5.30am. I can hear the sound of a bell ringing some distance away. I open one eye and look at my watch. 5.30am. The sun is rising and it's time to wake up and get kitted up for the 1st dive of the day. While the men from the neighbouring village are preparing their pirogues and nets, I meet up with some of the members of expedition 36 in the bat cave to set up our scuba diving equipment.
6am. Time for a dive briefing. Now that we have passed all tests on the benthic stuff (coral, sponges, hydroids etc.) Charlie and Louis brief us on the fish point-out dive. there are more than 150 fish to learn and we are aiming to pass the fish tests by the end of this week so there's no time to waste. Fortunately, the weather is on our side - no rain and light wind both make for good visibility underwater. It's pretty hot in the afternoon though (37 degrees C).
6.30am. Off we go with the boat on a flat and peacful sea towards near shore half moon - a close spot opposite our campsite. We all get geared, we carry out a buddy check and at 'telo' (three) we all fall backwards into the water with a temperature of around 29 degrees. We are going down to the sea floor for a 45 minute dive looking for all sorts of fish we need to learn, they are all more colouful than one to the other. This morning we have seen the Schwenk's sweeper, a black spotted sweetlips, jewel damsels, orange-spined unicorn fish, Madagascan butterfly fish, three-spot dascyllus, peacock grouper, skunk anenomefish, big eye snappers, bicolour parrotfish, semi-circle angelfish and bloodspot squirrel fish amongst others.
8.45am. We are back to the BV campsite. We put our equipment away after having rinsed it first. We then go back to our respective bungalows to have a shower and chill out a bit in the hammock. I take Allen's reef fish book with me to check the fish I was not sure about while underwater.
10.15 After a bit of a rest, I am now heading down to Nosy Cao (our classroom) to see what people are up to, including the Malagasy staff writing their reports on their respective research projects. It's good to discuss with them on their work as it provides and instant insight on how valuable the data we gather during our survey dives is for the setting up of a community-run marine protected area. This gives me even more motivation to practice the fish test on the computer with other members of the expedition.
13.15 Time to head up to the restaurant and fill up my bottle of water. Three litres of water is usually what I drink for a day because of the heat. On my way, I spot a Namaqua dove and also a dimorphic egret on the shoreline. Lunch and dinnertimes are always a good opportunity to catch up with other members of the expedition including the two Dutch researchers working on a seagrass research project.
14.30. I go for a well-deserved half hour nap in the shade.
15:00 We all gather in Nosy Cao to work on the organisation of an open day for the villagers of Andavadoaka. We are preparing various posters and animations translated by the Malagasy staff which explain BV's fieldwork here and the benefits of establishing a marine protected area. This is a totally new concept for most of the fishemen here. They have always fished in this area without restrictions. However, when fish become scarce, they go fishing further north by travelling - sometimes for a few months. It is hoped that one of the benefits of the MPA for the local fishermen will be in providing good-sized fish most of the year in the proximity of the village and avoiding the promotion of bad fishing practices (dynamite and cyanide) or sailing long distances in order to yield a satisfactory number of fish.
18:00 Time for our duties - cleaning the classroom and diving room, data entry and gathering weather data.
19:00 We all meet up at the restaurant for 'vao vao' (news) when people and staff tell everybody else what happened today and what the schedule is for tomorrow.
19:30 Dinnertime! We all grab food - consisting of fish or meat with rice or pasta and vegetables. We have pineapple for dessert - a real treat.
20:30. Chill-out time when everyone chats about how they are going to change the world and we debate about anything and everything. Others play cards or sing along to the guitar.
22:00 Bed time! It has been a long day full of interesting things. Now all I can think of is what fish I am going to be dreaming of tonight.