be included in the MPA. This has been named Javic - a mixture of the names of the three people who first went and scouted out the site (Jade, Gavin and Bic) - and promises to become a fascinating new patch reef survey site. So far we've done some perimeter mapping of the reef (as far as we know it's never been dived by humans before) and have done some ad-hoc fish belts. What needs to happen now is a more detailed scientific baseline assessment, both to evaluate the site's suitability for inclusion in the MPA and to provide data against which to monitor change over time.

This will be something for the current expedition team to work on. Expedition 22 left site at the end of June with Lea and Ashley, who were heading back to Toliara for meetings with sea cucumber people (more on this in the next blog), and the new team has now been here on site since the start of July. It's a big crowd - we have a full team of volunteers, plus Katia from the BV office in London and three independent researchers: Micah (aka Captain Sea grass), Claire (studying mangroves) and Elanor (studying chameleons, if and when she can find any; at present they're proving elusive and/or spectacularly well camouflaged). We also have a new field scientist with us: Stephanie Pedron, who joins us from the University of Marseille. She is a welcome addition to our research operation and to the team on site, and we wish her well during her time here (and commiserations on the result of the match we watched recently at the Catholic Mission in the village). We also wish her well in trying to improve the quality of French on site - maybe we can even have some blog entries for our French audience in future!

What other news? Volunteers have been busy with dive training and with science lectures. Some have already passed their benthic test, some are still struggling to identify a sponge from a soft coral. Most have been out in the spiny forest mapping baobab trees for our geographical information system (GIS), some have been down in the village teaching English, and all have sampled the delights of an epi-bar (although not necessarily the toakagasy that Gavin took such a liking to on the last expedition). One has even been out paddling after humpback whales, which have started cruising through the lagoon and will become more numerous as the weeks go on. One of our urgent tasks at the moment is to get the telegraph poles we sourced in Morombe across to Nosy Hao, and turn them into a five-metre whale watching platform for volunteers armed with binoculars. We might also have to get the boats out to go chasing after the humpbacks further on shore - expect further whale-based updates here in due course.

OK that's all from me (Alex). But now here's a blog contribution from Jo Osmont, our doctor on site:

Hello from Andavadoaka. Things are going very well here on site with lots of new science being done. Several new sites have been identified thanks to the local fishermen. One of these, Javic, we are now doing fish surveys on.

I've been out here for two months now working as the expedition medic and so far everything is going really well. The volunteers that come here are a pretty healthy bunch, the only problems seem to be related to all the diving we do - ear infections and colds. This means I have plenty of time free to participate in all the science - both diving and shore based. This expedition I have taken responsibility for the seashell surveys. This is part of the research we are doing in partnership with ARVAM (part of IRD, an international research organisation). The variety and quantity of seashells is an indicator of sea health. Apparently sea shells hold quite an appeal for doctors as some of the previous medics have been involved in this too. [Editor's note: this means you Simon and Lucy - aka Doctors Shell.]

We have also had several independent researchers join us for this expedition so the mangroves, sea grass beds and chameleons are all being thoroughly surveyed [Editor's note: for 'chameleons' read 'chameleon']. This part of Madagascar is so remote that these areas have never been studied before!

Work on our whale watching platform continues apace. As we sighted some whales just off Andavadoaka today we are really keen to get this up and running. We'll update you as and when we have more news.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

New UK Expedition around the stunning Argyll Islands, West Scotland

During 2006, we are delighted to be able to offer a programme of survey expeditions to the West coast of Scotland, in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society, The Sealgair Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage.

The expeditions will aim to explore previously undived areas of the stunningly beautiful Hebridean Islands, mapping areas of the region's marine environment as part of the national Seasearch monitoring programme. This trip is truly a first-of-its-kind experience:

  • Expeditions will sail around the most beautiful coastline on earth
  • Escape the crowds - wilderness diving at its very best
  • Regarded as a mecca for sports diving enthusiasts
  • Impressive range of habitats and species - porpoise, minke whales, other cetaceans and basking sharks common
  • Luxury 46ft Oyster yacht as base
  • Unspoilt natural reefs, diving in previously unrecorded sites
  • Volunteers will be directly involved in collecting scientific data for conservation planning and management here in the UK
  • The results will be presented, by expedition participants themselves, directly to local communities during each expedition
  • All expeditions are entirely non-profit
These trips are so unique that they're being subsidised by Scottish National Heritage (and others) to help keep prices down and give more people the chance to participate.

Find out more and book online at:

Or email Al Harris for more info.