Friday, October 26, 2007

WTM's World Responsible Tourism Day

WTM's World Responsible Tourism Day is taking place on 14 November 2007. The day is dedicated to raising awareness of the significance of minimising negative impacts of tourism and to encourage the protection of tourism destinations and host cultures. The event will attempt to equip people with the knowledge on how to improve the outlook for the local people and the environment in tourism destinations, and to help businesses understand the importance and benefits of responsible tourism. Blue Ventures is supporting the cause and is also short listed for an award in the Marine category. For more information click here.

Primates under threat of extinction

IUCN and the International Primatological Society have recently released a report in collaboration with Conservation International, highlighting the need for further conservation efforts of endangered primates. The report states that 29% of all the worlds primates are on the verge of becoming extinct, due to the demolition of tropical rainforests, hunting, and illegal wildlife trade. The Greater bamboo lemur, White-collared lemur, Sahamalaza Peninsula sportive lemur, and Silky sifaka – all found only in Madagascar, are mentioned in the report. To find out more click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Volunteer Blog by Kristy Benz

We are now three weeks into expedition 33, and I think it would be safe to say that the time has been largely devoted to one thing: fish. And I don’t mean eating fish. So much of our work on the coral reefs is based on the correct identification of fish species, and for this we must learn to recognize over 150 species. The manic studying which followed our arrival on sight slightly enveloped our lives. And yet, studying at Coco Beach is no dry act, pardon the pun. Underwater fish point-outs on the reef occurred almost daily, and our hours on land saw most people revising in hammocks, the sun beating down from above. We taught each other as well. Each individual was assigned a different fish family, and following meals we would put on a lively presentation for the others. We played fisharades. We heard of the antics of the wrasse family at their Christmas gatherings.

What follows is an excerpt from one such presentation, detailing the six species of angelfish known to hang out around Andavadoaka.

Enjoy, and be enlightened.

The three-spot angelfish is yellow

With blue lips like blueberry jell-o.

He has three spots around his face

And a black-tipped fin at his base.

The semicircle has a greenish hue

And is covered with spots the colour blue.

His juvenile form is quite dark

With blue and white curving marks.

The many-spined angelfish is known

For bright blue tips on his ventral zone.

He has a dark patch behind hi eyes.

At only four inches he is small in size.

The ear-spot has a funky dace

And an ear spot in an obvious place.

His body is black with thin white lines

And a yellow tail that is quite fine.

Blog by Blue Ventures Expedition Manager Ruth Rosselson

I've finally done my first science dive after taking up the post of expedition manager at the beginning of October, and it was fantastic! :) The boat (along with Marcellin, the boat driver) took me, two staff members and four volunteers out to a site that we haven't dived very much. I was the 'boat marshal' for the first dive. This means sitting on the boat, taking GPS readings (with a depth sounder) periodically while the divers are under, and of course being the first point of contact for them in case of any problems. For safety reasons, each diving group carries an SMB (surface marker buoy - basically, an inflatable attached to a string which they hold onto whilst underwater) which floats on the surface while they're diving.

There were two groups on this dive so they had two SMBs altogether. Of course, on the surface, you have no idea of the topography and life underneath you so it's quite surreal seeing two yellow inflatable balloons dance around on the sea seemingly randomly, coming together and meeting up for a while, and then going off in opposite directions again. As well as taking the GPS points, I spent my time wisely - looking on the horizon, trying not to feel seasick, and also doing short stints of meditation. It was so peaceful. All divers came up safely (phew) and after a surface interval, during which I felt very seasick, it was time for the second dive.

This was in a similar spot, but one where the scientists seemed to think had some good reef. And they were right. It did. There was some really big coral colonies, and quite good diversity of coral species. It's the best dive site I've seen since diving here, and we got to see a turtle too, swimming away from us speedily. After a bit of a swim around during which I wrote down the names of all the fish I saw and recognised it was time for the 'science'. My buddy (who has only been diving for three weeks!) and I laid out a transect (a badly behaved tape measure), tying it to a rock at one end, and swimming out with it for 20 metres, tying it up again at the other end. We then had to give the fish a couple of minutes to settle down, and my buddy's job was to count them along the 20 metres, while my job was to swim along the tape for ten metres and write down the name of what was living underneath it every 20cm. It's the first 'proper' one of these that I've done on this expedition (though actually I've done it before with Operation Wallacea, and for the marine conservation society), and I really enjoyed it.

There were quite a few different varieties of coral along the tape, as well as some algae and soft coral. We got to have a bit more of a swim after this, admiring the coral, fish and invertebrates, and then surfaced after our allotted dive time. I always love diving, but I especially like diving sites with good coral coverage and plenty of fish to look at. On top of that, I just really enjoy the gathering of data so I'm pretty happy today and it's good to finally feel useful underwater. Hopefully I'll get many more dives like that before the year is up.

Campaign against Measles and Malaria

Madagascar is currently undergoing the biggest campaign in the country’s history against malaria and measles. According to BBC News Malagasy people are receiving 1.5 million mosquito nets and almost 3 million children will be vaccinated against measles. The campaign is taking place during a mother and child health week. Unicef reports that over 60 000 children in Madagascar die each year from preventable diseases, however the number has been significantly decreasing in the past decade.

For more information see an article by the BBC here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The dysfunctional wrasses by Anna Williams and Julia Cox

Once upon a time in Madagascar there lived the very unique wrasse family. Christmas with the wrasses was an elaborate affair. Every year the wrasses gathered at Grandpa Napoleon's reef house. Grandpa Napoleon was a big fish, to say the least, with an extraordinarily large forehead. In his old age, Grandpa Napoleon had become grumpy and was most often alone, due to the loss of the now extinct, Grandma wrasse.

Uncle Goldbar wrasse always joined in the festivities. Goldbar wrasse held the fortune of the family, earned through business ventures of a dubious nature. His wealth is always on display by his big gold necklace worn prominently behind his pectoral fin.
Goldbar wrasse relies on his thug of a brother, barred thicklip wrasse, to do his dirty work. Barred thicklip wrasse was never caught in the act and was rarely suspected due to his innocent looking green head with pink band and luscious lips.

However, their twin nephews, bicolour cleaner wrasse and bluestreak cleaner wrasse were not so lucky. Due to past indiscretions, they were now only employable in the cleaning industry. Janitors by day, they swim with jerky motions to attract clients by night.

Aunt crescent wrasse brought along her astrological predictions for the upcoming wrasse year. She was all dressed up in blue to lavender with a crescent moon on her tail. Her sister, yellow-breasted wrasse came along as well, along with her husband, yellowtail wrasse, who also brought their newborn juvenile zig zag wrasse dressed in a pale green all in one with a black zipper down the middle. His older brother, white spotted wrasse was home with a bad case of fixh pox, leaving him covered in blueish white spots.

Then there was great uncle axilspot hogfish who owns his own garage. He often gets carried away with his work and has black spot scars from an experiment to make the first ever fish-car hybrid. This obsession troubled his wife, a lyretail hogfish, and a freckly musician, who always carried her harp on her tail. Their only son, tripletail wrasse was deformed at birth, leaving him with two white bands on his tail, the only reminders of the extra tails of the tripletail defect.

But still, he wasn't as strange as his cousin, slingjaw wrasse, who is currently serving time for eating his brother, sixbar wrasse with his extendable jaw structure. Sixbar wrasse had been a pale green to whiteish fish with 5-4 black saddles on his back. But this is now a mere memory. Since the loss of her brothers, checkerboard wrasse has become a mute, obsessed with board games. She often plays checkers on her own back.

The final member of the wrasse family is the Indian Ocean bird wrasse who took her greatly elongate snout and flew the coop, never to return to the wrasse family Christmas. This dysfunctional wrasse family may be large and varied, but once a year when grandpa Napoleon invites them to his reef house, the similarities show in their brightly coloured faces, tapering bodies and ability to shake their wrasses.

The END! :)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Atlas on vegetation of Madagascar

The science team at the Botanical Gardens in Kew has recently announced the release of an atlas mapping the unique vegetation of Madagascar. The atlas is one of three conservation projects concerning Madagascar that the team at Kew is currently working on, with the other two focusing on conservation of endangered plant species and collecting and preserving seeds of dryland species.

The atlas consists of accurate mapping of vegetation and is recommended for researchers. It also includes valuable information on plants that are on the verge of becoming extinct. The information is based on satellite image data and ground surveys. For more information please click here

Viva La Madagascar - written by Ben a BV volunteer

After two days in a dorm in Madagascar and with the grand sum of 40,000 Ariary to my name I finally made it to the departure point in Tana. On arrival relief was fast replaced by excitement at the proposition of spending the next six weeks in one of the most isolated and beautiful places on the face of our planet, with around 13 of my new best friends.We planned to set off bright and early the next morning around 7:30am, however, due to various complicating circumstances; visas, cancelled flights, cramped mini-buses, and slight money troubles, myself and a few others ended up leaving at 3:30pm that afternoon. What followed was a 12 hour car trip through the fascinating, intriguing, and slightly disarming Malagasy country.
After about three and a half hours sleep we jumped back on the bus half awake on day two of what was to become a slightly extended trip to Andavadoaka. Along the way we stopped off at a couple of national parks, where we saw some lemurs, chameleons, and some stunning panoramic views. To top it off the brave opted for the odd paddle around at some natural and rather cold swimming holes. These places were amazing; a blind man with a disposable camera and the artistic aptitude of a rock would have struggled to take a bad photo. We also encountered our first truly Malagasy meals.Finally after a long but worthwhile journey we arrived in Tulear for the next leg of our adventure. Again setting off early in the morning we all scrambled in to the camion (4x4 truck) provided for the 12 hour off road trip to our final destination in Andavadoaka. If we weren’t friends before hand we were after about ten minutes of tetris-like jostling so that everyone had about enough room to wiggle their big toes. Jungle, desert, and some horrendous camion DJ appointments eventually gave way to our first proper view of the unspoiled paradise of the Malagasy coastline.

Finally we arrived at Andavadoaka, paradise, crystal clear water, a hearty meal, and a well deserved and very good nights sleep.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Club Alo Alo Play

On the 9th September 2007 the members of Andavadoaka’s ‘Club Alo Alo’ conservation youth group put on a play about the effects of over-fishing on the local coral reefs and fish populations, and the effectiveness of MPAs (marine protected areas) and good fishing practices.

Blue Ventures volunteers got involved in this project when asked to help provide sets and costumes for the play. Three weeks before the play was first performed the set construction and costume design got underway in full force. Many of the staff and volunteers were involved in building sets and backdrops to depict the underwater worlds of a mangrove forest, sea-grass beds and both dead and living coral. With startling ingenuity and creative use of very limited resources, the sets took shape and came to life when the kids acted out the dramatic scenes of life underwater, and accompanied by original songs that were written for the play by Bic and James.

As the main characters of the story were fish and crustaceans, masks and costumes were created to illustrate this. The excellent performance of the play by the kids, combined with their bright and colourful attire were much appreciated by the audience comprised of local people, visitors and Blue Ventures staff and volunteers.

The play was a hit, and there are plans to take it on the road to visit local villages thus spreading a very important message about marine conservation to the local area.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Poetry whilst whale watching by Tom Waight and William Winzor-Saile

Four O’clock in the morning, the diving began,
Or would do when they found that young Marcellin.
The night dive was cool, full of bioluminescence, they saw parrotfish and wrasse, including some crescents.
At six O’clock science was required,
Despite the early dive leaving everyone tired.
Four fish belts each left them with their hands full,
A ternate chromis and a hiding jewel damsel.
Semi-circle angelfish and an axilspot hog,
Then to watch whales and write this for a blog.
“Will and Tom go to see whales, rock on!” in the book,
A pirogue to Nosy Hao, forty-five minutes it took.
They walked along the beach and climbed up the tower,
To coax the whales, they did all in their power.
An hour past with no sign of a whale,
In their quest they were about to fail.
At ten-fifty-one they spotted a splash,
A mighty humpback breached out with a crash,
A mother and a pup at eleven-thirty tom spied,
Now they could leave with a real sense of pride.
Time to head back, lunchtime was calling,
Tom made is down the tower, not quite falling.
Ater lunch with faint memories of breaching,
The time had come for English teaching.
Teaching those kids fills everyone with cheer,
But not half as much as some boc-boc and beer.
Another day gone, times moving fast,
The mornings dives a long time in the past.
As expedition thirty-two makes way for thirty-three,
We challenge you to out do us, with your poetry.