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Well where do I begin. I didn't really want to swamp the news page with
tales about this trip and detract from the other news stories, so thought
that maybe I should dedicate a whole page to my little adventure (which
is hopefully the first of many).
I had often wondered at what I could do to help redress the balance after
enjoying so many dives, and had toyed with the romantic idea of venturing
off to save the reef at some point. OK, so the reality is generally not
quite like that and it was not long before I realised that conservation
in general is much more of a grey area than I had at first presumed. I
guess this was my inital revelation upon arrival in Tulear.
I was to be a volunteer with the Blue
Ventures conservation project and we were about to embark on our first
science lecture of the trip with our esteemed scientist Matt Sommerville. He explained
how the villagers in our neighbouring Andavadoaka, were totally dependent
upon the ocean for their basic food supply, so it would not exactly be ethical
to march in and slap a fishing ban on the whole area. A large part
of our job would be to help inform the local fishermen of more sensitive and sustainable
fishing methods, hopefully encouraging them to agree to several small
Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) where juvenile fish could flourish. This way the
fish stocks could replenish, and areas of the reef recover,
ensuring that their fishing was indeed sustainable.
Here we found out the exciting news that Blue Ventures was relatively
young as projects go, and we were able to use our own initiative and inspiration
to create our own projects under the BV umbrella. We also ran the chance of
being the first to see and record certain species (in fact I was the first to record two sightings… which was great) in the area.
There were 11 of us volunteering, 4 staff who were based in the camp long term and a couple of local village staff.
Unfortunately our first discovery before actually reaching the village,
was that in a country like Madagascar, mother nature really does rule
the roost, and she had plans for us! A cyclone was brewing in the distance,
and with the road North currently impassable, the only route up to our
remote location was by boat. To cut a long story short, this turned out
to be a heaving, ten hour "adventure" (for want of a better word)! We sailed through the night, and
as you can imagine, with a cyclone lurking somewhat North of us, the sea
was not particularly friendly. I was luckier than many and didn't actually hurl my dinner overboard,
however did spend around 8 of the 10 hours with my eyes shut feeling a touch green.
Dawn brought both relief and joy, as the sun peeped out from behind the
village that was to be our home, shining through the palm trees, we could
see our cabins perched atop a small cliff as well as an interesting round
bandstand type of building that we were to discover was our "restaurant"!
On arrival, we morred up in deep water as close to the coast as we could, and waited until someone had noticed our arrival! Bearing in mind
that we were a few days late, this could have been any time in the next few hours. However it wasn't long
before a small hard bottomed rib was launched bearing
our dive supervisor Dan and Calibre our skipper who took us up to the beach that was to be our home in shifts.
Once ashore, unpacked and setted in, we had some time for breakfast and to rest up before
our swim test and the beginning of our training. One volunteer had to learn to dive,
a couple needed to further their training, and we all had a lot of fish to learn!
We needed to ensure that we really were able to identify the individual
species reliably, otherwise any information that we gathered would be rendered
useless through its inaccuracy.
After about a week or two, we were settled in and fully trained up, and now the true work began.
We dived at least once, usually twice a day, taking notes on what fish
we had seen, specific transects of coral and benthic life and even helping
create a gps map of our local reef. In between dives, we studied our fish,
studied our diving (those of us pursuing our rescue course) or studied
the local land life.
We were also involved with teaching the local people English, as well as learning Malagasy ourselves.
We also aimed to educate them in the needs of the fish and reef for sustainable fishing,
as I had mentioned earlier. They have already noticed a depletion in the
stocks over the last 5 years, and this is only going to get worse if they
continue fishing with the same methods. Having learned to dive in the marine park that is Sharm el Sheikh,
I found it particularly devastating to watch the villagers walking across the reef plate with spears, litterally digging
octopus out of the coral with no regard for the damage done. It was our job, not to ban them finding their food, or making
a small profit (medicine costs money!) but to let people know that maybe there were less devastating ways to find that food.
Life was simple, with all the usual civilised trappings rendered relatively useless.
There was one television in the whole village (the cinema) no telephone,
mobiles had no service, and definitely no internet! However if I am totally
honest, this came as a refreshing change. We came to value the periods
where there was electricity so batteries could be charged, and our research data entered
into the computers. The truly glorious times were when you returned from
a dive and found the water on!! We became masters of bottle use, and the
skill of being able to shower with just two bottles was highly
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