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C3 Madagascar Internship Review – Fanny Vessaz – 2012

April 10, 2012

Madagascar is a country where discoveries wait at every corner. My experience there brought me great enrichment in both professional and personal aspect that I’ll always keep in a special place in my memories. After my bachelor and a field experience inAustralia, I had the chance to be enrolled in a 3 month internship from January to April 2012 with Community Centred Conservation, a NGO that works on marine conservation in Northern Madagascar. The projects I participated in, the great people I worked with brought me so much that I can hardly resume it in words.

Overall these three months I spent eight weeks in the field around Ampasindava village, main entrance point to the Nosy Hara marine park constituted of several islands on the northwest coast of Madagascar. Our work there consisted of socioeconomic surveys to assess the status of the local populations, mangrove forest and coral reef status assessments and educational activities with the Madagascar National Parks (MNP) staff and the scouts from Diego.

Before leaving for the field I spent two weeks in Diego reading scientific paper and acquiring some basic knowledge on the topics we were going to investigate to ensure future surveys would be conducted efficiently.

First of all, the social aspect of the project through interviews with representants of local communities was rewarding in so many ways. Overall it was great to learn how to conduct socioeconomic surveys and I could experience integration in local communities with a high sense of hospitality and get a deep feeling of their livelihoods and issues. I discovered the traditional customs and realized how much conservation is a complex goal. With communities living with scarce comfort and exploiting coastal resources as their only food and money income source, how can we pretend to restrict access to these supplies in behalf of environment preservation? I knew that communities had to be considered in conservation programs but finding myself in the middle of this context made me understand the complexity of balancing human needs and environment protection.

On a more environmental aspect we conducted surveys in mangrove forests and on coral reef. I got used to monitoring techniques that are widely conducted such as the ReefCheck and I improved my general knowledge in mangrove and coral reef ecosystems and specific species. Mangroves are fascinating sites  despite the mosquitoes, oysters or mud until the knees that made it quite difficult to conduct our work. Coral reefs were located just in front of our campbase and were amazing. Survey a 100 m long transect either with good visibility or not, the fact of swimming with tropical fish around is priceless.  Demanding work like we did during our time in Ampasindava is hard but so worth the effort. The data we collected can be used in many ways and helps to strenghten scientific knowledge of threatened environments.

Finally I assisted in training activities with rangers from Madagascar National Parks on monitoring methodologies for mangrove, coral reef and seagrass ecosystems. Their motivation and enthusiasm in learning and improving their current knowledge was gratifying and reinforced my believe that sharing scientific and traditional knowledge, integrating local stakeholders in the management process are key aspects if not the foundations of conservation programs. I was also involved in the preparation of the Marine Conservation Roadshow, a series of sketches about endangered marine species to highlight the importance of preserving natural resources. We developed the original play that was presented in the Volvo Adventure, bringing young scouts from Diego inSwedenfor an international contest in conservation initiatives. Taking part in the process of organizing an educational event gave me a sight of awareness-raising activities elaboration and a good background for my future projects in the conservation field. It was fulfilling to see that many people were attending the event and held attention to our message.

Besides my work duties, my time inMadagascarwas exceptional in many other ways. I visited the Montagne d’Ambre and Ankarana national parks, theEmeraldSea, the red tsingy… These were beautiful sites with such diversity and uniqueness I’ve hardly seen before. Watching lemurs jumping from one tree to another or being stared at by one’s big surprised eyes from a tree trunk hole is simply astounding. The chameleons were my favourites though without guides it would have been impossible to see most of them. I held in my hand one that was 1cm50 long: looking at this miniature perfection of nature, with its baffled eyes looking at you is astonishing. Additionally I had a broad insight in the malagasy food culture. Beans with coconut, even after four days of only beans as sidedish are always delicious, as kassava with coconut, and fresh fish is a luxury that I don’t get often back in my home country. Last but not least, the malagasy way of thinking is really captivating with a wide assortment of  entertaining proverbs and a general idea of life full of wisdom, happiness and simplicity. As a taste of it I’ll give one of my favourite citations: “Tondro tokana tsy mahazo hao”. It says that one finger is not enough to remove all the lice from one’s head, meaning union is strength.

My time inMadagascarwas then unforgettable. I immerged myself in a country with rich biodiversity and a totally different culture to leave it more open-minded, with great friendship and enlarged scientific skills.

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