In the early hours of a crisp morning in Toliara, two Malagasy marine science students, Andry Razakandrainy Andriamanjato and Max Lahitsiresy Gasimandova, eagerly wait to hop into a car full of international volunteers destined for their new home in Andavadoaka for the next 6 weeks. Despite having the advantage of being able to ask ‘are we nearly there yet?’ and ‘when’s lunch?’ in the local language, this was their first trip to Andavadoaka, but we’re sure they were in for an experience of a lifetime!
Blue Ventures volunteers come from all over the world. We have welcomed volunteers from 54 different nationalities and we are very pleased to count Malagasy students among these. Max and Andry both study Marine Science at the IH.SM (Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marine or Institute of Fisheries and Marine Sciences) in Toliara, and alongside their theoretical training in the classroom, practical experience of scientific methodologies and the ability to scuba dive will be vital for their future careers as marine scientists.
Blue Ventures and the IH.SM have worked closely together ever since the first scientific expeditions led by Blue Ventures in the southwest of Madagascar. More than a decade later we continue to work closely together to advance evidence-based fisheries management and marine conservation in Madagascar, and we are proud to support the training of the next generation of marine scientists by offering places on our expeditions to IH.SM students. As well as the scientific and diving experience, the students also benefit from six weeks speaking English and chatting with volunteers from a range of backgrounds and countries, and the international volunteers learn a lot from spending time with Malagasy students.
The scholarships programme has recently been re-launched, and Max and Andry were the first IH.SM students this year to take part in a Blue Ventures expedition.
“The IH.SM has provided me with many experiences and I’ve learnt a lot, but nothing beats diving and seeing the corals in the ocean. It’s greatly different from the photos in a book… an experience I’ll never forget.” Max
As part of the expedition, both Max and Andry completed their PADI Advanced Open Water training whilst on site, which is compulsory for volunteers to participate in science surveying. Andry after experiencing breathing compressed air for the first time said “It was amazing, a real achievement for me and like nothing I’ve ever done before”.
Max and Andry also completed our training in underwater identification and research techniques for monitoring benthic coverage on various coral reefs in the remote south-west coast of Madagascar. Like many volunteers leaving Andavadoaka they said they felt like they’d accomplished more in six weeks than they ever did in a classroom. “Learning 150 fish species was a real challenge for me” Max explains, “but something I can share with the students at the IH.SM”. Andry says he wants to explain benthic and coral surveying to fellow students, as well as explain the benefits of local marine reserves.
Aside from the diving and science, expedition volunteers also took part in and learnt about the full range of Blue Ventures’ community conservation activities including Aquaculture, Mangrove and Spider Tortoise Monitoring. Despite being born and raised in Madagascar, both students expressed having enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Vezo culture.
“With Blue Ventures there’s so much more to be involved in besides the diving. The local homestays were one of my favourite parts of the expedition.” Andry
On return to Toliara, before parting ways with the other volunteers, Max and Andry were pleased to show their friends around the IH.SM, continuing this valuable exchange.
The Blue Ventures expeditions team is happy to be able to offer this experience to young marine scientists. We hope this will help them go far in their careers to safeguard Madagascar’s marine environment. We all wish Max and Andry well in the future and look forward to welcoming more students in future expeditions.
Find out more about Blue Ventures’ award winning volunteer marine expeditions