Citizen Science has picked up in recent years. Travellers are venturing forth on unique itineraries that provide them with opportunities to support scientific research on topics from habitats and population densities of endangered species to impacts of global climate change on coral reefs - all while 'sightseeing' in unique land-based or underwater environments. For those voluntourists with scuba diving credentials, and who have a real affinity for the briny depths, you have at least one outfit from the United Kingdom you can turn to - Blue Ventures.
Background & History Of Blue Ventures
Back in 2001 a small Edinburgh University undergraduate team set out on an expedition to coastal south west Madagascar. The aim of the expedition was to assess the coral reefs in the region and, in this respect, the expedition was a great success. However, on returning home the team realised that their well-funded work had left no legacy in the country and that their findings could not be accessed and used by those who lived, worked and fished in the region. It was from this experience that the idea of Blue Ventures was born – an organisation which would provide long-term, relevant and sustainable support for coastal communities managing resources.
It was nearly 2 years, and 4 university expeditions later, before the first Blue Ventures' research volunteers were welcomed to the village of Andavadoaka in south west Madagascar. Their help was needed to collect critical data on coral reefs at risk and to assess fisheries on the brink of collapse. The project has expanded and developed over the past 7 years, with Blue Ventures’ work reaching 25 villages in Madagascar and 2 new sites in Belize and Malaysia. Our work still includes reef and fisheries assessment, but also encompasses the development of sustainable alternative livelihoods, social marketing campaigns, a school scholarship programme, a family planning programme, environmental education, women’s associations, target species monitoring and a carbon offsetting scheme.
Philosophy & Vision
Coral reefs are in severe decline globally and many coastal communities depend on the resources of healthy reef habitats to support their way of life and survival. In south west Madagascar the Vezo tribe are known as the ‘People of the Sea’ and are dependent on marine resources for both subsistence and cultural identity. The majority of the Vezo live on less than $2 per day and there are little state education or health facilities in the region. Blue Ventures works in this area not only to have a positive impact on the health of reef habitats, but to improve the quality of life, choices, cultural development and voice of these people and to give them the tools to manage their fisheries for generations to come. In 2009 we started to replicate our work with other coastal communities in developing nations.
In 2011 the 60th Blue Ventures group will join the Andavadoaka village elders, as every group has before, to pay respect to the special relationship we have with this community. On setting up our research programme, Blue Ventures’ conducted an extensive study of local culture and social structures and, most importantly, the conservation issues of most concern to the people in the village. Our early research work focussed on octopus fisheries, an import source of income in the region. The community elders agreed to adopt our recommendations on octopus fishing seasons and, within a year or so, the government of Madagascar adopted rules on octopus seasons for the whole country. We have kept listening and responding to our hosts in Madagascar, Belize and Malaysia as we develop our work and this is at the heart of the organisation.
Possible Voluntary Service Activities In Which Voluntourists Would Participate
Coral reef monitoring
Volunteers dive daily to collect data on the coral reef, fish and vertebrate populations which provides long term data which is used by the community for management and published internationally in order to add to the scientific data on reefs in the Western Indian Ocean. Complete SCUBA dive and science training is given.
Fringe habitat monitoring
Volunteers can also collect data on mangroves, seagrass beds or spiny forests which often involves trips to little visited parts of this remote region.
Volunteers can mentor Blue Ventures' staff and members of the community in order to pass on skills they may have and develop confidence in their partner. Examples would be English language and writing skills for scientists and research assistants, IT skills, retail or marketing skills for the Women’s Association, presentation skills and practice for communicators.
Environmental education and school English lessons
Blue Ventures' volunteers enjoy taking ‘living classroom’ sessions for the local children’s environmental club and teaching basic English in the village school on Saturday mornings.
Regional outreach trips
Volunteers can join development staff in their visits around the region; staying with local families and attending meetings or celebrations, collecting data which has been collected by community members or getting involved in fishery ground openings, assisting with the promotion of family planning clinics or education.
Volunteers are needed to assist at key times in the farming of sea cucumbers and sea weed which provide sustainable alternative livelihoods for family groups.
Volunteers in Malaysia are involved in litter picks and the removal of invasive species from reefs.
Possible Touristic Activities In Which Voluntourists Would Participate
Baobab forest trips
Local eco-guides take volunteers on trips to the majestic baobab forests near our Madagascar site. There volunteers learn about the ecology and some of the beliefs around Baobab’s in this part of the world.
At certain times of the year migrating whales can be seen at all of our sites. This is a magical and intimate experience when you are in a small wooden boat and not a large noisy vessel.
Overland tour through the heart of Madagascar
Blue Ventures can organise 4 or 3 day overland tours for volunteers wishing to take the opportunity to see more of Madagascar. Volunteers visit some of Madagascar’s famous national parks where lemurs and chameleons as well as many other of this island’s unique wildlife can be seen.
Camping trips to deserted islands are popular with volunteers in Madagascar during their down time.
Tropical forest treks
Our site on Tioman island sits next to some of the most pristine rainforest in South East Asia, volunteers can try to find the curious Tioman Walking Catfish and camp out under the stars.
Manatee recue centre
Blue Ventures' volunteers are welcomed to the local Manatee rescue centre in norther Belize where they learn about these graceful creatures.
A chance to see ancient Mayan ruins away from the crowds, near our site in Belize.
It is difficult to set a ‘typical’ itinerary for our volunteer expeditions as each one is unique.
Pre-expedition - Days -6 to -3
4 day overland tour for 1000km from the capital Antananarivo through the mountains of Madagascar to Toliara; visiting the Anja community reserve where ring-tailed lemurs can be found, the incredible rock formations and natural swimming pools and waterfalls of I’salo National Park, local craft cooperatives making artisan papers and traditional wood carvings.
Pre-expedition – Days -2 to -1
A chance to see the main city in the south west region, Toliara, and stock up on treats not available in rural Andavadoaka
200km drive along challenging sand and rock roads in a 4x4 truck. A first glance at the turquoise water and the white sands of this incredible coast and first greetings from the friendly villages passed through, and sunset amongst the Baobabs.
Day 2 – 3
Site orientation, meet the team, safety and health briefings over these 2 days. All groups also meet the Nahodas (village elders) in a ceremonial evening to seek permission to conduct the expedition in the village. Some speeches, some local spirits and a lot of dancing.
Dive and science training takes place as well as introductions to other projects being conducted at the time. Every evening the whole team eat and meet together at Vao Vao (which means ‘the news’).
Daily research dives made, as well as trips to other parts of the region to collect data. Every Saturday volunteers conduct English lessons in the local school and there is the opportunity every week to do some tourist activities such as learning to sail a pirogue or visiting the Baobab forest. The afternoon before the weekly expedition ‘day off’ is spent on some light chores and the evening is designated ‘party night’, a chance to relax, have a beer and chat about the weeks events.
Day 40 - 41
Fond farewells, final drawing together of data and big thank you given to all of our volunteers for their hard work.
Volunteers travel back to Toliara.
Post expedition – Days +43-+44
Chance for the volunteer group to relax in Toliara and to indulge in ice cream and other delicacies not available in Andavadoaka.
Post expedition – Days +45 - +47 overland tour
A chance to visit the tropical Ranomafana National Park on the return journey to Antananarivo.
Kathleen Edie, Expedition & Volunteer Coordinator
+44 207 359 1287
309 a/b Aberdeen Centre, 22-24 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA
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