Friday, October 27, 2006

New hybrid species discovered by BV

The spiny forest contains more than just the amazing baobab trees, it was discovered yesterday. The keen-eyed BV Field Scientist, James Von Squirrelburg, came across this amazing specimen whilst out wandering in the forest. Dissenters were quick to write the animal off as some type of squirrel; however, squirrels are not native to Madagascar. A closer inspection suggests something more akin to a red-ruffed lemur, with exaggerated aposematic (warning) tail circumference, possibly an evolutionary social trait due to the lack of protection afforded by the spiny forest. We will be conducting further research on this exciting new species, and hope to have some more pictures for you soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Fond Farewell

As i sit here writing this blog i have to confess to a (very small and manly) lump in my throat. The cause of this discomfort is really rather simple to diagnose, for after 9 wonderful months here in Andavadoaka my time as field scientist is coming to an end and after falling in love with the place on day one i am really rather sad to leave. Anyway that is enough doom and gloom, i just thought i would put down some of my reflections of this place and some of the experiences i have had for your enjoyment. Its really rather hard to know how to describe this place adequately on paper to be honest, the camp is set overlooking our tropical lagoon with aqua marine waters and fringing reefs that put a spring in your step when you wake up in a morning. Often my first job of the day has been to take the early dive out for science training as the sun is rising, and recently this has coincided with small groups of humpback whales frollicking next to our boat, i don't think it is an experience i will ever be able to match as you watch these magnificent creatures glide past, with the occasional breach or fin slap thrown in for good measure. One of the best things about this place is that you're experiencing these things with like minded friends from all over the world, i have been here for 6 trips now and have met some amazing people, some of which i know i will stay in contact with for a very long time and i think that everyone leaves here feeling the same. The other amazing facet of my time here is the rate of progress and growth of our conservation projects, and the growth of BV as a company. The Marine Protected Areas that we have recently finalised are a consequence of 3 years hard work by previous volunteers and staff, and the development of these areas are an acheivement we can all be extremely proud of. With many areas being completely or temporarily closed to fishing we are busy working on alternative livelihoods for the local fishing community, such as seacucumber aqua culture and algae farming, all of which will continue to be built upon by incoming staff.
In tandem with this we have shark and turtle monitoring schemes, new tourism ventures and a whole range of plans for nature reserves etc that means our efforts here will be more and more evident as time goes by. Finally, it is the people of Andavadoaka that i think will leave the most long lasting impression on this cold hearted scientist. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and Andavadoaka is one of the poorest regions, many of the people here have virtually nothing yet are amongst some of the friendliest, happiest people i have ever met. I've had some amazing times with them, be it a bv vs village football match, pirogue racing, village celebrations or simply a few drinks in the local epi bar, and all of these are etched into my memory forever. This place pulls on my heart strings like no other that i have ever been to and I know, with absolute certainty, that i will be back one day. As i said it is hard to describe Andavadoaka in words alone, but if i was to attempt it brevity is best: beautiful, haunting, vibrant and, for my last 9 months: home.
Lea Fennelly (field scientist)

Monday, October 23, 2006

A spontaneous birdwatching adventure

I was recently swept off on a spontaneous bird watching adventure with members of the Malagasy bird conservation group ASITY. They were showing some of the best bird watching areas in the region to two tour operators for a local eco-tourism organization in Tana. The group was passing through Andavadoaka on their way to Morombe and asked if I would like to join them for two days of birding.

I met the group in Morombe and we drove to our first destination - Satramalandy (four hours drive east of Morombe). We arrived in the evening and headed out on a night walk to look for nocturnal animals. We had a local guide from the village and all the ASITY members had great knowledge of the local wildlife so it was a great experience for me. We saw iguanas, spiders, geckos and near the end of the walk we saw three Microcebus mettermieri – a very rare mouse-sized species of lemur which was only discovered a year ago. My first wild lemur sighting!

We camped out in tents and awoke very early the next morning to look for birds on a beautiful lake beside the village. Within five minutes I spotted 10 species that I had never seen before including jacanas, herons, terns, coots, and a few duck species. We found the Hottentot Teal, but none of the highly endangered Madagascar Teal.

Later in the morning we drove to Lake Ihotry, the fourth largest lake in Madagascar. The drive through the spiny forest was another wonderful opportunity to spot birds. Our guides used a playback tape which called in another three new species for me. Lake Ihotry is huge and we didn’t have much time to explore but it has high potential as an eco-tourism site with several species of waders and shorebirds.

We headed back to Morombe after lunch and again I was lucky to have the experts identify every species along the way. A long section of the route has rice fields on either side of the road where we saw many egrets, storks, and raptors. In total over the two days I saw 21 new species, several snakes and reptiles plus my first lemurs! Incredible!

We spent the night in Morombe before heading back to Andavadoaka the following morning. Once we arrived I was happy to show the group around Coco Beach and our classroom. I also accompanied them to Nosy Ve, where we spotted a few more birds and found several fragments of elephant bird eggshells which they were all extremely impressed with. We then went to Nosy Hao where I showed off our whale platform. They spent the following day looking around the spiny forest and then took the boat to Tampolove to see some more of the region. Everyone was very impressed with Andavadoaka. They couldn’t believe how nice the beaches are, blue the water is and how friendly the locals are.

Despite a few language difficulties, it was a great way to get to know some Madagascar ornithologists. I have all their contact information along with many invites to spend time in the parks where they work. One man, Julien Ramanampamonjy, is the head ornithologist for the zoo in Tana as well as Madagascar’s representative to the African Bird Club, which I've been invited to join.

Ashley (field scientist)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blue Ventures press release picked up globally via Associated Press wires

More than 50 news services globally have run the Blue Ventures press release about coral bleaching in Madagascar following Associated Press' decision to wire the story.

News services publishing details of the report included Fox News, CBS News, The Washington Post, LA Times, Forbes and The New Hope Courier, Oklahoma.

Click here to see search results via Google News UK
Our Press Release

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blue Ventures Press Release on

A recent BV Press Release has caught the eye of the editor over at Wildlife Extra--

"Research has revealed that the coral reefs off Madagascar’s south west coast have suffered massive damage from coral bleaching, including a number of reefs that lost up to 99% of their coral cover.
The research team, led by the conservation organisations Blue Ventures and the Wildlife Conservation Society and funded by Conservation International, also discovered a few hopeful signs. The researchers also found a few small reefs with corals that seemed to be resilient to the rising sea temperatures, so it may ultimately be possible to reseed the damaged reefs. These reefs might provide valuable information about how to save corals from future damage.

Read the article at Wildlife Extra
Download our Press Release

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's springtime in Madagascar...

But before you start picturing new shoots, daffodils and lambs gambolling playfully in fields, I should make clear that I'm sitting here in thirty degree heat and sweating as I type. There are some baby goats around, but the only gambolling they do is in the cool of the early morning, on my balcony (thanks guys - those little hooves at 5 am are a real treat). Spring here is pretty much like winter - dry and sunny every day. It's just you start to get more days like this one, when a stroll to the village means a change of T-shirt and you realise it won't be long before you're sleeping under the stars and diving in swimming trunks instead of wetsuits.

We've been back on site now for a full diving week, and the new team are mostly dive trained and semi-benthic enabled. Besides involving a full programme of coral reef monitoring, this expedition will also see us exploring some of the new MPA sites, and if possible sending out manta-tow teams to find new patch reefs to monitor. We also plan to head north at some point to Belo-sur-Mer, a small village and regional shipbuilding centre just south of Morondava. An exploratory mission there by Stephanie, our field scientist, last month has highlighted a number of new possibilities there, from mapping of uncharted reefs to shark and turtle monitoring. A French conservation-minded entrepreneur has set up an eco-lodge there and so another possibility is that we work with him and others on setting up a satellite BV operation there, both to increase the geographical scope of our reef survey work and to start implementing a marine protected area around some of the off-shore coral islands.

Meanwhile, here on site other projects will of course continue, from daily whale watching on Nosy to snorkel mapping of the nearby fringing reefs. We're also on the point of launching a new shark and turtle monitoring programme, which will see us training people in villages up and down the coast to record details of every shark and turtle caught by local fisherman. At present the evidence is that the shark and turtle populations in the area are being fished unsustainably, and so research on the fishing industry is needed urgently as a first step towards a programme of conservation measures. Of course what we'd really like is to manage the reintroduction of turtles to their original nesting grounds along the coast (they used to nest here), but for the moment that must probably remain a longer term objective.

OK well that's enough from me for now, but there'll be contributions from some of the new volunteers shortly and also some research updates from our field scientists Lea, Ashley and Stephanie. Veloma iaby. Alex