Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, with an area as large as the area of Spain and Portugal combined. There are rainforests in the island, especially in the eastern coast area, although many of them are disappearing and turning into agricultural land or Savanna grasslands.
Madagascar is considered one of the most ecologically rich countries, with a landscape that varies significantly. The island has many species of flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, mainly due to the fact that the island has been inaccessible and cutoff from the African continent for millions of years.
The project is located on the island of Nosy Be, in the village of Ambalahonko, which is in the northwest of Madagascar. Ambalahonko is a peaceful village with 40 households. They just recently welcomed the project team into their community and the relationship is growing strong. The project team (staff and volunteers) enjoys occasional Saturday night parties with the locals, attends occasional church or ceremonial gatherings, learns the local language and is even taught how to cook local dishes.
The local weather: the wet season is November to April and the climate will be very hot and humid. At the end of the rainy season, May to October, typical temperatures are 20-25°C at night, which can feel a bit chilly at times once you've acclimatized, and 25-30°C during the day.
About the Project
An increasing population in Madagascar is having a destructive impact on the island's ecology. The local government is now working with international conservation groups, including this project team, to stop this destruction and save the island's invaluable biodiversity.
The project team and the volunteers discover and chart extensive areas of pristine coral, record healthy populations of fish and coral cover and identify a wide range of intertidal creatures. On shore the team explores the lush mangrove forests, the unique ecosystem which straddles the land and the ocean.
This research and conservation project aims to provide the local communities, stakeholders, and government bodies with the information they need to design and implement management plans for the future protection of this pristine marine ecosystem.
Your days as a part of this project will be busy. The work will be challenging, rewarding and fun. Your help will be of great benefit to the conservation of the fabulous coral reefs and you will gain immense satisfaction from knowing that you have helped protect these precious natural resources for future generations.
You must have both a PADI Open Water Certification and a PADI Advanced Open Water Certification in order to take part in this project. If you are not certified, you can complete the training courses for both/either of these certifications prior to beginning your volunteer placement for an additional fee. Please speak to your placement coordinator about costs.
For experienced divers, there are further dive courses: PADI Emergency First Response (US$165), PADI Rescue Diver (US$495) and PADI Divemaster qualifications (US$825).
Volunteer Work and Contribution
During this project you will be performing scuba and snorkel surveys, in which you will map coral, identify reef fish and invertebrates, study the behavior of fish and possibly see whale sharks. The data you will be bringing will help create future management plans. Further project activities include surveying mangroves, a vital buffer against storm surges caused by cyclones, and an important part of the coastal ecosystem.
For the first couple of days on the project, you will be settling into camp, familiarizing yourself with the running of a remote field research station and you will be assigned various camp responsibilities.
The nature of our research requires you to identify a range of aquatic life, therefore, your first three weeks will follow a structured learning plan, including various tests, in order to get you qualified in survey techniques. Be prepared to put in a lot of work at this stage. On arrival to the camp you will undergo concurrent periods of dive training (if necessary) or basic surveying (for those trained in diving) and science training where you will have an intensive course learning fish, coral, algae and invertebrate species.
For those of you not dive trained already and not staying for 6 weeks or more, time will be a limiting factor. It is highly recommended if you are participating in the project for your studies or future career interests that you stay for a minimum of 6 weeks. Those staying 4 weeks or less will be trained in identification and methods including in water practice, but usually full surveying does not commence until week 4 or 5. If you are able to join the project for only 3 weeks your involvement in the surveys and conservation work will be limited.
Below is a basic list of activities and research techniques you will be using:
Habitat mapping – our first priority is to provide a comprehensive underwater map of the bay. This involves noting where we find sea grass, coral, sand, rock and other substances. This is conducted by small-boat reconnaissance, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Mangrove mapping – you will look at the diversity in different mangrove stands.
Fisheries studies – you will work with fishermen at fish landing sites to assess catch levels and composition. This gives us an idea of how healthy the fishery is and provides insights into long-term changes.
Cetaceans – you will look out for whales and dolphins, making notes of incidental sightings, which will help the team design the long-term research plan.
Coral Disease – you will look into the abundance and occurrence of coral diseases among the reefs to see if certain areas are more affected due to different environmental factors.
Accommodations: during your project you will live in a beach camp in locally built huts. Do not expect to find any luxuries such as electricity, beds or toilets. You will be sleeping on your roll mat in a sleeping bag. Overall camp has everything we need and the beautiful setting makes it a wonderful place to live.
Food: food will be fairly basic – lots of rice and beans with some vegetables. Part of your role on camp will be to help with the cooking. Drinking and washing water comes from a tap in the village and is filtered and safe for drinking.
Laundry: no washing machines available.
Internet: you will be in the field for the entirety of your expedition so please advise parents and friends that it will be very unlikely that you will be in touch regularly. You will be able to access emails if you choose to go to Hellville on your day off (Saturday) but let your friends and family know that this access will be fairly irregular as it won’t necessarily be possible to do this every weekend.
Madagascar has spectacular natural beauty; it is home to thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. If you have time before or after your project, there are many travel opportunities, both near and far from Nosy Be. Some suggestions include:
Ranomafana National Park
Masoala National Park
Avenue of the Baobabs
Isalo National Park
Ages 16 - 50
Good level of English
Immunizations (consult with your doctor)
Good physical fitness
PADI Open Water certified and PADI Advanced Open Water certified