As i sit here writing this blog i have to confess to a (very small and manly) lump in my throat. The cause of this discomfort is really rather simple to diagnose, for after 9 wonderful months here in Andavadoaka my time as field scientist is coming to an end and after falling in love with the place on day one i am really rather sad to leave. Anyway that is enough doom and gloom, i just thought i would put down some of my reflections of this place and some of the experiences i have had for your enjoyment. Its really rather hard to know how to describe this place adequately on paper to be honest, the camp is set overlooking our tropical lagoon with aqua marine waters and fringing reefs that put a spring in your step when you wake up in a morning. Often my first job of the day has been to take the early dive out for science training as the sun is rising, and recently this has coincided with small groups of humpback whales frollicking next to our boat, i don’t think it is an experience i will ever be able to match as you watch these magnificent creatures glide past, with the occasional breach or fin slap thrown in for good measure. One of the best things about this place is that you’re experiencing these things with like minded friends from all over the world, i have been here for 6 trips now and have met some amazing people, some of which i know i will stay in contact with for a very long time and i think that everyone leaves here feeling the same. The other amazing facet of my time here is the rate of progress and growth of our conservation projects, and the growth of BV as a company. The Marine Protected Areas that we have recently finalised are a consequence of 3 years hard work by previous volunteers and staff, and the development of these areas are an acheivement we can all be extremely proud of. With many areas being completely or temporarily closed to fishing we are busy working on alternative livelihoods for the local fishing community, such as seacucumber aqua culture and algae farming, all of which will continue to be built upon by incoming staff.
In tandem with this we have shark and turtle monitoring schemes, new tourism ventures and a whole range of plans for nature reserves etc that means our efforts here will be more and more evident as time goes by. Finally, it is the people of Andavadoaka that i think will leave the most long lasting impression on this cold hearted scientist. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and Andavadoaka is one of the poorest regions, many of the people here have virtually nothing yet are amongst some of the friendliest, happiest people i have ever met. I’ve had some amazing times with them, be it a bv vs village football match, pirogue racing, village celebrations or simply a few drinks in the local epi bar, and all of these are etched into my memory forever. This place pulls on my heart strings like no other that i have ever been to and I know, with absolute certainty, that i will be back one day. As i said it is hard to describe Andavadoaka in words alone, but if i was to attempt it brevity is best: beautiful, haunting, vibrant and, for my last 9 months: home.
Lea Fennelly (field scientist)