Blue Ventures Marine Conservation Expedition in Madagascar

Video and Photos

Divers heading out
Divers heading out
Taking the boat out
Taking the boat out
Mending a fishing net
Mending a fishing net
Divers
Divers
Pirogue at sunset
Sailing a pirogue in the beautiful Andavadoaka
Sunset at the Avenue Of Baobabs

About

Volunteer with Blue Ventures in our remote research and expedition camp in Madagascar and assist our international team of marine biologists, field scientists and sociologists surveying one of the most spectacular ecosystems of the Indian Ocean. Based in the remote fishing village of Andavadoaka on Madagascar’s southwest coast, our dive expeditions offer volunteers from around the world a unique opportunity to get involved with Blue Ventures’ marine research and community conservation work.

Whether a dive novice, experienced SCUBA diver, budding scientist or newcomer to the field of marine conservation you are welcome and able to support and contribute to our marine research and conservation work.

Expedition volunteers are at the heart of everything we do and we’d love to have you join us!

Questions & Answers

Reviews

9 Rating
based on 15 reviews
  • Impact 8.9
  • Support 9.2
  • Fun 9.1
  • Value 8.9
  • Safety 9.5
Showing 1 - 8 of 15
Default avatar
Anna
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

BV Madagascar Expedition - 2 months in Paradise

I was the medic on an expedition to Madagascar. Having never been diving previously I was very apprehensive about the training, but this was excellent. We all managed to get necessary qualifications in time to allow us to survey. The science team teaching us were passionate and knowledgeable. The village we lived in was beautiful and BV employs a lot of local staff, which was a great way to learn about the community. Our accommodation was basic (cold salt water showers was a struggle for 2 months!) but clean.

As a medic I did not have very much to do, but all was within my capabilities. There is also a volunteer lead Italian Hospital in the village which I was able to spend a day shadowing. This gave me support on anything that I was unable to manage with the basic medical kit provided by BV.

What would you improve about this program?
I would make sure people are prepared to do the community work as well as the diving/survey work. I would offer volunteers opportunities to shadow/help in other aspects of BV. They do such amazing work it should be advertised and encouraged to get people behind everyone of their projects!
Default avatar
carter
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Carter BV Review Madagascar

Amazing trip! will remember this experience forever. I don't know how someone could give a review less than 8/10 they are crazy or maybe just mad at the world. Staff was incredible. Shoutout Bic- the best dive master. shoutout all the people of Andavadoaka!!!!!!!!!!!!

*This review was monitored by a Go Overseas staff member and modified to remove special characters not allowed by our system that were included in the review.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Immerse yourself with the locals of the village. They are amazing people.
Default avatar
Tim
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Become part of a team

If you are willing to take part and share the workload, you will be welcomed as part of the team. Whatever your skills are, BV will find a place for you. Perfect for conservation or international development interns! I highly doubt that there is a more rewarding experience elsewhere for the money, length of time, location and culture. One of the great perks is the option to stay in the home of local people, where you really begin to grasp the local vezo culture. The food is amazing. The more time you take to spend with local people, the better the experience in my opinion. You'll find yourself trying to find a way to return to Andava!

What would you improve about this program?
More vacation time for onsite staff. There are times it seems they get worn out with bigger groups that need more TLC.
Amol
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Fantastic experience, great team

This was my first experience of any marine conservation programme and had never been diving so prior to joining I was slightly apprehensive. From the outset of the expedition we were made to feel very comfortable and the team ensured any concerns were dealt with very quickly. The dive instructor Bic was really good and made learning the new skill very simple. It was clear the field scientists were incredibly passionate about their work and working with the conservation staff, the impact BV has had on the local area is obvious. Had an incredible time and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in making a positive impact to the area.

What would you improve about this program?
Possibly exteding the expedition to 8weeks. 6 weeks is not enough time to really get stuck into the fish surveys especially if some days are missed due to poor weather
Dawn
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Madagascar Spring 2017

My expedition with Blue Ventures was an informative and incredibly enjoyable experience. There was a good balance between learning and lectures (which covered everything from the various aspects of the work of the charity to lectures on bio-luminescence before our night dive), diving and rest and relaxation time.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the model of the charity, for example for most roles locals are trained rather than Westerners brought in from outside of the community, as well as aspects of local and global marine conservation. Blue Ventures provide the data we collect to a locally managed marine area council and it is the locals who use the data to make decisions on how to sustainably manage their reef. This made me feel like the work we completed was a direct contribution to the sustainable management of the local coral reef.

I was part of an international group of 11 volunteers, we formed close friendships over the course of the expedition and had some great times, whether star gazing, diving or dancing. The trip to the seaweed and sea cucumber farm was a highlight for me, I could see how practical approaches to aqua culture would enable many families to earn an improved living while also ensuring the health of the reef in the future.

Truly one of the highlights of my life, I would highly recommend a Blue Ventures expedition to anyone interested in marine conservation.

What would you improve about this program?
Provide resources and lesson plans for the English teaching expected.
Default avatar
Peter
1/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Disappointing

I participated in the second expedition of 2017. Unfortunately, my experience with Blue Ventures (Expeditions) Ltd is a bit less positive. The way the research programme was described appeared inaccurate and the facilities increasingly deteriorate. I only did 3 research dives; a lot of things broke down and apparently there was not such big data need. Secondary activities, like language teaching, were very unstructured. For me the highlights included a sense of remoteness and remote communities, the beautiful sunsets, the amazing night skies, the turquoise ocean (although it looks better halfway to the site) and the cool creatures in the ocean and on land; but the programme itself was not really a highlight.

We did have a few days of unideal weather conditions, including some effects from a cyclone on the east coast of Madagascar, but nothing too bad. A couple of days after that cyclone I actually had one of my best dives there, with the best visibility so far. I think that on some days when the organisation cancelled dives if not for equipment reasons, for example when the wind picked up, we could have gone out for a dive, specially if the crew did not mind to get out of bed a bit earlier, since like elsewhere in Africa (such as South Africa and Mozambique) you typically get the best diving conditions in the early morning. In terms of visibility it was quite site-dependent, with the near shore sites generally not that good. Unfortunately we were a bit stuck to those, also due to equipment issues. The boats are not the most oceangoing anyway. A faltering very weak (only 25 hp) outboard engine and a missing satellite phone were not such good starting point to get to further sites, including the reserves.

Hopefully the organisation will do something with the extensive feedback that has been provided to them during the expedition and afterwards, but at this moment I see that the inaccurate, misleading programme description has not been changed.

From that information you get the idea you will receive your training in the first two weeks and then collect data until the end of the expedition, all structured. Unfortunately it was nothing like that. For those that needed a dive qualification, their PADI Open Water course only already cost a staggering two weeks to complete. After this the PADI Advanced Open Water course still had to start, meanwhile a lecture here and there, followed by the research training. By the time everyone was about ready to finally do some research dives, it was almost the end of the expedition. Those who already had dive qualifications, like me, started survey training a bit earlier than others. Like everything it was slow-paced and unstructured, with quite some of dives cancelled, but l passed my in-water test as part of the training at the beginning of week 3. Still I only did 3 research dives.

Then on site they explained that around 4 dive sites are surveyed during an expedition. If there are for example 12 participants, and half of them do the fish surveys, this means that there are 32 transects (at each dive site you typically do 8 transects) to be done by 6 participants. You can do about 2-3 transects per buddy pair per dive. With one, ideally two dives per day of diving, this means all these transects for the expedition can be done in 2-3 days of diving already. That is by far not the idea you get when you sign up. We ended up surveying 3 dive sites. With my 3 research dives I even did more than others did. Even with double the sites surveyed, it seems unfair that the organisation provides information that you collect data for weeks. When the Monitoring & Evaluation Manager, also former field scientist, was visiting towards the end, we had a talk about the set-up of the programme and the disappointing dive operations. It seems like the programme description is more representative for how it maybe was several years ago.

In terms of diving facilities, a lot of things broke down or were already broken. My diving experience started off with a torn BCD, a leaking regulator, insufficient spare parts, difficulties to find an adequately filled tank, one available boat in the first weeks with very limited capacity and engine trouble, incapable to even reach the reserves, missing emergency equipment; it ended with pretty much all of that but now also including a second very slippery boat not only with engine trouble but also a hull that already started to crack after a few weeks, a broken air compressor, a borrowed compressor from Laguna Blu (a nearby hotel) that was pretty much pushed beyond its capacity in an attempt to make up for missed days of diving, and even less spare parts for everything. I did not expect the diving facilities (and the overall facilities by the way) to be so badly managed.

On site they would typically say something like ‘this is Madagascar’ when equipment broke down. To me that is bit of a lame excuse, in other remote (African) places I have had much better equipment and also in highly developed places you still have to maintain your own gear. And if you know it takes a bit longer to get spare parts, it might be an idea to have a few in stock. I think that the number of times dives had to be cancelled or plans had to change due to equipment issues or missing gear is simply not proportional to the amount of resources trusted to the organisation with the idea they would deliver something decent to work with. The organisation also did not inform beforehand about issues really impacting the expedition, like the boat situation.

With the idea that the amount of data collected is quite limited and the amount of participants seemed beyond the reasonable capacity, it is like you are just there for the money.

Money it seems for the homestays (it was still a bit of an experiment) too. Of course it can be an enriching (not in money terms) experience to be in contact with the locals, and throughout my Africa travels I have had a lot of those contacts, but via the programme it felt less genuine. We shared some meals with some of the villagers and were expected to sleep at their homes two nights a week (all still optional) but I did not really like the idea of them having to sign all contracts for this and offering their place to the point where they were sleeping outside on the ground so expedition participants could use their bed, in some cases with plastic over it, just so they could make some extra money. I liked the contacts I made via activities that were not directly part of the programme, such as sports, exploratory walks or a drink in the village, much more. Very friendly people. I also liked the normal transactions (like buying fruits, bread, cookies, a coffee in a local café, other drinks and other products) much more than the forced and paid ‘private dining’ experience as part of the homestay concept. The food experience was better though than at the place where you normally eat; Coco Beach messes up any of the very few ingredients and their dining area really lacks atmosphere, I think it is not really a nice place.

The programme also included some other activities, such as a monitoring spider tortoises for a few hours during a multi-day trip to a nearby bay. Unfortunately again not the full potential was used and structure was missing. I think it did not really make sense to go survey close to midday (very warm, tortoises hiding too much, transect cancelled). Most of the time there was probably spent on drinking and sleeping. I do not really understand why we did not do something more, for example find more spider tortoises at a better time on one of the other days. I didn’t just want to sit around there and explored a bit of the area and the village myself. The language teaching programme, if you can even call it a programme, again was very unstructured.

Unfortunately the fun dives (dives that were not training / survey related) were not that good either. Those could have made up a little bit for the disappointing programme, to at least explore the reef quite extensive then without surveys if you happen to be there anyway and paid for the diving activities. My dives were mostly tagging along with others that still needed to do their training and hold a SMB. There was one night dive, for which all the creatures you might encounter were presented with great fanfare, but the dive itself was not so good. Sometimes there was an exciting find, but looking at my logbook I think I would not rank the dives higher than the bottom 20 or so of my 129 logged dives to date. It would have been cool if we could get to the far shore sites a bit more. I am sure it is possible to have amazing dives at the Great Reef.

As you can see my experiences with the organisation are not so good. Once again hopefully Blue Ventures will soon make improvements; if they at least provide an accurate outline of the activities and situation on site that would already be an improvement.

Response from Blue Ventures

Dear Pieter,

Many thanks for taking the time to review our programme. We are very sorry to hear that your experience with us wasn’t what you expected; this is also a huge disappointment for us.

We have received a complaint from you separately to your review here, which we trust we have responded to to your satisfaction. We hope this proves our determination to continuously improve our programme based on volunteer feedback.

You raised the amount of surveys planned per expedition. We initiated conversations with field staff to explore the option of introducing a more ambitious survey schedule. We have furthermore edited our website to reflect that science training can take between 2 and 4 weeks depending on group size, qualifications and other factors to ensure future volunteers are prepared it may take longer on occasions. Many thanks for raising these matters and thereby helping to improve our programme.

It was very unfortunate that during the expedition we experienced some unforeseeable problems, such as bad weather and equipment failures which you also detail in your review. Given we work in an extremely remote location with very limited access to repair facilities we operate a redundancy policy and have back-up equipment (boats, outboard motors and breathing air compressors). Occasionally even with back-ups there are mechanical and equipment problems that we cannot foresee or resolve quickly. It is also worth noting that there are no suppliers of dive equipment or spares in Madagascar. We understand how it can cause frustrations to not be able to solve issues as quickly as we may be used to.

The feedback you have provided stood out from the rest of your group, of which 92% rated their overall experience with us as good or very good, which we hope reflects that every effort has been made to overcome challenges outside of our control.

We are most disappointed to hear about your experience of the homestay programme. Homestays are a very successful Community Based Tourism initiative and we support this model in all of the countries in which we work. In Madagascar Homestays are an integral and extremely important part of our programme as they provide a direct economic benefit to the local community whilst offering an alternative source of income to fishing, which further helps to alleviate the pressure on marine resources the village relies on for food and income.

Since introducing the programme in November 2016, 95 families have joined the homestay group and as a result of the great interest we received, we developed a rotation system to enable as many families as possible to benefit from it. We are sorry you felt that the Homestay wasn’t a genuine experience, however we have not received any other feedback that supports your view and we trust that the huge interest the community has showed, reflects that the initiative is well received locally.

We really appreciate your input and very much hope that when you look back on your time with us, you will remember the positives you also outline in your review!

Default avatar
Mary
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Expedition!

Everything about this expedition was so amazing, its hard to pick just one story. The staff was excellent, the food was good, the volunteers were all lovely, and the diving was superb! Although I had been out of the country many times, this was my longest stent away from home, and my first flying completely solo, so naturally nerves ran a bit high. But all of my fears were put to ease instantly upon arriving. I was on the Overland Tour, which was highly worthwhile and a beautiful view of the Madagascar countryside. When we finally arrived in Andavadoka, our base site, the view from our huts was spectacular, and our group often enjoyed watching the sunset or stargazing from the top of the dunes. The dives, as I said before, were great! Though not always perfect visibility, it was always very fun and safe. I felt like I learned a lot about the diversity of sea life, both of benthic organisms and various fish species. We were also located right next to the village, and could easily interact with the villagers through a walk down to town or at our English lessons (which I really enjoyed). Overall, the experience was a perfect mix of community interaction, learning, and conservation efforts! I would highly recommend this trip to anyone!

What would you improve about this program?
I would recommend having a bit more structure for the English lessons, or more tools available for teaching. Although I thought the lessons were great, I think the students could have gained more if there were more resources (like English to Malagasy dictionaries or grammar workbooks). It could also be good, as a volunteer, to bring some resources with you.

I would also recommend a stricter study regimen for learning fish and benthic species. Our group didn't manage to survey until the last week and a half. I think that if we had been pushed to learn earlier, or the importance of learning quickly had been more emphasized, we would have been able to survey more and go to more offshore sites. I think that having an hour self study some days, and leader led/group study other days (so that you can talk out similarities and differences and learning tricks) would have been really helpful, both for benthic and fish.
Again, as a volunteer, learn from my mistakes (and laziness) and learn your stuff quickly! Its worth it, trust me! Don't put off studying :)
Default avatar
Hoamby
7/10
Yes, I recommend this program

the beauty of Andavadaoka

In the field of Andavadaoka, the experience to be with the fishermans and seing them working are so amazing. They are sociable, simple and are conscientious of the importance of the sea. the first reason is that the villager depend totally of fishery. A wonderful traditonnal activity in the field is the pirogue race that we've got the chance to participate. In the other case, they have sometimes somes difficulties, the probem of luck of fishing equipement, or during the strong storm some them became homeless.
The best moment during this expedition was the diving activities, in that case i've got the chance to se a few shoal of dolphins for the first time, to see some big gorgonian and sponge, differents kind of fishs. A very beautifull biodiversity, favorits my time was to relax on the beautiful white sand of the beach. the expedition was an opportunities to meet some wonderfull and unforgettable friends