The expedition is structured so that the first week is spent working with the Mahamavo forest research teams. For the second week the groups have the option of travelling to the island of Nosy Be to complete a dive training course or learn about Indian Ocean reef ecology or, alternatively, groups can remain in the Mahamavo forest for a second week.

  • Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Week 1 – Mahamavo forest

During the first week the teams will complete surveys including :

  • Herpetofauna routes: A small group of students led by a herpetologist walk slowly along forest sample routes scanning the vegetation and ground carefully for reptiles and amphibians since many species, particularly leaf tailed geckos, are quite cryptic. When an individual is detected the location, species and the distance from the route centreline are recorded. These transects are completed both during the day and at night using spotlights.
  • Lemur routes: Groups walk slowly along the route with a lemur specialist scanning the canopy closely for groups of lemurs. When a troop is detected the location, species, troop size and the distance from the route centreline are recorded. These transects are completed both during the day and at night using spotlights.
  • Bird point counts and mist netting: Students join an ornithologist completing point counts in the early morning. Teams form an outward facing circle and record all the birds seen or heard over a 10 minute period. Mist nets are also used for cryptic species. When birds are caught the ornithologist will demonstrate how they are removed from the net, handled and morphometric measurements recorded. Blood samples are also taken from the first 20 individuals caught from each species for genetic analysis.
  • Amphibian Surveys: Groups of students will be led by a herpetologist to an inland lake or rice paddy and collect as many frogs as possible over a 40 minute standard search period. Each frog collected is  identified to species, weighed and morphometric measurements taken to determine the abundance of each frog species in the area as well as the population structure.
  • Butterfly surveys: Pollard surveys of butterflies are completed along a series of fixed transects.
  • Bat mist netting: Mist nets are used to sample the bat communities and all bats captured are identified. Students are shown how captured bats are removed, handled, identified and morphometric measurements recorded.
  • Forest structure plots:  The aim of taking measurements in a stratified sample of 20m x 20m plots in the forests is to track changes in the biophysical properties of the forest such as canopy height, sapling density and basal area.

The groups will also complete a Madagascar Wildlife and Culture course with lectures on Introduction to Madagascar, biogeography and evolution of Madagascar wildlife, species concept, biodiversity conservation in Madagascar, people in Madagascar and conservation synthesis.

Week 2 – Nosy Be Marine Site

On this option the school will be based at the Nosy Be marine site and will be completing one of the following options:

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives, and open water dives to gain an official SCUBA qualification.
  • Indian Ocean Reef Ecology course: Completion of a Indian Ocean reef ecology course consisting of lectures and in water practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures cover an introduction to coral reef ecosystem, coral and algal species, marine megafauna, mangrove and seagrass ecology, ecologically important invertebrates, identification of coral reef fish, reef survey techniques, threats to reefs and marine conservation.
  • PADI Open Water referral course: For this option students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components. This course takes three days to complete, after which students will join the Indian Ocean reef ecology course.

Madagascar Mahamavo Research Objectives

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).

Madagascar Nosy Be Research Objectives

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.

  • Attend lectures and field bases practicals on Madagascan ecology and conservation
  • Learn survey methods to sample birds, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, lemurs and habitat
  • Learn how to use a GPS and smart phones for data collection
  • Visit a tradition Malagasy village and school and learn about their culture
  • Learn some basis Malagasy words and phrases
  • Gain an internationally recognized SCUBA qualification
  • Attend our marine research lecture series
  • Complete a week-long training course on Indian ocean reef ecology (if snorkeling or already dive trained)

The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.

You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.

If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.

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.

Creature comforts
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.


  • Madagascar
  • Antafiameva
  • Mariarano
  • Nosy Be Marine Site
  • Matsedroy

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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