I’m coming to the end of my first week here in Andavadoaka, and I’m already regretting the fact that I’ve signed up for just six weeks instead of three months. There’s so much to see and do here – not to mention a phenomenal amount to learn. That said, I couldn’t be happier with the tuition on offer. I came to Madagascar with one short ‘discovery’ dive under my belt. Now, just five days on, I have only three skills left to learn in order to complete my open water diving certification. What’s more, all the fears I had about things like taking my mask off and swimming without it underwater have completely evaporated.
And that’s not all. I’m actually in a position now that when I dive I can recognise a number of corals, algae and invertebrates.
If I’m completely honest, I didn’t pass my first benthic test – held yesterday. But 42/50 ain’t so bad for a first attempt (45/50 is the pass mark). And when I look at it in context – that this time last week I couldn’t have told anyone the difference between crustose coralline algae and hard coral massive – I’m pretty pleased with my progress. I’m slowly learning my fish too, and can now recognise pretty much all of the butterfly fish, banner fish and angel fish that swim off these shores. Just another 40-odd families of fish to go and I’ll have everything covered!
There’s no denying that Blue Ventures keeps you busy while you’re in Andavadoaka. But it’s not simply about learning to dive, what’s on the seabed, and what swims in the water. Over the course of the past few nights, we’ve learnt a lot about the work the organisation is doing with the local and wider community – for example, the implementation and monitoring of no-take zones for octopus (octopus fishing is one of the local people’s main sources of income, but reserves became dangerously depleted some months ago, and no-take zones had to be introduced in order to repopulate stocks).
We’ve also been learning about the solar-powered stoves BV has been able to provide for local people with the carbon offsetting money they’ve generated from volunteers who fly to Madagascar. It’s great to actually see how this money has been used. The fact that the stoves are being distributed among local people means that less wood is being chopped down, and Western Madagascar’s precious spiny forests are being preserved that little bit longer.
Other news from week one… well, less than 24 hours after receiving a lecture on injuries in and out of the sea, I managed to step on not one, but two urchins while out snorkelling. (I was a little too preoccupied to be able to tell you what type of urchin they were!)
Fortunately for me, help was at hand in the form of the three wonderful people I was out snorkelling with (one of them is planning to do her rescue diving qualifications while here; hopefully I gave her a bit of advance training!). After being pulled unceremoniously out of the water, having the visible spines tweezed out, and undergoing ‘hot water treatment’ I was right as rain. Well, enough to go diving the next day, at least…
All in all, it’s been an eventful week. I’ve learnt a lot – including some Malagasy phrases. I’ve eaten a LOT of fish, rice and beans. I’ve taught some local kids how to play ‘Snap’. I’m even getting a tan (a wonder in itself). I’m loving every minute. I just hope the next five weeks don’t go as fast as week one appears to have done!
Blue Ventures Volunteer (Expedition 39)