Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blue Ventures Carbon Offset Review

Industry watchdog Which? commends Blue Ventures’ Carbon Offset

Blue Ventures’ innovative non-profit carbon offsetting programme has been highly rated by companies watchdog Which? in its new report on the UK carbon offsetting industry.

The report, which looks at the rapidly-growing carbon offsetting market and regulations governing the industry, compares 13 offset providers across UK, highlighting the often bewildering confusion that consumers face when chosing a carbon offsetting option. Blue Ventures Carbon Offset (BVCO) scored 5 out of 5 for the quality of project details and information provided, and 4 out of 5 for ease of use of its website.

BVCO provides offsetting solutions through the provision of fuel-efficient and solar stoves to poor rural communities in Madagascar and South Africa. In addition to the emissions reductions made, the stoves provide environmental, economic and health benefits to partner communities. Operated as an entirely non-profit venture to support conservation and community development projects in the developing world, BVCO also offers a carbon footprint consultancy service to help businesses and individuals reduce their personal carbon dioxide emissions.

Check out the report here

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blue Ventures Open Day March 2008

This week, Blue Ventures held an Open Day for the village. We had posters, made by the volunteers, about the inter-relationship between the mangroves, seagrass and reefs, what a marine protected area would mean for the fishing stocks (and what would happen if there weren't any protected areas), what the women's association did, and two possible futures for a Vezo family depending on whether or not they used contraception. There were also posters on alternative ways of making money and on the benefits of using a solar stove. For the children, there was a turtle racing game and a fishing game, where you had to cast your fishing rod into a marine reserve bucket and a non-reserve bucket.

The day kicked off with the biggest rainstorm i've ever seen. It was so heavy that Andavadoaka rock and split rock, our local landmarks in the sea were completely obscured in rain and cloud. We hastily rescued all the posters from the leaking classroom and prayed for some respite from the rain. This is Andavadoaka - one of the driest places in Madagascar - not Manchester. It's not supposed to rain this hard, for that long!

As the expedition manager, I had two main worries. One - that no one would come. Two - that everyone would come and we couldn't accommodate! Happily, my worries were unfounded. The sun broke through the clouds and shone for most of the day after the initial downpour and just the right amount of people came. Children were dunked in giant blue buckets so that they could experience breathing using scuba (and received a sweet for their bravery). Others played the two games, while plenty more were entertained by the volunteers, using them as portable climbing frames. Adults came too - and most seemed interested in the posters. Our Malagasy staff were on hand to elaborate on the themes, and ensure that the conservation message was spread. Gail, our resident camerawoman this expedition, showed a slideshow of her photos to the delight of everyone, and Gildas and the ex-village president showed a crowd of intrigued and giggling adults how to use a condom - with a broom to demonstrate. The condom message wasn't restricted to the demonstration or poster. Oh no. Nearly all of the volunteers, and most of the staff had got the women's association to embroider messages on the back of t-shirts promoting condom use.

We were already exhausted by lunchtime - especially anyone who'd been dealing with the children (or climbed on by them) but there was still more to come.

In the afternoon, we held a pirogue race. Each pirogue had three vezu and one fazahar (tourist). While it might have been just a race for us, for the villagers it was an extremely serious business. Not only was their pride at stake, but there was prize money too. It had been a bad week for fishing because of the weather so the prize money was all important. There were about 25 pirogues on the beach, and each was assigned a vazahar to sit in. Not wanting to be completely humiliated in the race, I chose wisely - or so I thought - chosing to go with Fila, known for his rowing prowess. I shook hands with my piroguers and stood waiting by the pirogue for things to get going. Nothing seemed to happen for ages and ages but then suddenly, a lot of shouting and we were off, my three fisherman running with the pirogue into the water. I lost one shoe. Then another, into the sea. And then I was neck deep in water, swimming (I'm short) and struggling to get into the pirogue. Suddenly, I felt two hands under my armpits and I was lifted up into the air, out of the water and onto the pirogue. I felt about five.

My own pride might have been dented, but I was not going to let it stop me from doing my bit and so I began to row as hard as I could. We rowed out to the motorboat marker, rowed round it and came back to the beach. All the other piroguers were also rowing as hard as they could, rowing for their lives, or at least for their pride and their supper. These are extremely are strong motivators. Unfortunately for my piroguers, we only came in second to last. My pride wasn't totally dented then. My arms, however, were pretty destroyed! It was such hard work!!! But then the shouting and gesticulating started. There had been a false start, and it wasn't fair and the villagers were up in arms. The race was null and void. We couldn't allow it to count and we had to do it all over again. The shouting and arguing continued for a while. Our Malagasy staff, diplomats that they are, calmed the situation down but ultimately, it appeared that there was nothing for it than to run the race again! It was hard enough the first time, but could I do it all again? "you don't have to row" said Justin. Just sit in it. And so I agreed.

The pirogues lined up on the beach once again, but this time a member of each pirogue stood further back on the beach in a line, waiting for the signal. When it was given, we were all off once again. My piroguers weren't taking any risks with me this time. They made me sit on the pirogue from the start. But there was no way that I could sit in it and not paddle. So my poor little arms got a second workout as I paddled for my life once more. "Make it count" I coached myself each time I put the paddle into the water. "Make it count". Maybe it did. I don't know. I kept the rhythm, and the boat kept moving forward, so perhaps I was doing something right. The second race seemed a lot further although perhaps it was just that my arms were aching with the effort of doing the whole thing twice. I don't know. I hadn't used those muscles for such a long time. We did better in the second race, but we didn't win. We didn't even come in the first ten. The winner of the first race had also won the second - so the best rowers evidently did win. My piroguers seemed happier with their placing in the second race. And I got my shoes back. So, as with most things here, it all turned out all right in the end.

The day finished with a bit of entertainment. By which, I mean the staff and volunteers sung a conservation song in Malagasy written by James, our boat driver. The village were suitably amused and impressed. Some even donated money into a hat for us! It was pretty funny and we sung to huge applause and only a little laughter. An English speaking competition then, and finally Bic's fin-fish presentation and a film about overfishing in Indonesia before heading back to Coco Beach for supper. Everyone agreed that it had been a fantastic day. Some staff suggested that we do it all again in a few months - maybe in as little as three. I tentatively agreed. I think my arms will just about have recovered by then!

Ruth Rosselson

Village Stays

BV has recently introduced the opportunity of 'village stays' for our volunteers. A report from Lucy Ferguson highlights the joys of life in a vezo community:

The home stay was hilarious! They picked me up after breakfast last Saturday and I set off on the pirogue with what later became known as my three body guards. They were three burly Malagasy boys who went pretty much everywhere with me for the following 48 hours.

The wind was strong on the way there and they sat me out on the outrigger of the pirogue for ballast - an hour later after my arms has turned white from holding on for grim death we arrived at my new home - Nosy Mitata (Nosy meaning island). There to greet me were the family, about 15 of them (which was a large proportion of the island when you consider in has a population of about 60), with grandparents, parents, and a gaggle of children and babies. Little did I realise how much entertainment I was going to provide for the following couple of days.

I was ushered into their hut, with a select audience (the rest of the family has to peer through the door of the window) and was presented with a cup of tea and a saucer. On cue I made my first mistake - I put the cup on the saucer. Vigorous laughter ensued and when when it finally subsided I was shown that the correct thing was to pour the boiling tea into the saucer and drink it from there as a means of cooling it. Not an easy task.

After tea I was kitted up with mask fins and spear and sent out in the pirogue with my three body guards to catch our tea. I personally didn't catch anything (in fact had I tried it was likely that me, one of the body guards or a coral would have sustained serious injury) but they caught quite a few, included parrot fish, trigger fish, stripped bristle teeth, black spotted sweetlips, etc. (If you hadn't guessed I am now fish enabled and collected data from my first fish belt last week).

After fishing we went back and I was sat in the hut with food. After about 30 minutes of waiting for the rest of the family to join me I realised that I was to be eating alone and tucked in. The meal times proceeded to be fairly strange - at dinner i was ushered into the hut once again but this time with Nahoda (the head of the household) and we ate alone together. I was very happy when the next day I actually graduated to eating with the entire family! The evening was passed with dancing and togagash (a lethal, and I think maybe illegal Malagasy home brew) and a considerable amount of laughing at my expense (I thought that it may have scarred me for life but a couple of epi-bar trips and my dancing confidence seems to have resumed to normal).

I was glad to returned to Andava but it was absolutely hilarious and well worth doing!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A day in the life of a BV volunteer

5.30am. I can hear the sound of a bell ringing some distance away. I open one eye and look at my watch. 5.30am. The sun is rising and it's time to wake up and get kitted up for the 1st dive of the day. While the men from the neighbouring village are preparing their pirogues and nets, I meet up with some of the members of expedition 36 in the bat cave to set up our scuba diving equipment.

6am. Time for a dive briefing. Now that we have passed all tests on the benthic stuff (coral, sponges, hydroids etc.) Charlie and Louis brief us on the fish point-out dive. there are more than 150 fish to learn and we are aiming to pass the fish tests by the end of this week so there's no time to waste. Fortunately, the weather is on our side - no rain and light wind both make for good visibility underwater. It's pretty hot in the afternoon though
(37 degrees C).

6.30am. Off we go with the boat on a flat and peacful sea towards near shore half moon - a close spot opposite our campsite. We all get geared, we carry out a buddy check and at 'telo' (three) we all fall backwards into the water with a temperature of around 29 degrees. We are going down to the sea floor for a 45 minute dive looking for all sorts of fish we need to learn, they are all more colouful than one to the other. This morning we have seen the Schwenk's sweeper, a black spotted sweetlips, jewel damsels, orange-spined unicorn fish, Madagascan butterfly fish, three-spot dascyllus, peacock grouper, skunk anenomefish, big eye snappers, bicolour parrotfish, semi-circle angelfish and bloodspot squirrel fish amongst others.

8.45am. We are back to the BV campsite. We put our equipment away after having rinsed it first. We then go back to our respective bungalows to have a shower and chill out a bit in the hammock. I take Allen's reef fish book with me to check the fish I was not sure about while underwater.

10.15 After a bit of a rest, I am now heading down to Nosy Cao (our classroom) to see what people are up to, including the Malagasy staff writing their reports on their respective research projects. It's good to discuss with them on their work as it provides and instant insight on how valuable the data we gather during our survey dives is for the setting up of a community-run marine protected area. This gives me even more motivation to practice the fish test on the computer with other members of the expedition.

13.15 Time to head up to the restaurant and fill up my bottle of water. Three litres of water is usually what I drink for a day because of the heat. On my way, I spot a Namaqua dove and also a dimorphic egret on the shoreline. Lunch and dinnertimes are always a good opportunity to catch up with other members of the expedition including the two Dutch researchers working on a seagrass research project.

14.30. I go for a well-deserved half hour nap in the shade.

15:00 We all gather in Nosy Cao to work on the organisation of an open day for the villagers of Andavadoaka. We are preparing various posters and animations translated by the Malagasy staff which explain's BV's fieldwork here and the benefits of establishing a marine protected area. This is a totally new concept for most of the fishemen here. They have always fished in this area without restrictions. However, when fish become scarce, they go fishing further north by travelling - sometimes for a few months. It is hoped that one of the benefits of the MPA for the local fishermen will be in providing good-sized fish most of the year in the proximity of the village and avoiding the promotion of bad fishing practices (dynamite and cyanide) or sailing long distances in order to yield a satisfactory number of fish.

18:00 Time for our duties - cleaning the classroom and diving room, data entry and gathering weather data.

19:00 We all meet up at the restaurant for 'vao vao' (news) when people and staff tell everybody else what happened today and what the schedule is for tomorrow.

19:30 Dinnertime! We all grab food - consisting of fish or meat with rice or pasta and vegetables. We have pineapple for dessert - a real treat.

20:30. Chill-out time when everyone chats about how they are going to change the world and we debate about anything. and everything. Others play cards or sing along to the guitar.

22:00 Bed time! It has been a long day full of interesting things. Now all I can think of is what fish I am going to be dreaming of tonight.

Guillame (volunteer)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mapping Velondriake

Raj (from the BV head office) is currently conducting GIS field research in Andavadoaka to map the coral reefs of Velondriake – "the perfect excuse for getting out of the office".

The aim of the trip is to produce a habitat map of the Velondriake Marine Protected Area Network, for use by the Velondriake committee. Velondriake is a massive 800 square kilometre protected area in southwest Madagascar, run by local communities, and aided by international NGOs.

We will be zoning the Velondriake protected area into different types of habitats – such as coral and seagrass in marine areas, and mangroves in terrestrial areas, using a variety of equipment and survey techniques. This will primarily help the Velondriake committee to make decisions on which key areas to protect.

The Velondriake area has never before been surveyed in this way. Although the French completed a bathymetric (underwater) study in the 19th century, but with a much lower accuracy.

Fortunately the weather was been good, and have had a lot of calm days on which to collect the data. We eventually hope to extrapolate the results for our marine survey so that we can map areas all the way to Tulear – a distance of 250km.

We are very lucky to have the help of Dr Sam Purkis, from Nova University in the US, a world expert on GIS and reef mapping.

There is plenty of data still to collect, but below you can see a preview of the underwater terrain in the Andavadoaka region (the black is above sea-level), to give one a taster of what is possible with GIS!

Two Blogs this week!!

The first comes from volunteer, Monika Calitz:

Week one of Blue Ventures Expedition no. 36 was exciting – filled with activities and experiences.

After three days on the road through the wonderfully diverse landscape of Madagascar we arrive in Tulear. Another gruelling 12 hours by an ancient truck on a pair of tracks brings us to our destination, Coco Beach and the Blue Ventures Camp. The journey brings home how remote Andavadoaka is and how privileged we are to be here.

Cyclone Ivan has lashed the coast for the past 3 days. Activities are scheduled around the weather so instead of diving, we’ve been receiving science training, teaching English in the village, manufactured stencils for painting the new Blue Ventures Boat and partied in the village.

I have had three dives – on the first one I managed to spot some of the fish species I had learned: angels, surgeons and clown fish. I realize how studying the species is already enhancing my diving experience. Unfortunately, the diving since then has been getting worse as the storm has churned up the water badly.

This is a great opportunity, however, to get involved in one of the many other projects BV is doing here. On Tuesday, 4 of us are leaving with Lalao and Hanta to complete a survey of the mangroves south of Tulear.

The second blog comes from volunteers, Yin Chang and Tom Heimhuber:

English Teaching in Andava

Each Saturday at 3:00 pm we take the walk through the village to meet our class from the Catholic school. All the while we wonder if our preparation and lesson plan will be met with success or dismal failure and an eventual dispersal of our students.

This past week we planned to play supermarket, bringing candles, soap and empty boxes of items such as cookies and mosquito coils to “sell”. We were happy to meet our 6 students (an unusually small class) and anticipated a more controlled and attentive class compared to our class of stragglers last week who did not belong to the school.

We made introductions and settled down onto a shady area of the school yard. We reviewed numbers for money, a skill that required these 9-12 year olds to leap through 1-10 and into the thousands due to the size of Malagasy money and the price of items here. We read our labels for our items and informed them of their prices before giving them paper money to purchase our market items.

Meanwhile we slowly started to gain the interest of nearby groups who began to wander over to see what activities we were doing. Soon there was a frenzy to play at the market and we had to continuously ask the students to stand back.

Our class tripled, maybe quadrupled in size; however, we were impressed that the students were able to quickly give and request correct amounts for their items. It was a satisfying experience since we achieved our goals for the lesson and also managed to appropriate other students, surely a sign of an interesting class.

Then there was war! Impressed by the surprisingly good performance of most of our students we thought it would be a good idea to leave a pack of biscuits for them (they are called biscuits here; in our please-let-there-be-taste world a shop owner would not sell a single pack of them).

We thought that it would also be a good idea to hand out the single bits to one student after another and thus control the whole procedure. And we thought that maintaining a security distance of approx 3 meters to the rest of the students was a good idea. We were wrong. And we realised that as soon as we gave the first biscuit to the first student.

Within seconds we saw more children per cubic meter than we did ever before. Children everywhere, stapled above each other, screaming and grasping after the biscuits that were somewhere underneath them – and there were still more children heading towards us in high speed; from everywhere.

The only thing we could do was to save ourselves by rushing away and looking at the spectacle from a safe distance in shock and disbelief at the dust storm that became the students. It was crazy; we never saw anything similar before.

So we learned our lesson this afternoon, too; we will definitely think twice before believing that acts of generosity in our minds translate the same way in Madagascar where even paper candies are wanted with such ferocity.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bid on eBay - support the School Scholarship Fund!

Please help raise money for the Andavadoaka School Scholarship Fund.

A past volunteer, Catherine Petronino (Expedition 15), is currently hosting 3 eBay auctions on behalf of students from the "College Sainte Famille" in Andavadoaka. 

The students are selling hand-embroidered items and the mony raised goes directly to the Scholarship Fund. Just £20 will  sponsor a child to attend school for a year.

Up for grabs are:
The auctions end this Friday the 7th of March, so get bidding!!