One of the places I most want to visit in the world is Madagascar: one of Africa’s 8 biodiversity hotspots and home to the world’s 4th largest continuous coral reef system. I can’t think of a much better way to visit the largest island in the Indian ocean, than living there as a volunteer for a few months with Blue Ventures – an award-winning marine conservation organisation based in southwest Madagascar in the village Andavadoaka. Blue Ventures is working to help conserve an unique and biodiverse marine area which faces multiple threats including overfishing, coral bleaching, and the looming impacts associated with climate change and pollution.
About Blue Ventures
Working in partnership with local communities, Blue Ventures Madagascar conducts marine research, assists local communities with marine conservation planning, is involved in education and awareness-raising campaigns as well as sustainable livelihoods projects. It also offers volunteers the opportunity to be part of a conservation effort that has been heralded the ‘Best Volunteering Organisation’ in 2010, according to the Responsible Tourism Awards.
Blue Ventures has won a number of responsible tourism awards, and has been recognized for their conservation and sustainable development contributions by various organisations – winning a SEED Award in 2005, a UNDP Equator Initiative Prize in 2007 together with the village of Andavadoaka, and in 2010 was a runner-up in the Observer Ethical Awards where it was commended for being the Indian Ocean’s “first replicable blueprint for community-centred marine and coastal conservation planning”.
Volunteers pay a weekly fee to be part of the conservation efforts at Blue Ventures and the revenue from these expeditions, together with grants and award money, is used to fund ongoing conservation and community work.
Life as a marine conservation volunteer
Volunteers with Blue Ventures Madagascar undergo an initial marine science training induction and thereafter are involved in marine surveys and monitoring, community outreach and education activities and are guided by researchers and programme coordinators. Have a look at their online gallery and videos for a glimpse of what volunteer life on the island is like. The data that is collected by volunteers is used by researchers to help identify strategies for sustainable local environmental management plans for the local communities, NGOs and Blue Ventures.
Blue Ventures’ conservation achievements
Blue Ventures has partnered with Andavadoaka village over the last 8 years and was instrumental in facilitating the establishment of the community-managed Velondriake Marine Protected Area (MPA), which is the first community MPA in Madagascar and the west Indian Ocean’s largest MPA spanning over 800km². The name ‘Velondriake’, which appropriately means “to live with the sea” in Malagasy, protects coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, baobab forests and other threatened habitats.
The MPA aims to protect and conserve the fragile marine ecosystem and also to ensure a sustainable food source and livelihoods for the surrounding communities who rely on marine resources for survival. Importantly, it involves collaboration by 25 villages and around 6500 community members.