It’s the start of a new expedition here in Andavadoaka, after an eventful week-long inter-phase in Toliara. Inter-phase (the period between two expeditions) is usually a time for permanent staff to stock up on provisions and to check emails, but this time we spent most of the week hiding from tropical cyclone Boloetse. With cyclones in Madagascar it’s a bit like following a cricket test match: every half hour or so someone comes in with the latest radio report on the cyclone’s position, or a freshly printed picture from a weather website. At first there is relief, as news spreads that the cyclone has swept across Madagascar and is heading out into the Mozambique Channel. Then there is dismay, as the cyclone changes its mind and turns back towards the coast. Finally there is grim resignation as it swings on to a direct collision course with Toliara, and people head home to tie down anything that weighs less than car.
When it finally arrived, in the early hours of the morning, Boloetse was dramatic – palm trees thrashing around in the wind, rain hurled horizontally against houses and streets flooding with water in minutes. But ultimately there wasn’t much damage, and the main inconvenience for us in the days that followed was the lack of power and internet access. Others were less fortunate, and people in the poorer parts of town spent three days living with a foot of water in their huts.
Andavadoaka also suffered during the storm, and we returned here after a moonlit boutre voyage to find villagers repairing and rebuilding houses. Thankfully there appear to have been no injuries during the storm, but several houses along the beach were swept away or damaged, and many pirogues have disappeared without trace. Our own site on the headland above the village has fared somewhat better, with huts still standing, roofs mostly intact, and hammocks still attached. The 2 dive boats are OK too – heroic efforts in the middle of the night by Bic and a crew of fishermen from the village (twice) saw them dragged far enough up the beach to avoid the waves. In fact ironically, the most impressive damage seems to be to the most solid structures around: large chunks of the cliff have fallen into the sea, staff beach has disappeared, and the concrete steps down to Half Moon have been broken into pieces and flung around the beach. Tom our field scientist and artificial reef pioneer is already eyeing the concrete debris hungrily.
Unfortunately another result of the cyclone has been to stir up thousands of tonnes of sand and silt, and visibility on our dive sites is currently about a metre. Thankfully this is improving daily, and we expect to be back in the water before you can say Desjardin’s Sailfin Tang. Meanwhile the new volunteers (who include a Latin teacher from Australia, an English teacher from Japan, a marine biologist from Germany, a student from Ireland and mix of people from the UK) are busy learning their dive theory, their fish species, and of course how to avoid a nomination for tai be…