By Gildas Andriamalala, Velondriake MPA Project Manager, Andavadoaka, Madagascar.
Once again I set off across the world from Madagascar to Victoria, Canada, battling with time zones and airport transits, in order to share work experiences from southwest Madagascar’s Locally Managed Marine Area, Velondriake, with fellow conservation practitioners, converging from all corners of the world for the International Marine Conservation Congress II. The conference was held at the Victoria Conference Centre from the 14th to the 18th of May.
To my horror, before I even reached Victoria, disaster struck; a slight change in flight itinerary meant that my luggage and I had parted ways. I was bound for Victoria and my bags were now heading on a south-easterly trajectory to Toronto! Despite having travelled abroad several times before, I had never had to survive without luggage… Three days in unfamiliar surroundings with no personal belongings was unsettling to say the least and with my presentation looming I was getting progressively more anxious. You can therefore imagine my huge relief when my bags were finally returned to me in one piece only the day before I was due to speak.
With the luggage ordeal thankfully behind me, I was now free to thoroughly enjoy my time in Victoria! I had the chance to meet friends and colleagues that I knew from both Blue Ventures in Madagascar and NGO partners from the States, Western Indian Ocean and even Fiji. It was nice to catch up with former colleagues to talk about how our work with the local coastal communities has recently evolved, as well as about the general situation in Andavadoaka, (which is our main research site) and Madagascar. In a more formal context, many different models of marine resource management projects as well as biological and socioeconomic research were presented and discussed at the conference, in which it was really interesting to learn about different innovative techniques being employed to generate sustainable marine resource management solutions worldwide. It was also very valuable to learn from research findings carried out in other regions of the world.
Equally, the conference provided an opportunity for me to discover yet another facet of the world. Victoria is a very beautiful place in terms of both the sea and landscapes and as a result, it is unsurprisingly, very touristy. In my spare time when I was not taking part in workshops or listening to presentations, I made the most of my new environment by joining a small ferry expedition (only suitable for about ten people), to give me a better view of the coast. Whilst sightseeing, we also went to visit an aquarium which is located in the inner harbour of Victoria and constitutes a large house boat structure above water level which descends into a fully-fledged aquarium with viewing windows up to 15 feet below water. Among its many amazing features, this was the first time I had ever seen a scuba diver in an aquarium feeding fish whilst simultaneously delivering a talk to spectators.
From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed to me that Victoria has a diverse mixture of cultures; it’s one of my passions to learn about the different cultures that exist all over the world and how it’s possible to integrate all these different cultural backgrounds into one society, so it was therefore very interesting to experience such a truly multicultural environment. Other than the cultural aspect, one thing that really made an impression on me during my stay was the general collective commitment to conservation efforts evident throughout the area.