Roger Vaughan is a retired teacher living in Napa, USA. He has been volunteering regularly with Blue Ventures since 2008, and has visited all three of our marine conservation expedition sites in Belize, Madagascar and Timor-Leste. This is his account of how his volunteering started, and why he keeps coming back.
When I retired from teaching, over ten years ago now, I was looking for a new way to use my skills and time constructively. I’ve always loved the oceans and diving, a love nurtured from my experiences teaching in the tropics.
My wife told me that I should use my new-found free time by doing something crazy, wild and far away… So that’s how I ended up in the remote village of Andavadoaka in southwest Madagascar with Blue Ventures (BV) in 2008.
The experience I had turned the clock back 40 years for me. I hadn’t been so practical with my involvement in the ocean since grad school, and now I was collecting coral reef data twice a day! To make matters even better, the volunteer group was large, diverse and full of good and interesting people. The group dynamic, both amongst the volunteers and between us and the BV team, was fantastic.
That same year, BV was beginning to branch out into community health and family planning, alongside their existing work in fisheries, mangroves and reef monitoring, and it was inspiring to see the diversity of engagement with the Andavadoaka community.
This first experience was the start of something special, and from that moment on I continued to travel with BV on a regular basis in order to access remote and beautiful places, and contribute to meaningful science at the same time.
I’ve volunteered with BV in Belize at least five times now, as it’s the easiest of their sites for me to get to. Over the years I’ve gotten to know some of the team very well, and the homestay families that I’ve stayed with too. I’ve also helped with several projects at the dive camp in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve where the volunteers spend most of their time, including rewiring the entire camp, clearing half an acre of land, and building a rain catchment system to increase fresh water storage capacity. I’ve also helped one of the children in my homestay family with her marine biology classes and, of course, completed many underwater surveys!
I’ve found these experiences very rewarding for a number of reasons. The freedom of being in such an isolated place, the engagement with the community in mainland Sarteneja, and the real sense of doing good and valuable work.
I had just turned 70 at the time BV established their new site in Timor-Leste, but that wasn’t going to stop me from going, and I had another terrific experience! The setting is remote and utterly beautiful, I could walk out into the seagrass beds from my homestay before swimming out onto the reef. During my expedition I also saw six species of whale and a 60-strong school of dolphins – remarkable experiences for anyone!
I found the early discussions about Tara Bandu laws very encouraging too, having seen the effectiveness of similar community-based laws during my time in Madagascar’s Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area. It’s been a sincere pleasure to read the blogs from Timor-Leste over the last couple of years detailing how the communities are using Tara Bandu to manage their marine resources themselves.
Before I go on for too long, I’d like to take this opportunity to speak to anyone out there who’s considering a BV expedition. Truly, it’s an adventure like no other. Anyone can and should learn to dive safely, and BV enables you to dive in some of the most stunning locations on the planet. Diving with scientists is also much more fulfilling and educational than diving with tourists. Blue Ventures empowers you, the volunteer, to contribute to meaningful science and conservation.
Diving with scientists is also much more fulfilling and educational than diving with tourists. Blue Ventures empowers you, the volunteer, to contribute to meaningful science and conservation.
Age is not a factor, don’t let it put you off! I met a woman who was learning to dive at 68 and now goes diving four or five times a year all over the world. The warm water in Belize, Madagascar and Timor-Leste is wonderful.
For the younger folks, BV offers an opportunity to see things that you’d never be able to see otherwise. Getting to know people and places in a country very different from your own can really change how you view your lifestyle, and increase your appreciation of other cultures and environments. The group dynamic is also like nothing else in terms of making friends. I still keep up with people from my first BV expedition!
I’ve found the BV experience so immersive and inspiring that I’ve taken lots of opportunities to stay involved even after expeditions have ended. I’ve supported the education programmes in Belize and Madagascar because I know that the money is going to get to the people I saw. For me, I’m happy I can stay engaged, stay connected, and keep in touch with BV.
The world is changing, and a BV expedition could be the next step on your journey to help change it for the better.