The remote fishing village of Andavadoaka, population 1,200, is located along the southwest coast of Madagascar. For the past four years, Andavadoaka has worked with Blue Ventures and others to develop effective community conservation strategies aimed at protecting local natural resources. In 2007, Andavadoaka won the prestigious UN Equator Prize for its work to protect marine resources and develop sustainable livelihoods.
I worked with BV as Expedition Manager in Madagascar for nine months. I took the position having previously worked in Madagascar and Belize as Diving Manager, both which I thoroughly enjoyed. Expedition Manager seemed the natural progression and the position came up at the right time for me to apply. Having previously worked for other volunteer-based NGOs I found working for BV a true step up in the industry. For me the biggest difference was feeling that with BV we were doing truly productive work and empowering local people to make important changes to how they live. Other NGOs I’ve worked with have focused on creating experiences for volunteers and looking for ways to make this useful for local governing bodies. BV’s approach is different – the focus is very much on results.
My background was in management, and I had been working for major industrial groups. However working for an organisation like BV, in a location such as Andava held many surprises... From a management point of view, I learned tremendously from managing a team from many different countries and backgrounds. Office hours? An unknown concept; but so easily compensated for by the enthusiasm and the hard-working attitude of everyone on site.
Working for Blue Ventures in Andavadoaka changed my life. As well the obvious perks of living on a tropical beach and diving every day on amazing coral reefs, BV is an organisation I truly believe in. Above and beyond carrying out robust, and often ground-breaking marine research, BV are at their heart an enormously successful and responsible conservation organisation. They use their expertise and knowledge to make a huge difference to the marine environment and ultimately the local people who depend upon it so completely.
When the first thing you see every morning is a flotilla of white-sailed pirogues gliding across a sea glittering in the morning sun, it's very easy to forget that you're not on a never-ending sojourn and that you do in fact have a job to do in the tropical paradise that is Andavadoaka. When that realisation does hit you and you remember that your job revolves around daily interaction with said glittering sea, the problem then becomes working out whether you're awake or just still dreaming...
"They say that Peace Corps is "the toughest job you'll ever love", but reflecting on our time in Andavadoaka over the last few months, and in writing this piece, I have to say that those two years with Blue Ventures were right up there. Difficult in very, very different ways, rewarding beyond compare, and heart wrenching at times.
As a member of BV’s science team I was able to expand my technical monitoring skills, from the basics of underwater ecological and biodiversity surveys to social science methodologies, advanced GIS tools, and of course science communication skills. I’ve used all these skills and experiences throughout my career since BV, including three years in academia and currently as a US government scientist.