Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fish Test Dilemma

Sitting down to learn 150 fish species in the boiling midday heat might not seem like the most inviting way to spend an afternoon(napping for example would be a preferred alternative) but having quickly learnt all the coral types we have to know and appreciating my dives so much more when i can id everything i see, there is definite motivation to push through with the fish. One fish test down, three to go, but diving is becoming more and more enjoyable as we can swim along and know what all the different fish are. I have already developed a number of favourites: the three-spot dascyllus(the first fish i saw on my very first dive in Andava) and the black saddled toby (mainly because i think they are very cool!) and the two dartfish species found here (normally found in pairs- sweet, and very recognisable). Seeing them underwater certainly helps you to remember them, and in this respect I am fortunate because of the daily diving to some truly fantastic sites. Science really is made fun during a BV expedition and the personal gains from learning the fish and benthic species are incentive enough to encourage studying in your spare time. This may sound trite when you're 9,000 miles away sitting in an office or library trying to work, but on location here in Andava work takes on a whole new meaning. There are numerous tools employed by the field scientists on site to aid fish learning, one of which is a daily presentation by one of the volunteers about a particular fish family to the rest of the group after lunch and dinner. Here follows a small ode to some of the fish in my allocated families used as a memory tool:

What am i?
I'm long and thin and firey bright,
and often found in pairs
Of my big projecting dorsal spike
you should be made awares.
(ans: Fire dartfish)

Of pufferfish there are but 2
with many spots a piece
The easy way to tell us apart
is in the colour scheme.... White spotted and black spotted!

Sophie Benbow, Field Scientist

Monday, April 23, 2007

Once upon a time... an open day in Andavadoaka...

This day was organised 2 expeditions ago and it began with a presentation of all the Blue ventures projects that have been run over the past couple of years.
The Radoko (doctor in malagasy) bought 5 boxes of condoms to the village accompanied by a poster on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
There were also posters on MPA's explaining the problems of overfishing as well as the different levels of monitoring and surveys.
There was a puzzle made using a satellite image of Andavadoaka which villagers tried to piece together. More posters this time about sharks and turtles to help people recognise the different species, and paper and pens so they could draw them.
Meanwhile, in the bat cave, children could fish for colourful stones in a bucket with artisanal line and learn how to breath with a regulator.
All of this was followed by Beach Olympics on half moon beach with all the children under the watchful eye of the adults. Ending in a hundred children playing football with two space hoppers and lots of buckets of water!
After lunch and the sand castle competition, was the pirogue race that rivalled the rhum's course!! (in Britanny from St Malo if no english people understand!)
We then sang a very bad rendition of a malagasy song, which was welcomed fantastically.
It was also Mr Roger 's birthday that we celebrated in style.
It was a really good day for all, and something people will remember for a long time.
radio kelykely nany.

Stephanie Pedron, Field Scientist

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pirogue Race

...and they're off! A blazing hot afternoon in March, the wind is good and the waves are... well, wavy. Four Vezo per pirogue, all working hard to keep the boat moving faster, faster, faster. Jumping, pushing, standing, pulling, ropes out, ropes in. What a commotion! Soon everything is running smoothly, you hear the sails take every breath of wind and watch as 20 pirogues sail effortlessly out to sea. Willing the pirogue on ever faster, here comes the half-way point - the loop around Nosy Fasy island. Some boats are grounded, some are swept further out and caught in cross-winds, time to hop out and drag the boat around the sandy island, duck as the sail swings around, pull on the ropes, change the angle, hop back in and sail like the wind back to Andavadoaka. Fast and fun, safe and exhilarating and I was only a passenger.
It was a fantastic experience, the Vezo at their best, this is what they do and they do it so well with gusto and charisma.

Jenny Williams, Expedition Manager

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Marine Protected Areas and their fishermen

One of our current, groundbreaking projects in Andavadoaka is related to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Basically the villages choose their best fishing reefs and put them in the MPA, which means that they have agreed to not fish there anymore. This will hopefully allow fish stocks to replenish and increase, and then overflow from these sites so that the fishing in the area will become more sustainable for the growing and future population. What is unusual is the gusto with which the fishermen and villagers have taken to the project, even though they are giving up their best fishing sites. They have seen from the 'Octopus no-take zones' in the region that these initiatives really can work and that their catch can increase by NOT fishing at critical times. Setting up the MPA involves lots of visits to all the villages, meetings with all the Nahudas (chiefs) and snorkelling the proposed sites. We then need to dive the sites, assess their worth, map and stake transects so that scientific studies (benthic and fish) can be undertaken.
I spent a day on a motorized pirogue (a hollowed out tree fishing boat, with an outrigger to keep it from falling over, and a small motor) visiting the villages, meetings, sites etc. We braved the waves on the way to Nosy Ve ('Nosy' means island in Malagasy), not sure why all the boys get to be at the back and us girls had to sit up front and get battered by the waves, very refreshing though on such a warm day!
Really interesting to see the fishermen get so animated and involved with the project, drawing maps, describing the depth of a site (a fisherman's metre is his arm span), what fish they might catch there etc. The ambience was also helped by a storm passing overhead, there was strong wind and rain and we were in the most secure little school room on the island, with chalk and a blackboard, outside the most fantastic dark looming clouds, bright sea and spectacular rainbow! We spent the night on a neighbouring island. Hoping to sleep out on a sail on the beach after our fish and rice dinner with a lovely campfire. But the rain stopped play and we had to drag the sail into a small hut with 6 of us packed in like sardines, but hey we were dry!
Awake to the sound of noisy mosquitoes at 4 in the morning, and had to relinquish the sail, as the fish were ready to bite.
Rice pancakes for breakfast and attended more village meetings before we were out to GPS the potential MPA sites. As the depth sounder failed, we had to send down a manual one, namely our local staff member 'BIC' who with the aid of a dive computer would collect the depth of the reef after free-diving for us. Apparently there were some good reefs but by the time I jumped in we had drifted back over to the deep blue. I did manage to see a few notable fishes though and some good coral, and I avoided all the jellyfish, winner! Very pleased to get out of the sun, though still feel as though I am rocking on the boat. Really exhausting for a couple of hours work, but oh so rewarding.

Monday, April 16, 2007

BV featured in The Sunday Telegraph

Blue Ventures was featured in The Sunday Telegraph on 15th April, 2007.
The article, entitled: "Avoiding the guilt trips on a feel-good holiday" investigates the opportunities for people looking to do something 'worthwhile' with their holidays and offers a guide to the choices available.

To read the article follow the following link to The Telegraph website

Blue Ventures’ New Marine Expedition

Blue Ventures is now recruiting for an exciting new volunteer expedition in Madagascar. In the summer of 2007 we’re launching two rapid reef exploration and assessment expeditions around the remote islands off Manahy, approximately 75km south of Morondava.

The islands and surrounding lagoonal waters are part of a newly proposed marine protected area, a coastal extension of the spectacular Kirindy-Mitea national park. Blue Ventures is working with the national parks service ANGAP to bring the research methodologies piloted in Andavadoaka to study the region’s spectacular reefs for the first time.

Each expedition will comprise two phases moving between coastal and island research centres. The coastal phase will be based in a purpose-built tented field research station close to the remote village of Manahy (population 25!) adjacent to pristine mangrove forests. The offshore phase will be based on the island Nosy Andriamitoraka, 15 kilometres from the mainland. Expedition support, meals, and all the usual comforts found in Andavadoaka will be provided by the national parks service, as well as by a support team brought up from Andavadoaka.

The two 4-week expeditions will run 30th June to 27th July and 3rd to 30th August. They’ll be led by Madagascar’s newest Divemaster, Bic Manahira and BV research coordinator Al Harris.

Owing to the region’s extreme remoteness and isolation, the Manahy reefs have experienced lower levels of human-induced stress than most other marine environments in the region over recent years. As such, the islands’ extensive reef systems are widely recognised to offer some of the best diving in the Western Indian Ocean. No marine ecological or fisheries research has been carried out in the region so far, and this project represents a superb opportunity to participate in a pioneering reconnaissance expedition, discovering and exploring new dive sites, mapping reefs, and establishing baseline data and an inventory of species to pave the way for Madagascar’s newest marine park.

As the expeditions are only 4-week duration we require all applicants to have dived within the last 6 months or undertaken a scuba review prior to joining the expedition. Ex-volunteers who have worked with Blue Ventures in Andavadoaka have many of the dive and research skills that we’re looking for, therefore past volunteers are being offered the opportunity to apply for the expedition before any other promotion or marketing of the trip begins.

To help participants get up to speed, science training materials will be sent to all volunteers and a project training day will be held at BV London offices a month prior to the first expedition.


The cost of the expeditions is £1,565 per person. The price includes: carbon offset fees for your international flights, return transfers from Antananarivo to Morondava by road, return transfers from Morondava to the research site by sea, all food and accommodation for the 4 weeks (3 meals per day), marine science training and all diving.

A guide to expedition life:
• 1 week of training and familiarisation with the species to be studied. In this expedition the focus will be upon coral reef fish and benthic data collection.
• Daily exploratory dives, reef mapping and reef monitoring surveys.
• Baseline fisheries survey of local island and coastal communities.
• Weather monitoring.
• Shark and turtle catch monitoring. This aspect of the research will involve working with fishers to set up the monitoring programme, expanding a new research initiative recently developed in Andavadoaka with support from the National Geographic Society.

In the first instance, if you would like to apply or are interested in finding out more about this expedition please contact Richard Nimmo by email at or by phone on 0208 341 9819.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

MPA Exploration

February and March marked the beginning of the MPA exploratory diving. Travelling via boat and motorized pirogue north to the islands of Nosy Ve, Nosy Mitata, Nosy Masai, and Andrombala.

The first day diving was at Ampasy, a site that is being considered for a no take zone. It is one of the popular fishing spots for the local islanders, and is part of the fringing reef. The coral cover was slightand the abundance of fish species didn't fare much better. At the end of the dive Maria and I found a bommie that had slightly better coral coverage and fish diversity. However I doubted the veracity of this spot as being a successful fishing ground.

The second day took us to another potential MPA site with which again was not that impressive, proving to be more rubble than hard coral and with a low fish diversity.
That afternoon we visited the village of Antsatsamoroy to host a meeting in which the villagers were to create a map of their favourite fishing grounds. The meeting started off slow with only a few fishermen willing to divulge their best fishing sites. Eventually an elderly man, probably a nahuda (chief), began to chatter. He was full of local fishing knowledge and seemed happy to help us.
We worked hard, coming up with a map of 5 different reefs which contain high fish abundance. The map was then signed by all the nahudas as a mark of ownership and trust.
The meeting ended around dusk due to the timely arrival of the local gendarme, the mosquitoes! The villagers requested toaka gasy or rum in order to appease the fomba. Garth gave in to the request and bought three bottles as a present for the participants.

That night we camped on the island of Nosy Mitata on the beach under the stars. It was a full moon and quite hot due to the lack of wind in the region. However it was still spectacular. That night under the stars with a beer, we discussed the parameters for choosing a no take zone. I learned it is equally important to choose a site with high hard coral cover as well as high fish diversity, and also how it has been demonstrated to be equally successful to choose three small patch sites, as it is to choose one large patch site. Although the site must be large enough so that the fishermen may recognize the perimeter.

The third day I made two dives, one a deep dive and one shallower at Bela Mer. I thought these two sites were much more promising than the first two. The first dive would prove more difficult to conduct scientific surveys on because the top of the reef is at 16meters, however this should not disqualify it as a potential site.
The second dive was proclaimed to be a popular shallow fishing hole for the villagers. It was also an amazing dive. I saw many butterfly fish, which are an indicator species for coral reef health. I also spotted sea cucumber, an octopus, and an abundance of varied fish and coral species.

That afternoon, Garth, Simon, Bic, and returned to Ampasy to snorkel the site once again. The day was long, hot, and most of all exhausting, but in the end very rewarding. I look forward to future visits to neighbouring islands to learn more about the MPA process. It is one thing to sit in on a lecture and another to actually participate in the meeting and learn by action.

The three day voyage to the northern islands was much enjoyed; I hope the opportunity arises again.

Anne Furr (long term Volunteer)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

National Geographic marine reserves feature

National Geographic Society, supporter of Blue Ventures' research into turtle fisheries in Madagascar, has recently put together an excellent feature on the global fisheries crisis, profiling the role of marine reserves in managing the collapse of fisheries around the world. This is a must read for anyone interested in marine conservation: one of the best reviews of the subject we've come across in recent months.

Read the article here and check out the superb photography here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

European Scientists' Marine Reserves consensus

Join Blue Ventures Scientists and put your name to this consensus in support of Marine Protected Areas.

In 2003, the World Parks Congress, the largest global assembly of protected area specialists and conservation managers recommended that marine "protected area networks should be extensive and include strictly protected areas [ i.e. marine reserves] that amount to at least 20-30% of each habitat." This call is being echoed by other scientific, political and expert fora, including, in 2005, the United Nations Millennium Project, which called for 10% of the oceans to be covered by marine reserves in the short to medium term, with a long-term goal of 30%.

Decision VII/28 of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity requires all signatory parties to complete such a network of well-managed marine sites by 2012, including representative marine and coastal areas where extractive uses are excluded, and other significant human pressures are removed or minimised.

In advance of the next Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP9), which will be hosted in Europe, Germany, it is time to take stock. All the more concerning is that neither Europe nor the rest of the world are on track to protect a network of marine reserves by 2012.

This lack of progress in establishing marine reserves is aggravating the already perilous state of many marine ecosystems. It further undermines initiatives aimed at a better scientific understanding of the composition and functioning of marine ecosystems, as it prevents comparative studies between exploited ecosystems and those that are left to recover or are as yet untouched. Marine Reserves are needed to serve as control areas in research efforts.

The following statement has been opened for signatures. The intention is to release the statement on June 8 th World Oceans Day timed to feed into discussions in preparation for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the ongoing negotiations for a new European Union law for the protection of Europe's seas the Marine Strategy Directive. The idea stems from a similar initiative by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) which helped stimulate the marine reserve debate in the US.

I hope you will feel this is an initiative you can support; the oceans need it. Please reply to me ( with your name, affiliation, degree qualification, and country to add your name to the signatories. Signatories should have a Masters or PhD level qualification or equivalent, and work or reside in countries of the European Union.
Many thanks for your support.

Callum Roberts (University of York)