On this expedition, you will spend three weeks in the dry forests of Mahamavo with the opportunity to move around the three camp sites, and then one week on the reefs in Nosy Be. During the first week at the forest camp you will receive lectures about Madagascar wildlife and conservation, but for most of the time you will be rotating between a series of research projects. Having three weeks at this site enables you to try all the projects and continue rotating or to specialise and gain some additional field skills in particular surveys. These projects include studies on the structure and composition of the forest, pollard counts of butterflies, spotlighting for amphibians, crocodile transect surveys, herpetofauna routes, mist netting and point counts for birds, distance sampling for lemurs (both day and night). In addition, there are other more specialist projects running such as colour change in chameleons, sifaka population studies, analysis of land change from satellite data, mark-release-recapture of nocturnal mouse lemurs and others that also require assistance from time to time. In addition to this, there is also the opportunity to be involved with a local mangrove replantation project in the adjacent wetlands. At the end of the three weeks at the forest site, you will transfer to the island of Nosy Be. If you are not dive trained then your week at the marine site will involve completing a PADI Open Water dive training course. If you are already dive trained or just want to snorkel, then your week at the marine site will be completing the Indian Ocean reef ecology course with two lectures each day and two in-water practicals either by diving (if qualified) or snorkelling. For those already Open Water qualified, you will also have the option of completing your Advanced Open Water on site with us.
Madagascar boasts some of the most spectacular biodiversity in the world: lemurs, tenrecs, baobabs and over half of all known chameleon species. Much of this biodiversity is endemic. The Operation Wallacea surveys are completing research on the dry forests and associated wetlands of Mahamavo in the northwest of Madagascar.
Madagascar has declared 17% of its land as protected areas, but much of this land is already severely degraded, so the actual area of land under protection is much smaller. An alternative approach to assigning protected area status and prohibiting usage, is to develop community managed areas such as Mahamavo, where there is a mosaic of protected and managed areas. DTZ, the German Technical Support Agency has established a series of community managed forests in the Mahamavo area that appear to be successful and may form the basis for conservation and improving livelihoods in other parts of Madagascar. The Opwall teams here are monitoring how the forest structure and biodiversity in these community managed forests are changing over time to identify whether this management strategy can provide a viable alternative to national parks in terms of protecting biodiversity.
The dry forests around Mahamavo have exceptional diversity with two species of diurnal lemur and another five to six species of nocturnal lemurs, two spectacular species of chameleons, three known species of leaf-tailed geckos, and many endemic birds. In addition to the forest work, the Opwall teams are also documenting the biodiversity value of the adjacent wetlands with a view to getting this area upgraded to Ramsar status (a Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention).
Despite plans by the Madagascan government to expand its network of marine protected areas (MPAs), the country’s coral reefs remain under threat from local pressures such as overfishing, and global threats such as climate change. However, surveys by the World Conservation Society found the reefs around islands near Nosy Be, off Madagascar’s northwest coast, to be amongst the healthiest anywhere in the Western Indian Ocean. They found live coral cover to have increased in recent years, and fish biomass to be at carrying capacity.
The larger island of Nosy Be is home to a sizeable human population and a bustling tourism industry, likely placing the surrounding coral reefs under increased pressure. Opwall will be working along a gradient of reef protection, from the strictly protected MPA at Nosy Tanihely to unmanaged reefs further along the coast. Our aims are to establish a technology-driven standardised reef monitoring program which can be combined with data sets from other key bioregions to explore patterns in coral reef functioning from present to future. Via this programme we will then collect long term reef health data across this human use gradient to compare the performance of reefs around Nosy Be to those of more remote locations nearby.
In Madagascar it is the dry season so it is hot during the day (temperatures between 25 and 30degrees Celsius) with extremely little chance of rain in the forest and very occasional rain at the marine site. During the evenings the temperature does drop to around 18 degrees Celsius with occasional cold spells getting as low as 14 degrees Celsius.
Fitness level required
Moderate. In the forest most surveys require walking long distances, and although the terrain is relatively flat you will be walking mostly on sand. Fitness requirements for the marine site is low.
Facilities at the forest camps are basic (tents, bucket showers, long drop toilets). The site has no phone signal or wifi. Facilities at the marine site are a little less rustic with dorm style accommodation and running water for showers and flushing toilets. The marine site does get some phone signal and limited wifi.