In 2011, I decided to seek international work experience relating to marine resource management in a developing country. Building on my Msc in Marine Science, Policy and Law and experience with working for the UK’s government marine sector, I wanted to gain first hand experience of the challenges facing resource management in a biodiverse, poverty stricken region through bottom up management approaches. In particular, I sought to develop an understanding of the socio-economic factors influencing resource management and development as well as an inspiring experience of working with some of the poorest rural communities on Earth. A global biodiversity hotspot and economically considered a Least Developed Country, Madagascar was the answer! and I chose to gain this experience through supporting the work and ethos of C3.
During my time at C3, I was trained in the highly recognised Socio-economic Monitoring Surveys for Coastal Managers of the Western Indian Ocean (SOCMON WIO); the universal Reef Check, Seagrass Watch and Mangrove Monitoring methodologies; turtle monitoring techniques as well as dugong and turtle key informant socio-economic analysis. In addition, I was trained in terrestrial primate ecological monitoring, focusing on the critically endangered blue eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons). Using these skills, I participated in conducting a month long marine ecological and socio-economic assessment of the recently established Sahamalaza Radama Islands National Marine Park. Here, I was fortunate to work with the fantastic staff from the AEECL and the MNP and to live with remote communities throughout the region. With the vast majority of people living on less than a US$1 a day in rural areas (World Bank), my raw experience of living with these beautiful remote communities with no access to basic amenities highlighted to me the grave reality and concern of rural development and poverty across Madagascar (and indeed the rest of East Africa!).
Working in the final quarter of the year and at a time of transition for C3, I was involved in numerous field trips and also contributed to the writing and analysis of Sahamalaza Radama Islands report. Working in coastal regions throughout northern Madagascar, I leaned about the local fady’s and the role they play in resource management. I also independently built my knowledge of tropical marine biology as well as an understanding of agricultural production that drive the national economy (coffee, vanilla, sugar). Finally, I experienced the complexities of running a small NGO.
My experience of working in the diverse and economically challenging setting of Madagascar has strengthened my ambition and inspiration to work in the field of poverty alleviation and sustainable resource management.
I undertook a placement with C3 in order to get more experience of environmental issues in developing countries, gain an understanding of the socio-economic status of communities and develop skills in marine resource management and ecological surveying. Working with C3 enabled me to live within small isolated communities where I experienced and practiced these at first hand.
I learned and followed local cultures and traditions, and practiced the way of life of communities; from waking up before the sun, collecting water from a far river or well, washing in a river to cooking and cleaning. These were all governed by certain traditions or ‘fadys’ which tended to be good hygiene practices; such as collecting water upstream of a river and washing downstream.
The most memorable experience was working and living in the remote islands of the Sahamalaza-Radema archipelago that is a protected area. I learnt the value of socio-economic surveys as a tool to identify the level of threats of the environment, the effectiveness of management strategies and the status of livelihoods. I was particularly touched by the warm and welcoming people of Nosy Valiha and witnessing the issues they faced in regards to water supply and marine resource availability has been the most valuable and moving experience that I will take away with me in my career and life.
C3 is a small NGO which is currently developing in Madagascar. The work in the Madagascar office is run by Field Leaders who are educated in, and have experience in, marine science. They provide training in and conduct the field surveys. C3 Lead Scientists are based in their HQ
, as well as Antananarivo, Madagascar, who governs the projects, the science, publications and the conduct or co-ordination of data analysis.
C3 provided me with the opportunity to work in remote locations and with communities, and provided training in habitat and socio-economic surveying techniques. I was involved with C3’s socio-economic and turtle projects, as well as the Sahamalaza project which included both socio-economic and ecological methods. I was given responsibility for the Sahamalaza project and conducted data analysis and report writing which enabled me to independently strengthen my analytical and ecological skills.
I have put a lot into my work here and have therefore taken a lot out; independently and from C3. My Madagascar work and experience has been worthwhile for me, with the most valuable experience being able to live with the warm Malagasy communities in the Sahamalaza-Radema archipelago and understanding livelihoods and marine resource use in developing countries.
After earning my M.S. in biology I left graduate school having realized that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a career in research unless I could be part of turning the results into tangible management initiatives. I have also believed for some time that international conservation and development efforts have the greatest potential to change human behavior for the good of global biodiversity and species conservation. I went looking for an experience that would expose me to international field research and development, which is when I found C3.
After finding out I would be heading to the Philippines I had a four-week blur of last-minute planning, ticket purchasing, visas, packing, and over 20 hours of flying before I found myself at the field office in Salvacion, Busuanga. Salvacion is a small, quiet town where everyone knows everyone, and is a great way to get to know Filipino people and culture. Culture shock that it was, in the first few days I spent in Salvacion I already felt welcomed by everyone I met. That feeling never subsided during my entire three months I lived there; the community is filled with the warmest and most sincere people I’ve ever met, and I feel lucky that they were so eager to know us.
The first month of my internship was dedicated to developing and planning all of the projects that would become part of the C3 Philippines program. I found out when I arrived that I was the first intern to enter the program, and that meant that for every project planned for the Philippinesprogram, proposals had to be written and methods developed. My first week in Salvacion was spent reviewing the relevant literature about dugongs in thePhilippines, researching endangered species of Palawan, and studying for the health and safety and research tests. Over the course of the weeks that followed I also took part in developing seagrass survey protocols, designed a key informant questionnaire and developed the accompanying training, and started writing lectures to teach members of the local community English and job skills as part of our capacity building efforts.
It was in the second month of my internship that we started making trips out of the office to conduct our first interviews and seagrass surveys. The key informant interviews have been an amazing effort to be a part of. Not only do you get to see what life is like for the average fisherman in these small towns by walking through their neighborhoods and being invited into their homes, but some of them have been fishing in the same waters for over 60 years and have amazing insights into how their seas have changed in that time. I listened to one fisherman recount seeing herds of 20-30 dugongs in these same areas when he was a boy, and several more described witnessing the hunting and slaughter of dugongs, and even the experience of eating dugong meat. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to listen to these people tell their stories, and exciting to hear that people were actually still seeing dugongs in this part of the world.
The seagrass surveys were a fun opportunity to get out and do some fieldwork, and revealed to us first-hand the habitat degradation that happens in such a seemingly pristine place. Siltation and agricultural run-off appear to have left seagrass around here poor habitat for dugongs, and together with the coral rubble from dynamite fishing commonly seen on the reefs we could see the precarious position of marine ecosystems in the Philippines first-hand.
What has been most striking about the local people I’ve met during this experience is the interest they have in what C3 is trying to accomplish. Although I only had the chance to do teaching sessions with a few young people it seemed that among students, fishermen we interviewed, volunteers who helped us, and even the people we casually met in town that the majority of this community cares about what happens to their natural resources. People were happy that we had come to their hometown, proud of the beauty of where they live, and excited that we were interested in helping to preserve it. It was encouraging to learn that people in Salvacion are motivated to take care of their marine environment, and they seem ready and willing to make use of the information and resources C3 has to offer. I had the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful places I will ever see while in thePhilippines, but on leaving the program my most pressing thought is that I wish I had the chance to do more work with this community, and to see the work we started create change in the daily lives of its members.
After university I found myself in the situation most conservation students find themselves in; looking for work that requires field experience that I didn’t have. For that reason I chose to do this internship to gain the experienceand to have the opportunity to work abroad. At the start of the internship we were definitely thrown in at the deep end. With only a small team at this point and lots of work to get done, there were plenty of late nights and early mornings. The project was brand new when I got here so the first things to be done were the planning and preparation. The fact that the project was completely new actually made things rather hard at times and was the source of some frustration, but it’s all good experience. It was a bit scary at first to be given so much responsibility in the planning stages, but it’s the best way to learn and I was glad of the challenge.
There are two aspects to this programme; the dugong project and the capacity building project. I was given the task of writing the proposal for the capacity building project and all that it was to consist of; IT and English lessons, a lecture series and a youth activity programme. I was also given the opportunity to write an article for a magazine which was exciting, as welllearning important skills such as GPS mapping and project planning on a larger scale than I was used to. Although the capacity building side of the project was all given the go ahead, there were some problems later on and a lot of it had to be put on hold which was disappointing.When the other half of the interns arrived the field work began, in the form of key informant interviews and seagrass surveys. I’d not been involved with KI’s in any work I’d done before but they are an interesting way to experience the lives of the local people in all the nearby barangays. Everyone I’ve met here has been incredibly friendly and generous. In fact one aspect of the internship that I’ve particularly enjoyed is being able to get to know the community so well. Living in a small town for three months has meant we’ve built some great relationships with the local people. Everyone wants to say hello as we walk down the street and the kids all remember our names; we’ve been made to feel really welcome and it’s great to have been a part of this friendly community.
With so many interns we often got our work done ahead of schedule, leaving us plenty of free time to have some adventures out of work hours. Being able to explore more of Busuanga and its beautiful islands was an important part of my experience of the Philippines. It’s such an amazing country and we’ve spent some incredible weekends camping out on empty beaches, snorkelling over stunning reefs and travelling on the crazy local vehicles. Spending this time and getting to truly experience the Philippines has been a once in a life time opportunity and something I’ll never forget. The one thing that has absolutely made this experience is the team of people I’ve had the chance to work with. To have a group of people from all over the world live and work so closely together for 3 months sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it worked brilliantly.
I’ll leave this internship with a newly inspired interest in marine conservation, fantastic memoires and a love of the Philippines.
As I encountered a dugong one time during a dive I was fascinated by these animals, therefore I was searching for an internship on dugong conservation and I found C3 starting a dugong project in the Philippines. I visited the Philippines twice already and I love this country so it wasn’t a hard decision to apply for that internship.
It was a new experience for me to come in such a close contact with the local community as I was able to during the interviews with fishermen. I was highly impressed by the hospitality and open- hearted reception I could feel in every conversation and contact with locals regardless of the status they had. People just tried to help and were even happier when they could assist you. As another part of our field work, we assessed the seagrass beds of the different barangays. I really learned a lot about the important connection of the ecosystems mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs and their interactions. C3 gave me above others the opportunity to develop the methods for the seagrass surveys in the project and to learn identifying different species of seagrass. I really enjoyed this kind of work and there was no better reward after a long, exhausting day of seagrass work in the water than the boat ride back on a calm sea with the sun disappearing and the sky turning red.
I can say I developed further and I developed my writing and presentation skills. Furthermore I learned new techniques and a lot of new experiences from the field work. I came home a little bit sad after this amazing time, but with the feeling to be part of an important work struggling for the survival and continuity of the silent giants with the “ horse-like face” in the waters of Busuanga.
It’s quite a conundrum, finishing your undergraduate degree and knowing conservation is the career path you want to go down but all the jobs you look at require field experience, and where do you find that experience without volunteering with a gap year company? This was my position after graduating from my undergraduate degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology in 2009. Whilst searching for a solution I came across C3 and applied for an internship with them working inMadagascarand was accepted.
I have been very fortunate during my time with C3 to have been involved in all the amazing projects that are currently running. After completing health and safety tests and briefings I was thrown into the field work on my third day with a trip toNosyHaraMarineParkfor sea turtle nesting survey work which C3 are currently conducting inNorthern Madagascar. Sites are monitored every quarter with a project aim of collecting information the endangered sea turtles’ nesting sites and to use this information to help establish community based monitoring programmes. The islands of Nosy Hara Marine Park are beautiful with the camp set up right on beach front at Ampasindava where I learnt to sahafa rice and grate a coconut (which apparently now makes me marriage material in Madagascar!) as the sun set.
When I first arrived in the Diego office the other interns were already out in the field traveling around theNorth East coastconducting surveys for the SocMon project. Towards the end of their time in the field I joined them in Ambolobozobe where I had my first experience of sleeping on concrete floors and collecting water from the village wells, and my first walk behind (and ride on) a zebu and cart. Getting involved in the interviews was fascinating, giving a real insight into how people live inMadagascar, and everyone was so friendly and happy to provide information.
When not in the field there was plenty of work to keep me going in the Diego office (work levels do vary depending on the number of interns) from data entry and analysis to writing lectures for the Marine Resource Centre which C3 runs at the University of Antsiranana on a Friday afternoon which interns are welcome to attend.
Not all my time was spent working, free weekends were spent exploring Diego and its local beaches and nature reserves (Ramena, Emerald Bay, and Montagne d’Ambre) where I saw countless amounts of Madagascan wildlife: birds, chameleons, geckos, lemurs, and even an elusive fossa!
My second turtle surveying trip to Ampisikina was an interesting experience traveling by a rather delayed taxi brousse and what seemed like endless hours on a vedette, which we dubbed as a floating gargotte dropping off biscuits and beer to every village along the way, followed by a walk behind a zebu and cart, the journey in total taking an epic 48 hours to travel 50km as the bird flies. But for all the frustration that local transport can involve there really is no better way to seeMadagascar, after all the experience is in the journey!
I was also fortunate enough to be involved in the recent month long field trip to Sahamalaza National Park, which C3 were invited to visit for surveying and staff training. Between four locations we were taught about the behaviour of the Blue-eye Black Lemur, and surveying techniques for Reef Check, Seagrass Watch, and Mangrove surveying. It was an incredible opportunity for us to survey an area of Madagascar where no NGO have previous explored, having some amazing experiences along the way including seeing a green turtle chomping on seagrass, watching some amazing sun sets and sunrises, washing under a waterfall, and clambering through a muddy mangrove forest.
Not only have I gained invaluable field experience during my time with C3 (even now in my final week I am about to embark on another turtle survey trip to Nosy Hara Marine Park) and seen first hand the challenges of running an NGO in a developing country, I have worked with some fantastic people and had the opportunity to really experience the true culture of Madagascar seeing some incredible sights along the way!
When undertaking my MSc in Marine Environment Management I signed up for a summer placement in Madagascar expecting an excellent dataset and a great experience; I got just that and more working with C3.
After a few days of logistical stuff (health and safety and scientific research tests) I was briefed in the field work that was to be collected by the team over the course of a month along Madagascar’s northeast coast. I can’t think of a better way to experience a country than to travel through it by foot or zebu cart visiting small villages and coastal communities along the way and passing through some fantastic habitat. Of course for some of the longer parts of the journey we had to use local transportation known as a ‘taxi brousse’, not the most comfortable way to travel but it has to be experienced and is always funny to look back on.
My research required surveying of coastal village residents on how they use their natural resources. Despite not speaking French, or more importantly Malagasy, the villagers could not have been more helpful and friendly (surveys were translated by Malagasy staff along the way); it was amazing to see them so keen to talk and learn about marine issues such as fishing.
My first day of field data collection set the tone for the rest of the excursion; a walk through farmland and good quality forest to get to Ampasimadera before pirogue (small canoes) travel across the river, a long walk along a pristine beach to Ambonihara and another short pirogue journey into the village – which the Malagasy fell out of at one stage, to the amusement of everyone. I enjoyed every minute of it and couldn’t wait to get to see and do more. As expected with field research amenities were a bucket of water for a shower and the woods for a toilet, plus a fire for cooking; which the other interns will vouch actually vastly improved my cooking skills!
After the first day the experience continued to be once-in-a-lifetime. Whether it is watching fishermen make a net, living on a tropical island, walking through a very muddy mangrove or mapping out land use I can’t imagine my trip being as good without any of them; although I could have done without the rat running over my face in the middle of the night once!
Of course the experience isn’t just about the work and scenery. There were plenty of opportunities to see Madagascar’s famous wildlife, not just on the field trip but also when travelling on weekends off whilst back at the office. The northeast region has a number of places well worth visiting for different reasons: the beaches at Ramena and la Mer d’Emeraude, the Montagne d’Ambre rainforest national park and the Montagne des Français baobab reserve. Whether it was snorkelling on coral patches, impersonating David Attenborough’s pygmy chameleon speech, searching for lemurs and leaf-tailed geckos or exploring bat caves each one of these areas offered something unique and truly memorable.
Half of my placement was spent in the C3 headquarters in Diego where accommodation was in the offices. The town of Diego is very friendly and full of restaurants and bars to relax in; more importantly the supply of traditional street food is excellent and very inexpensive. Whilst writing my report C3 were very accommodating allowing me to work solely on my report for university, after typing up all the field data for both myself and their reports. The staff provided excellent guidance, and were always happy to help with any problems or requests I had. I was very appreciative of this, although I did at times wish I had been an intern so that I could go back into the field – but that will have to be next time.
I thoroughly enjoyed doing my MSc placement in Madagascar and would entirely recommend it to anyone else studying in the field of wildlife conservation and marine management who has a particular interest in the socioeconomic impacts of conservation efforts; provided they have the patience to work in a country where a short walk means a 2 hour trek and a bus departure time of 10am means when the bus is full at 1pm!