By Liz Griffiths
The Blue Ventures expeditions to Madagascar are back in operation, thankfully, after several months of disruption. We are a small bunch in comparison to the usual number of volunteers from around the world who descend on site every six weeks. The recent civil unrest which followed the political changes in Madagascar in January caused a dramatic decrease in the number of tourists visiting and general NGO activity. However, things have returned to their normal calmness which is great news.
Our expedition arrived on site at the small village of Andavadoake, south west Madagascar, on the evening of the 17th of May after an incredible 4 day overland tour to Tulear from ‘Tana. It has been non-stop ever since. We became familiar with the area pretty quickly. The BV site sits on a very small peninsula, with stunning views across the Mozambique Channel. Andavoadake Village is a two minute walk away and home to approximately 1200 people, who welcomed with an exciting, noisy and packed reception one evening.
The days immediately took their routine and structure. Breakfast at 7:30 or 8am. Dive at 8 or 9am. For the beginners in the group this has involved performing 3 or 4 exercises underwater where we practise our buoyancy, navigation etc as part of our PADI Open Water Diver certification. Learning to dive was one of my main reasons for joining a BV expedition and it has been more fun than I expected. The one-on-one instruction from Axelle, the expedition manager and dive instructor has been brilliant. She hovers inches above the sea bed, demonstrating one of the skills we need to master. She looks like a serene yogo guru, floating easily in the lotus position and controlling her bouancy by just using her lungs. I, on the other hand, do my best to not look like a complete incompetent moron. Fins and arms flail in all directions as I slowly tilt backwards, my head slowing heading towards the soft sandy seabed and my legs pointing. skyward. She made it look simple. It is not. I am yet to find my grace in water. However, reassured by her that it would all come with practice, we perservered. And, she was right. We have now finished all our qualification dives and have just began our Open Water Advanced training. This is great news, as it gives us all another sets of underwater skill tests in which to demonstrate how to look like an upside down turtle.
After the dive, and once we have de-kitted and showered, there’s usually a pretty fast stampede to lunch. After lunch, its snooze time or a chance to lie on hammocks and catch-up on the study – and htere is plenty to study. For the 2 of us learning the dive for the first time, we usually spend the afternoons reading the various textbooks and preparing for knowledge reviews, quizzes and exams. In addition, we all studied and passed our benthic test at the end of the first week, which means we are all pretty capable of spotting and identififying a myriad of soft and hard corals and other invertebrates.
Around 230-pm, the classes start again. Last we focssed on coral. Today we started our fish classes. If we thought the coral was hard, the fish study is a whole new world. But, its all interesting and necessary if we’re going to be of any help to the science teams who need us to help collect data from the sea bed. We all attend the lectures, including our younger members. Olivia, who turns 14 in a few months, and her 11 year old brother Vinnie who are having a holiday they’ll never forget and keep us all on our toes. They know more about fish and coral than the rest of us put together. In between their homework sessions (not their idea of fun), they can be found swimming around our heads as they snorkel alongside their parents Craig and Liz and the rest of the dive teams. Australians – they’re built with gills.
Lectures are usually followed by chores (cleaning the various bits of kit and storage areas) and then it’s back to free time before Vao Vao at 7pm. Malagasy for “what’s news?”, Vao Vao is the time when we divulge any major or minor events of the day, and usually involves a tale or two from Vinne about his adventures on his new pirogue, or recent spots from the dive or community programme teams. Then its lights out at 9pm, by which time I’m usually curled up in bed snoring my head off.