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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

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Forest Site

Research is completed at a series of forest camps in the Mahamavo forest. Arrivals on this programme complete an introduction to Madagascar Wildlife and Conservation course alongside practicals in survey techniques. Following this you will be helping teams of field biologists completing standardised surveys on a series of key taxa. The Mahamavo forests are dry, deciduous forests which are becoming increasingly scarce as deforestation continues to threaten habitats across the island. These surveys are aimed at assessing the biodiversity of the community managed forests here and collecting data focusing on long term trends in species populations and habitat use.

Key activities:

  • Herpetofauna: walk slowly along forest sample routes, led by a herpetologist, scanning the vegetation and ground carefully for reptiles and amphibians since many species in the Mahamavo forest, 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.
  • Lemurs: 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.
  • Birds: 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.
  • Amphibians: walk to an inland lake or rice paddy with a herpetologist 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.
  • Butterflies: Pollard surveys of butterflies are completed along a series of fixed transects.
  • Forest structure:  A crucial data set when assessing biodiversity trends. You will be taking measurements in a stratified sample of 20m x 20m plots in the forests to track changes in canopy height, sapling density and basal area.

Marine Site

The marine site is on Nosy Be, a small island off the north west of Madagascar. If you are not already dive trained, you can spend your first week at this centre completing an SSI Open Water dive training course, before moving onto the Indian ocean reef ecology course in your next week. This course consists of lectures, morning and afternoon in-water practicals, and trains you in some of the survey techniques used in the marine environment to assess the status of reefs and their associated fish communities. If you are already dive trained or just wanting to snorkel your first week is on the Indian ocean reef ecology course and the second would be spent working with different researchers on site. Projects you will join include monitoring of fish populations, reef structure surveys and coral watch.

Key activities

  • SSI 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.
  • SSI referral course: For this option students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components either with SSI or PADI. This course takes three days to complete, after which students will join the Indian Ocean reef ecology course.


Madagascar Mahamavo Research Objectives

Madagascar has less than 5% of its land designated as Strict Nature Reserves, National Parks, Wildlife Reserves or Wildlife Corridors, and even some 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 formal protected areas in terms of protecting biodiversity. The dry forests around Mahamavo have exceptional diversity with two species of diurnal lemur and another six to seven 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 carrying out long term monitoring surveys in the adjacent wetlands, which have recently been given Ramsar status (a Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention).

Madagascar Nosy Be Research Objectives

Nosy Be is the premier dive destination on Madagascar, but there are few data on the coral reef communities that support this industry. Opwall teams will be gathering baseline data on these reefs, including data on fish community structure from stereo-video surveys, coral cover from video transects and 3D modelling.

  • 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 basic 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 to high. In the forest most surveys require walking long distances (between 12km and 23km per day), and although the terrain is relatively flat you will be walking mostly on sand.  Fitness requirements for the marine site are 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.


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

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4EX, UK
| +44 (0) 1790 763194 | info@opwall.com