Thursday, December 21, 2006

Seasons Greetings!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reminiscing before departure

It's the final days of the expedition, and i can't believe it has been 6 weeks, the time has passed so quickly. Mind you, we have done so much in that time, its amazing how we've fitted it all in. There has been fish monitoring, whale watching, school teaching, fish and benthic learning and science lectures. We've also done lots of diving and snorkelling, built a "base camp" for the new Eco Lodge, and people have some of their own projects such as building tank racks, preparing presentations and shark and turtle monitoring.

As I write, I'm sitting on my porch overlooking half moon beach while my feet slowly cook in the midday sun and a baby goat skitters about crying for it's mother. We have just had a lunch of rice, with goat stew, and will soon be heading down to the village for our final saturday English classes. Today we are going to have a fun class making christmas cards.

Apart from the diving and new (for me) science learning, doing activities with the children has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the expedition. In school it has been great to teach them a new language and see them have fun in our informal classes. Outside school we've worked with club "Alo Alo" to paint the club house walls with fish and maps of the world and Madagascar. Club Alo Alo is a conservation and environment club, run by Bic, who is our Malagasy research assistant and general superstar of BV. Last week when we went down to paint with them they sang us a song they'd written, it was so great. The fish and painting they did was brilliant too, I was really impressed by how involved they all wanted to be and how much they enjoyed themselves.
After the lesson this afternoon, I think i'll take a stroll back through the village and get some pictures of the people and places that have been our home for the last few weeks.

It's been a fantastic experience, and I'm so glad I came.

Sarah Perrin (Volunteer)

New study shows how marine protected areas can increase productivity of fishing industry

Marine protected areas may hold the key to keeping global fishing industries healthy and profitable, a new scientific study in Madagascar reveals.

The study looked at a community-run marine protected area (MPA) in southwest Madagascar that implemented seasonal fishing closures for octopus, the major economic resource for villagers in the region. When the closed areas were reopened to fishing after seven months, the study found, the number of octopus caught by villagers increased 13 times while the total weight of octopus caught jumped 25 times.

“The increase in octopus numbers and weight was far greater than we ever expected,” said Alasdair Harris, scientific director of Blue Ventures, the marine conservation group that conducted the study. “This study shows that MPAs not only serve as a powerful conservation tool helping species thrive, but can also be a powerful economic tool helping fisheries remain productive and profitable.”

Overfishing poses a major threat to the world’s oceans, causing many economically-important marine species to disappear. Various studies have estimated that between 60 to 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are depleted or nearly depleted even as more and more people depend on fish stocks for food and livelihoods.

The study, authored by Blue Ventures scientist Frances Humber, looked at an MPA that was launched in 2004 in coordination with Blue Ventures, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the village of Andavadoaka and the IHSM, Madagascar’s principle marine institute.

The groups worked together to implement the MPA after local fishermen reported drops in their octopus catch in the wake of the arrival of international fishing companies that were collecting octopus for the global market.

The study looked at the size of octopus caught by villagers following the reopening of two closed fishing periods implemented by the MPA, the first between November 2004 and June 2005, the second between December 2005 and April 2006.

The increase in octopus catch following the opening of the second closure more than quadrupled compared to the number caught immediately before the second closure. The weight of octopus caught after the second closure was seven times greater.

The increased size and weight of octopus catch continued for one month following the opening of the first closure and for two months following the opening of the second closure, before dropping to pre-closure levels.

“While the results of the MPA were extraordinary in the initial months, local fishermen also turned out in greater numbers on the opening day of the closures, reducing the long-term benefits,” Harris said. “This shows the need for ongoing management plans in addition to MPAs in order to reap continuing benefits.”

Harris said village leaders from Andavadoaka placed tighter restrictions on the amount of fishing following the second reopening, which resulted in longer-term benefits. Andavadoaka is still developing plans to ensure long-term benefits from future closures on octopus fishing.

African nations are increasingly becoming major suppliers of octopus to the global market. But as international demand continues to grows, many of Africa’s octopus fisheries have peaked and are beginning to decline. For example, the artisanal fishery of Mauritania exported 9,000 tonnes of octopus in 1993, but only 4,500 tonnes in 2001, despite twice as many active boats within the fishery.

Madagascar’s fishing industry is relatively undeveloped compared to other countries in East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean region. But the country has seen a rapid increase in fisheries production and export over the last 20 years with a doubling in the number of fishers in Madagascar.

While there are growing threats from overfishing, Madagascar currently is one of the few African nations that are increasing its octopus fishery output. Between 2002 and 2003 there was a 35 percent increase in octopus exports to France.

“The success of Andavadoaka’s MPA shows there is hope that well-managed fishery practices, such as MPAs, can prevent Madagascar from suffering the damaging effects of overfishing that so many other African nations are dealing with today,” Harris said.

To see the entire study, visit

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Species found on the Madagascar Ridge

A recent haul by a Spanish fishing vessel docking in Durban, South Africa contained a number of lobsters of unknown species. Fishing in the Walters Shoals area, a high seas submerged seamount 700km off the southern tip of Madagascar, the fishermen were worried they had caught an illegal species and would not be permitted to land them. When port authorities were unable to identify the lobster, 40 individuals were donated to the University of Stellenbosch for genetic analysis, identified as a member of the well known and well fished genus Palinurus, and subsequently named Palinurus barbarae after the late wife of one of the chief scientists. It is only the fourth new lobster species to be discovered worldwide in the past 12 years.

The individuals recorded weighed up to 4 kgs and are estimated to be between 30 and 50 years old hence their large size, their isolated location preventing their discovery in previous years. The worry now is that the discovery of such large sized and palatable lobsters which will fetch large market prices will encourage fishermen to actively focus on lobster in this area. Global lobster populations are showing signs of over exploitation with biomass per individual lobster caught gradually decreasing as large size is selected against. As so little is known about this pristine population, it is unknown whether it will be able to survive the impacts of such fishing demand, and it is hugely important that fishing is monitored to prevent the rapid extinction of such a newly discovered species.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fearsome fish and tasty treats

As we progress into the fourth week of this expedition, all volunteers are well and truly settled in. The temperature is absolutely gorgeous and a steady 32 degrees. Today the water temperature was 29 degrees, with superb underwater visibility. Part of the research we are undertaking here is to catalogue species diversity and abundance of fish, corals, and invertebrates. On a personal level, this has added an extra dimension to recreational diving - it has been very rewarding to be able to identify the species we see underwater (as well as boast about the things we see). On a scientific dive today, searching for sea cucumbers, we happened to catch site of a mighty bar jack a good 5 feet long (things underwater appear larger than they really are. Especially when relaying the size of the fish you saw to your friends afterwards).
I have also developed a slight fixation with the food, in particular, bokbok, a doughnut-like, deep-fried dessert. Much to my satisfaction, I have also found that the local village sells them, where it costs about 50p for 20 of them. If my habit continues, I think I am in danger of running out of money (they are very easy to eat). Food for our meals has been very good with lots of grilled fish and rice. Soon we get a chance to cook a meal, and surprise the local staff here with some English delicacies- Christmas pudding is a strong contender!
Raj Roy (volunteer)

Volunteer report

After arriving in Andavadoaka as a complete diving novice, I have completed my training to PADI Advanced Open Water level. I've passed the tests to allow me to contribute to BV's science program by conducting Point Intersect Transects (PITs) and Invertebrate Belts (IBs) in which we survey and record the coral and invertebrates present on the reefs. Yesterday I was the first to carry out a PIT & IB on Tampolove patch reef, a newly designated site which has been included in the MPA set up by BV.

Earlier this week we had a day off from diving and travelled into the spiney forest in zebu (oxen-type work animal) carts to map the position and size of baobab trees in an area which is also covered by the MPA. We also observed the human impact on these incredible trees that live for more than 1,000 years; often visible are holes dug or stakes driven into their huge trunks to gain access to their fruit. I took the opportunity to climb one of the trees which gave incredible elevated views of the forest, along with the challenge of ascending and descending! A few days ago I went octopus gleaning (fishing) with fishermen from the village on Nosy Hao (a nearby island). Watching an octupus get caught with a spear was certainly an experience, however with it being low season there was only one caught on our trip.

A group of us volunteers have initiated our own pet project in Andavadoaka village; painting a map of Madagascar and a map of the World onto the walls of the local youth/ecology club as the children have no other access to geographical information. The local children are involved in drawing fish on the outside walls and painting them under our supervision; oil paint + excited children can make a huge mess! We are part-way through the painting, but by the time we leave in 2 weeks we hope to have a detailed map of Madagascar, a map of the world - indicating the continents and some individual countries, and a seascape on the outside wall - including a BV diver busy surveying the coral & fish!

Ben Cheesman (Volunteer)

Friday, December 08, 2006

An Italian's Blue (Ad)venture

End of week 4 of expedition 26. Only two more weeks and my little 'Blue Adventure' will come to an end. Time flies here in Anadavadoaka, yet when I think of the day we arrived here dazed and tired from the camion journey it seems like a very long time ago. I had no idea what to expect from the expedition and knew near to nothing about fish and coral. Today I can 'name and shame' (or identify if we must use the scientific term) about 150 species of fish and tell soft and hard coral apart. If you are thinking that this is an easy one come again: bubble coral and galaxya waft yet they are hard corals!! Now google those up if you are curious to see what they look like. Definitely we have lots to keep us busy here. On 6th December we went Baobab mapping: I love those monsters. The 1.5-hour zebu-cart ride was also a new experience, a bit bumpy but at least we were lucky with the weather since it was cloudy (I can’t believe I am saying this!!). The sun here at this time of the year can be truly unforgiving, especially between 11am and 2 pm (and 3 and 4...) if you are planning a ride through the spiny forest you definitely want to do it early in the morning and possibly on a day like the one we picked (by chance). I was so glad for the few drops coming down from the sky so when we arrived I still had some energy left to climb up a Baobab tree before measuring up and taking coordinates on the GPS with my group. I could go on and on about all the exciting things we have been doing till now, on top of the diving of course. I loved snorkeling in the mangrove, watching the huge bonfire before camping on the Northern Beaches (the area where the Marine Protected Area is coming to life), discovering my carpentry skills after I managed to build a ‘fine’ table from a few planks on a morning’s work at the Northern Beaches, teaching English to the children in the village (and then hear them shout ‘hello Rossella’ when strolling along the ‘high street’).
It is not all work however!! We have a day off every 5 and of course a party night, when we do our best to replace the nitrogen in our bodies with the local rhum ;). I will never get bored of watching the sunset off Halfmoon beach, watching the starry sky after the generator goes off or looking for new snakes, spiders and bugs to photograph. This is a little of what I am getting out of this expedition jammed into a ‘short’ blog entry. It is hard to summarize it all in a few lines and even harder to describe the feelings and images that are stored in my mind for ever. Time surely flies in Andavadoaka but these memories, images and feelings will always stay with me.
This is all …from an Italian in Andavadoaka.
Veloma! Rossella

Reflections and Recruitment!

So here I sit, as attentive shore marshall for the 6am dive on the 7th of December 2006. As I look out of the “Nosy Cao” window (our classroom-computer-communal room) onto the turquoise Mozambique Channel at the crashing thunderous high tide waves that pour onto Half moon beach, Andavadoaka Rock and in the distance the crests of the waves on the fringing reef.
What an adventure it’s been so far! With ten other fantastic volunteers, and the lovely BV staff, we’ve dived in wonderfully warm (28°C +) waters; surveyed corals and fish life on many reef sites; measured and mapped majestically awesome 8 metre and 10 metre in diameter; 1000 year old Baobab trees; swam in the fish nursery of the mangroves; raced zebu (local cattle) carts pulled and driven by bonkers staff and volunteers; camped, watched and helped in the construction of the new fabulous “Eco-Lodge” site……………endless activity on endless blue skied days.. ……….it’s such an honour to be here.
Living side by side with the Vezo people of the village is what makes the expedition truly special and real. The children are beautiful; lively to say the least, yet their manner is gentle and somewhat wise. They have very little materialistically but they live in harmony with the sea; fishing, playing in the water, wanting to know who and why we are here with wide eyes and lots of laughter. They have an eagerness to learn and are inspirational to us volunteers from the western world to keep focussed upon the simple joys of life. We can learn as much from them as they can learn from us. They live in poverty and yet are so very rich.
An average day here starts at 5:30am, which may sound horrifically early (not for a Dibbo!) but it’s perfect. So calm, so cool and the only sounds are the waves, the birds and the odd horny goat! The early morning dive is the best way to start your day, floating whilst observing hundreds of colourful lively fish species in their coral garden homes, is quite possibly the most magical way to fully wake up in the morning. Idyllic. Or boat marshalling to support the dive team for safety with the satellite phone, radio, medical supplies, GPS etc and a 45 minute peaceful meditative space as you sit and wait patiently and watch the waters for the divers to ascend.
After the 6am dive it’s a breakfast of coffee, local freshly made donuts or “bok-bok”, rice, eggs etc in the restaurant with ocean vistas from every angle. Up we all get for the 9am or 11am dive, with rotational shore or boat marshalling duties, learning those fabulous 150 fish species and benthic species to help in the collection of reef data, recording the weather 4 times a day, designing and delivering presentations, maintaining the “Bat Cave” (the impressively named dive kit room!) enjoying a huge hot fish lunch, tests to see if we do actually know our fish etc, downtime to snorkel, snooze or swim in the heat of the afternoon, a chance to share the days events and news at “Vao Vao” (“news” in Malagasy) at 7pm every evening, which usually includes much laughter, some fascinating new facts and data, the secret Golden Fleece awards, a DVD, lots of smiles and a sense of achievement for all the team, dinner……………and the day begins again.
Other highlights of this most excellent adventure have been party nights; dancing ‘til the early morning at the Epi bar to soulful, funky Malagasy music with the much more flexible locals! Watching the sunset that electrically lights up the 6:30pm skies with reds, purples, orange and shades of blue that seem too bright and magnificent to be real (photo shop eat your heart out!). Fish monitoring the local catches of 1.5 metre green job fish to 10 cm damsel fish caught from small wooden, wind and paddle powered pirogues manned by fathers and sons as young as ten years old. It’s a chance for us to get to know the local people and share in their knowledge of their ocean.
You couldn’t make it up if you tried!
It’s great to be part of project that is making a huge positive impact locally scientifically and upon every volunteer who is lucky enough to spend 6 hard working, fun packed, educational weeks here in this remote part of an inspiring and unique land.
What would I change about this expedition? That’s easy. I just wish I could bring everyone I know and love here to experience how spectacular it really is in Andavadoaka. It suits all ages, backgrounds, all needs – you’d be blown away ?.
So what are you waiting for – go on do it – make a difference!
See you all soon.
Kelly Dibbert, Brighton, UK

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Guardian article highlights threats of climate change on marine systems

The Guardian today published a fascinating and important study on the destruction climate change is having on tropical marine systems. The article reported on a new study showing that as waters warm, microscopic plants at the bottom of the ocean called phytoplankton produce less food for fish to eat. The result could be devastating for fish populations.
See the entire article at,,1965975,00.html

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blue Ventures' Volunteers Come to the Small Screen

Here's your chance to see Blue Ventures and its work in Andavadoaka from the comfort of your own home.

As part of Volunteering Week from the 8th - 14th January 2007, Blue Ventures will be featured in a film shown on the UK's Community Channel. The film is part of a series of five half-hour programmes called "V for Volunteer."

Blue Ventures will be on Episode 3, shown on Wednesday 10th January at 6.30am, 10.30am, 18.30pm and 22.30pm, and again on Sunday 14th January at 14.30pm.

Tune in and see how Blue Ventures volunteers are helping improve the health of marine habitats and the livelihoods of communities in Madagascar.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hi everybody!! My name is Vola and I'm a Malagasy staff member of Blue Ventures in Andavadoaka, Southwest Madagascar. Before I came here, I've been living in Florida USA for two years where I completed a MSc in Coastal Zone Management. I'm really keen to work in Andavadoaka. The conservation projects and pionneering research conducted by Blue Ventures in this part of the world are very much needed for the management of marine resources on which the local population depend greatly. In addition to marine conservation, Blue Ventures also works on developing other activities such as ecotourism (bird watching, visit of baobab forests, diving), local arts and crafts and aquaculture to boost the economic potentials of the region and thus reducing negative impacts on natural habitats. I'm mainly involved with shark and turtle catch monitoring, the new Marine Protected Areas and Environmental Education. It's really exciting!!!

I've been living in Andavadoaka for about 2 months and it's a whole new different experience. I'm getting used to life's routine on site: staff meeting at 6 pm, "vaovao" time in the evening during which everybody shares news, diving and science training - I finally passed the inwater fish test, yeahh!! -, English and Malagasy teaching and the different conservation projects.
Social life on site is also an important part of the expedition. Games and parties on site are occasions to get to know the volunteers and other staff members a bit more. I do enjoy playing Jungle Speed or tricks after dinner, volleyball in the afternoon, space hopper race on the beach - seems easy if you haven't ride one yet!! There is a lot going on on party nights. We often have themed parties which can be hilarious!! I'm impressed with everybody's creativity since there is not a large choice of materials in Andavadoaka. Then we sing songs - the one I like the best being "Salty Dog". And of course, I don't want to forget the traditions such as "snorkel test" - it's very possible to fail -, the passing of the Golden Fleece - that one is for the best volunteer in science so very serious thing!!- and "tay be" for the less geeky people ;) Well, that's how life is in Andavadoaka. Hope you could travel a bit by reading my blog and maybe you'll come and visit Andavadoaka!! Cheers all!!

Vola Ramahery
Research Assistant, Nov. 2006

Expedition 26- Volunteer update

Well, expedition 26 to which I belong is already halfway through! I can hardy believe it, the time is passing more quickly everyday.
I arrived here in November as a newly qualified diver with zero science training, (normally i'm a fashion designer) and armed only with a keen desire to learn as much as I could to be a part of this expedition, and do whatever I could to help conservation. Now, three weeks later I can identify different corals, invertebrates and other benthic life forms as well as fish in the reigon, and am able to collect data for the projects here.
There are so many other things to contribute here as well. I have been whale watching out on one of the Islands (sadly saw no whales), I've taught an english lesson in the village school, and assisted the fish monitoring programme, where we meet all the fishermen coming in intheir pirogues, to count, weigh and identify the fish in their catch.
I've found a use for my design skills too. I'm designing bags for the local womens group to make and sell and I'm helping to draw a map of the world on the wall of the kids club, "Alo Alo". There are also costumes and scenery to be made for a play the children will be performing about conservation of the different undersea environments.
The weather is getting hotter by the day, luckily the palm fringed beach is a stones throw from our cabins, so taking a dip in the sea to cool down is never a problem.
Sarah Perrin (Volunteer)

A tail of 17 wrasses...

Learning to identify the 150 fish species we monitor on the reefs is quite a challenge, and as part of their training volunteers each have to prepare a fish presentation for the group on one of the many families.

A tail of 17 wrasses (in the order they appear in Collins)

According to Collins wrasses are diverse in size and form
So unfortunately there is no wrasse norm
First up is the lyre-tailed hog
Half of it's white, so think of it as if caught in a very small fog
The only other hog is known as the axil-spot
This is because three black spots it has got
Next up is the hump head wrasse
Rumour has it the hump was caused by a nasty incident with a bass
The reason I failed a test is a wrasse called sling-jaw
It looks nothing like what was in Collins and it might as well have had a paw!
The yellow-tail and white spotted wrasses you could easily confuse
Remember that the yellowtail has spots in blue hues

Then there's a wrasse that is called the yellow breast
Purely between you and me itís not in the computer test
I realised I'd left the triple tail wrasse out at the very last minute
So this poem has nothing about it in it.

The checkerboard wrasse is easy and it lives up to its name
You could lay it on a table, and have a little game
The zigzag wrasse has a black wavy line in the middle
It looks like it was finished then someone had another fiddle
The barred thick lip wrasse is a bit of a weird catch
It's coloured head and black-and-white body don't match
Wrasses called Indian Ocean bird look a bit like mice
If you show one to Max, deep down he might say they look ëniiiceí
Easy to know is the gold bar wrasse
Just look at the base of its head and think lots of cash
The crescent wrasse has a colourful head but most of it's green
I got it confused with a parrot but realised it looks a lot less mean
The six bar wrasse has six black bars
Another distinguishing feature is its red striped head
The cleaner wrasses look similar but you can be quite mellow
Just by remembering that the bicoloured one's tail is yellow
The blue streak cleaner you'll be pleased to know is the seventeenth wrasse
Good luck to everybody, I hope you'll pass
Just one more bit of wrasse-related knowledge
Wrasses in the rear-view mirror may appear smaller than in Collins

Elina HolttoÖ, Finnish volunteer
Six Bar Wrasse

Andavadoaka donates land for eco-lodge

Andavadoaka’s village leaders have officially donated 3,600 square metres of land for the construction of its new eco-lodge.

Blue Ventures is now developing plans for the lodge which will be fully owned and operated by Andavadoaka and provide the community with a sustainable economic alternative to destructive fishing practices.

Blue Ventures is working to raise £43,000 for construction, and is searching for eco-architects and engineers to help design the lodge to run on clean energy, including wind and solar power, and to be built sustainably from local resources.

Current plans call for the lodge to include a restaurant, a bar and 25 bungalows to house visitors to the area.

We hope to complete the lodge by the summer of 2007. Camping sites will be available in the spring, with resident cooks making meals for visitors.

If you have expertise in sustainable architecture or engineering, or know people who do, let us know and become part of the team to improve livelihoods and natural resources in Madagascar.

Contact Richard Nimmo at or +44 (0)20 8341 9819.