Monday, January 29, 2007

No time to write

I had been intending to write a comprehensive, witty, blog about my time here in Andavadoaka but for the last few days the weather has been absolutely stunning so we have all been doing some quite amazing things. For the last two days I have spent my time cruising around in a motorized pirogue visiting offshore islands north of our field camp. We visited two islands Nosy Ve; which has probably less than 80 people living on it and Nosy Mitata, which has around 40-50 people on it, and takes just 20 minutes to walk around! We visited these islands to discuss with the fisherman their potential as new MPA sites. These people have been fishing the waters for generations and when shown a map of the entire island they can pinpoint exactly all the best coral reef and fishing sites. As well as being rich fishing grounds, they were some of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Last night at sunset I walked up the tallest sand dune on Nosy Ve to see the setting sun over the horizon cast a beautiful pink haze, while in the west a large electrical storm passed over the mainland. The waters in the bays surrounding the island were dead calm while the villagers below were sitting outside of their thatched huts lighting small campfires and preparing the nights meal of rice and that days fish. Describing this image with only words hardly does that experience justice.
At that time, we had just finished meeting with the locals who had quite a lively discussion with us about just where the best fishing grounds/potential MPA sites would be, we loaded up our pirouge and crossed the short distance to the smaller island where we were to spend the night. Here, some local fishermen lent us a large sail to cover the beach where we were to sleep that night. We lit a small campfire and sat around drinking the local rum and some locals cooked us some-you guessed it-rice and fish for dinner. Although some light rain passed, we retreated into an empty hut (Read hut as such:
building constructed using sticks for supporting beams and thatched with some thin reeds to keep the rain away with a sandy floor) where the project manager, expedition manager, one of BVs Malagasy staff, another volunteer and I spent the night.
The best was yet to come. We woke with the sun to meet some more local fishermen who agreed to spend the morning with us taking us around to the best coral reefs surrounding the island, which we then mapped using GPS and snorkelled to survey the coral cover (an unecessary task but an honour to think we were the first westerners to ever snorkel these pristine coral reefs). More amazing still was that in a vast ocean with few landmarks, the local fisherman could take us out and drop us exactly on some excellent sites with amazing coral cover. Over the next few weeks the staff and volunteers will re-visit these sites, mapping the extent of the reefs and documenting the various species abundances. Life here in Andavadoaka at our field camp is quite relaxing, all of our huts have ocean views with a private beach in front-it is a shame air conditioning doesn't quite come as standard but such is life! I would love to continue but tonight is party night and we will all head down to the village to join the locals in one of the epi bars. Tomorrow I will be heading out at sunrise in a pirogue with some local villagers to watch how the fish and what they catch etc.. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Aaron McDonald (Volunteer)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Round trip of local villages

Hello everybody, here are some news from Andavadoaka. Thomas and I went to the Southern villages to collect the data on shark and turtle catch as well as the pictures. We took a different mode of transportation this time as the weather was not very good and sailing might be dangerous. So we took a zebu cart most of the time. The Southern villages stretch from Ampasilava to Antsepoke. We visited 5 villages in total. We took a pirogue from Andavadoaka to Ampasilava. That was feasible because the waters near shore were not too rough. Then from Ampasilava took a zebu cart to Lamboara.
I think zebus are the most useful animals ever in Madagascar. They work so hard in the fields, pulling carts and in addition people use a lot of things from zebus: milk and meat for food, skin for crafts and horns to make a medicine to treat a cold. Zebus are simply a great richness for Malagasy people.
We walked to Lamboara at low tide since the village is on a peninsula and is surrounded by waters at high tide. From Lamboara we took a pirogue to Tampolove. Then from Tampolove zebu cart again to Ankitambagna and Antsepoke. It took 2 hours then 2 hours back. We got back to Tampolove at 10 pm!! We finished all 5 villages in a day and I was exhausted!! The next day we went back to Andavadoaka but we had to wait for low tide so the zebu cart will be able to cross the bay. It took 2 hours to go from Lamboara to Andavadoaka. And finally, we got back around 3 pm in the afternoon.

Vola Ramahery
Research Assistant

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Andavadoaka's first local Dive Master

Blue Ventures wants to congratulate Bic, one of our local Malagasy staff members, for receiving his Dive Master certification.

Bic, who has been with Blue Ventures since its founding three years ago, is the first member of the Andavadoaka community to ever earn the Dive Master certification.

Bic’s dedication to marine conservation and education has made him an essential member of the Blue Ventures team. As part of our long-term commitment to building local capacity, Blue Ventures hopes that our operations in Madagascar soon will be managed entirely by local Malagasy staff.

BV's Social Enterprise

Blue Ventures' founder Alasdair Harris was recently highly commended in the Young Enterprising Brits Award and received his honour over breakfast with Gordon Brown in Downing Street. Following Enterprise week in November 2006 a video was developed summarising all the shortlisted projects (follow link below BV is at about 1min 45). A social enterprise, is defined as a business: "whose surpluses are ploughed back into the business or community rather than for personal gain... Any form of business established for a social or environmental purpose to deliver lasting social and environmental change."

Blue Ventures continued growth since its establishment in 2003 is testament to its belief in the social enterprise structure, and the measured success of BV in the field and general acceptance by local communities shows that social enterprise can be used as an effective conservation tool in developing countries.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Rainy season...

Expedition 27
Well the rains have arrived in Andavadoaka, Madagascar. Upon arriving in Andavadoaka in mid-September, it was hot and dry; so dry that I did not see rain for almost three months. So when someone promised that it did, in fact, rain in Madagascar; I could not believe her. However, the past week and a half strong storms have graced us with their presence. Having lived through several hurricanes I was not too worried, and knew what to expect. Wind and Rain! Luckily all was perfectly fine on site. The only misfortune has been a delay in diving due to the horrible visibility that storms can stir up. Yet, we have managed to stay very busy. We have made two treks to the spiny forest; one to see the flamingos and one to map the baobabs. The flamingos stop in the oasis created during the rainy season on their
migration route about a one hour walk outside of Andavadoaka. The volunteers were so eager to get as close as possible to the flock, we ended up traipsing through the muddy marsh up to almost our knees. Mmmm!!

The next day the ocean's visibility was once again deemed unsuitable for diving, so off to the baobabs we trekked. A part of the spiny forest which includes baobabs was recently added as a part of the village's protected area with the aim of promoting tourism in the future. The volunteers map the baobabs with GPS as well as measure the human impact upon the protected family. There exist eight species of baobabs in the world, six of which can be found in Madagascar. All six species are nationally protected.
In addition to checking out the baobabs, Ashley, our resident ornithologist, taught the volunteers a bit about the birds of the area. We played different bird calls from her computer in five different locations to see if there was any response. It is currently mating season, thus most species are territorial and will respond to invaders. We found this to be especially true with the Souimanga Sunbird. The volunteers were lucky enough to not only attract a plethora of different bird species but a few snakes crossed our path as well. The trip turned out to be quite a learning experience for all involved, including the
zebu cart driver who learned a bit about bird songs.

Anne Furr, Long term Volunteer

Friday, January 12, 2007

Duck rediscovered

A species of duck previously thought to be extinct has been resighted on Madagascar. The Madagascar pochard, Aythya innotata, had not been sighted since 1991 despite constant surveys of marshy lakes with lots of reeds and emergent vegetation, believed to be their preferred habitat. However, the recent discovery attracted the attention of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust who found twenty adult pochards with at least seven recently hatched young in a steep-sided volcanic lake with little shoreline marsh and reeds.

Madagascar pochards eat vegetation growing beneath the water’s surface and dive to reach it. They were driven to the verge of extinction by habitat loss and the introduction of alien fish species that ate the plants, but appear to have found another ecological niche in which they have flourished.

Please visit the following webpage for the full story:,,2-2543342,00.html

Time to say 'Veloma'...

I am back in Andavadoaka after traveling around Madagascar for 2 weeks over my Christmas break. Alan and I had a great time visiting a few national parks, finally getting a chance to see the mountains, rainforest, lemurs, tree frogs and several bird species. It was wonderful to discover that people all over this country are as friendly as they are in Andavadoaka.
So now we are back on site for our final expedition. Upon returning, I was immediately struck by how green everything has become, the football pitch actually has some grass on it and all the vegetation in the spiny forest now has leaves which makes everything look full of life. There is also water and marshlands where for the past 9 months everything has been completely dry.
Personally, I’ve been waiting for this transformation so I can do some bird watching around the newly formed lakes. I was finally able to do this yesterday when Thomas led us on a walk through the forest to a lake where we found tons of shorebirds and at least 150 flamingos! It was quite a sight– a lake filled with birdlife and surrounded by stunning baobab trees.
I have been here since March and Alan since August, so needless to say we have grown extremely attached to life in Andava - the village, the locals, our little hut on the beach, the constant sound of waves and the fabulous sunsets. On the science side of things, there is so much happening right now - a huge shark and turtle project, bird breeding studies and the final stages of implementing the Marine Protected Area are all getting underway.
This expedition we will be focusing on exploring and mapping all the proposed MPA sites and conducting the first benthic and fish surveys on these sites. It is going to be very hard for me to leave in the middle of all this exciting conservation work.
In my final weeks here I am trying to finish up my dive master course. I want to finish at the same time as Bic so we can do our snorkel tests together. Alan and I also want to have a pirogue sailing lesson with Thomas, as Alan is determined to build one when we get home. We will also do some camping on our northern beaches eco-lodge site, visit the baobabs a few more times, search for a few more chameleons and just try to take in all the incredible diversity in wildlife and landscapes that this area has to offer.

I can’t wait to show off all the pictures I’ve taken and share all the memories of my past year in Madagascar with my friends and family once I return home. My mother already has our homecoming party planned, although right now I can’t quite imagine leaving this tropical paradise and returning home to the middle of the Canadian winter. I will be very sad to say
‘veloma’ to Andavadoaka and the friends I’ve made here but I know I wil return one day to stay in the eco-lodge and dive once again on the protected reefs.

Field scientist

Monday, January 08, 2007

New species and possible cures

A new species of bat has been discovered, Myzopoda schliemanni, in the dry western forests of Madagascar. New research published onine in the journal Mmmalian Biology states that the new species is particularly unusual as it belongs to very rare family of bat wih only one other species, Myzopoda aurita (shown in the image above) which is also endemic to Madagscar. This new discovery, which is thought to have evolved from M.aurita, suggests that the Myzopodo family may not be as susceptible to deforestation of the moist tropical forests as the new species appears to be well adapted to the large broad-leaf Ravenala that are often pioneering plants in zones where the original forests have been cleared and burned.
Bats in Madagascar have not been extensively studied due to the popularity of the charismatic lemur species. Recent surveys found that one third of the species sighted were new to science.

Scientists have isolated a new molecule from the bark of the plant Strychnopsis thouarsii, which lives in the eastern rain forests and is native to Madagascar which may form the basis of a new malaria drug.

The molecule, tazopsine, was effective against early, liver-stage malaria parasites in animal tests, according to a report pubished in PLoS Medicine. This could form the basis for a new treatment targetting the early stages of malaria infection, making it harder for the parasite to develop resistance, a common problem in treating the mosquito-borne disease.

Malagasy people have traditionally used the bark in medicinal tea as a malarial treatment. More than 200 native plant species are thought to have some role in fighting the disease, highlighting the huge potential for medical developments from natural rainforests.

Only about eight percent of Madagascar's original forest cover remains, as the forests continue to be cleared by associated subsistence agricultural activities and to provide wood energy for urban zones. Madagascar has a higher level of endemism (with plants and animals found nowhere else) than any other landmass in the world of

comparable size. The new BV-Offset project (outlined in the previous post) highlights the need to reduce the rate of deforestation, not just to reduce the global effects of climate change but also to prevent the loss of countless numbers of potential wonder cures hidden in forest plants.
To find more about BV-Offset and how you can contribute please visit our website at:


Exciting news to start the New Year, BV have developed a new project called BV-Offset. Blue Ventures has had great success in protecting coral reefs and other marine systems over the years, but climate change threatens to undo much of this work and further degrade coral reefs. Blue Ventures is imposing a carbon offset levy to all volunteers in 2007 to offset the carbon emitted per person flying out to Madagsacar from their home destination.

The Offset fund that this creates will be used in carbon mitigation schemes in the Andavadoaka area combining poverty alleviation and the protection of the local environment, in addition to the development of direct carbon capture using the very latest in carbon sequestration techniques.

Initially we will focus on the provision of fuel efficient stoves to promote energy effiient cooking, reduce rates of deforestation and incidences of respiratory illness through smoke inhalation.

For more information on our Offset projects and how you can become carbon neutral please check out the link below:

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Interphase tranquility

It's maintenance fortnight and a cool humid 35 degrees here in Andavadoaka. With an unusually long window between expeditions over the festive season, those of us left behind during this blissfully quiet time on site have a daunting schedule of maintenance and repairs to wade through before the new research season begins in less than a week. Alo Alo and Tson Tso, the trusty boats driving all BV's marine work, are perched high on the beach being repainted and strengthened round the clock with hundreds of kilos of new fiberglass and decking. Several truck-fulls of new reed roofing are being relaid over the classroom and bungalows, tonnes of sand are being shifted around site to remake paths weakened during three years of tropical storms, walls are being refitted, hammocks rehung, motors serviced and a monumental new shipment of freight from London is now safely housed in the bat cave. It's a race against time as we work around the rains, which have arrived here at last (and over a month late). Rain here is irritatingly sporadic, falling in short sharp bursts separated by blistering sunshine. Unpredictable at all times except when re-roofing is taking place, when you can be sure it will pour at the exact moment a roof is changed, dropping a cleansing deluge on the room - not to mention equipment - below! As the rains arrive the seasons are changing in the spiny desert. Browns are turning to flowery greens, sand is turning to swamp, birds and reptiles thriving and breeding, and at night voices have to be raised to deal with the chorus of relieved frogs and cicadas. And then there's the sea - winds changing direction every other hour, corals threatening to spawn any moment, marauding pelagics holidaying inshore, kamikaze terns dive-bombing anchovies. As long as you can find a good hat and some shade this is a truly beautiful time to see this extraordinary corner of Madagascar.

2006 has been a hugely successful year for the Andavadoaka Project. We've seen tremendous growth and diversification of research, education, conservation and ecotourism projects developed by Blue Ventures regionally. All of these have moved forward leaps and bounds thanks to the tireless commitment and vision of a world class team of local and international conservationists working on site, as well as the invaluable efforts of volunteers who have joined the project from all over the world, each bringing their own skills and expertise. Work continues apace with the marine protected area network, which now involves 21 villages throughout the region - a first for Madagascar, and a project we hope will become a model for community centred marine conservation initiatives in years to come. We're delighted to be welcoming new staff and volunteers to the project in the new year - we've a daunting task ahead of us in 2007 but look forward to it with eager anticipation.

Happy new year & Triatri'n' i taona from all of us in Andavadoaka! Al.