I had been intending to write a comprehensive, witty, blog about my time here in Andavadoaka but for the last few days the weather has been absolutely stunning so we have all been doing some quite amazing things. For the last two days I have spent my time cruising around in a motorized pirogue visiting offshore islands north of our field camp. We visited two islands Nosy Ve; which has probably less than 80 people living on it and Nosy Mitata, which has around 40-50 people on it, and takes just 20 minutes to walk around! We visited these islands to discuss with the fisherman their potential as new MPA sites. These people have been fishing the waters for generations and when shown a map of the entire island they can pinpoint exactly all the best coral reef and fishing sites. As well as being rich fishing grounds, they were some of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Last night at sunset I walked up the tallest sand dune on Nosy Ve to see the setting sun over the horizon cast a beautiful pink haze, while in the west a large electrical storm passed over the mainland. The waters in the bays surrounding the island were dead calm while the villagers below were sitting outside of their thatched huts lighting small campfires and preparing the nights meal of rice and that days fish. Describing this image with only words hardly does that experience justice.
At that time, we had just finished meeting with the locals who had quite a lively discussion with us about just where the best fishing grounds/potential MPA sites would be, we loaded up our pirouge and crossed the short distance to the smaller island where we were to spend the night. Here, some local fishermen lent us a large sail to cover the beach where we were to sleep that night. We lit a small campfire and sat around drinking the local rum and some locals cooked us some-you guessed it-rice and fish for dinner. Although some light rain passed, we retreated into an empty hut (Read hut as such:
building constructed using sticks for supporting beams and thatched with some thin reeds to keep the rain away with a sandy floor) where the project manager, expedition manager, one of BVs Malagasy staff, another volunteer and I spent the night.
The best was yet to come. We woke with the sun to meet some more local fishermen who agreed to spend the morning with us taking us around to the best coral reefs surrounding the island, which we then mapped using GPS and snorkelled to survey the coral cover (an unecessary task but an honour to think we were the first westerners to ever snorkel these pristine coral reefs). More amazing still was that in a vast ocean with few landmarks, the local fisherman could take us out and drop us exactly on some excellent sites with amazing coral cover. Over the next few weeks the staff and volunteers will re-visit these sites, mapping the extent of the reefs and documenting the various species abundances. Life here in Andavadoaka at our field camp is quite relaxing, all of our huts have ocean views with a private beach in front-it is a shame air conditioning doesn’t quite come as standard but such is life! I would love to continue but tonight is party night and we will all head down to the village to join the locals in one of the epi bars. Tomorrow I will be heading out at sunrise in a pirogue with some local villagers to watch how the fish and what they catch etc.. I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Aaron McDonald (Volunteer)