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Marine Conservation Team - Solly 2
BlogMarine Conservation

Marine Conservation Team: Solly

MRCI would be nowhere without our dedicated team. We are ever so grateful for everyone from our maintenance and kitchen staff to our conservation and community team members. This week, we would like to introduce you to Solly!

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Solly is our fantastic MRCI Marine Conservation and Island Outreach Officer. He has always loved the environment, having grown up in the rural areas of Madagascar next to the sea. As a young man, he saw a lot of people asking questions about the sea and noticed a lack of understanding in the local communities. This drove his desire to learn more about the marine environment and to educate people. As such, he went on to study a Masters Degree in Marine Biology at the University North Antsiranana (UNA).

Solly arrived at MRCI in 2019 to work as our Marine Conservation Intern. He progressed to work as our Island Outreach Officer where he taught communities and volunteers about environmental protection and Malagasy language and culture. Due to his amazing attitude and enthusiasm, he was quickly promoted to Marine Conservation and Island Outreach Officer, a role in which he built on his knowledge from his Masters Degree, learning more about coral reef ecosystems and fish. He really enjoyed this time, and also conducted a project on monitoring coral reefs in collaboration with the UNA.

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Solly has become a truly invaluable member of our team. He is an excellent diver, having had the opportunity to complete his Emergency First Responder training, PADI Rescue Diver Course, and PADI Divemaster at MRCI. He is also trained in identifying fish, corals, algae, benthic invertebrates and seagrass. Due to his passion for educating local communities, he runs our staff environmental education programme. His favourite thing about working at MRCI is learning the identification of coral reef organisms and researching about corals.

Solly – we’re so glad to have you as part of the MRCI team!


 

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BlogMarine Conservation

Volunteering in Madagascar during a Pandemic

Author: Ava Graham
Date: April 2021

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I arrived at MRCI’s hidden camp found on the beautiful shores of Nosy Komba, also known as Lemur Island. I was feeling excited and eager to learn and explore yet nervous to call this remote camp home for the upcoming 7 weeks. I soon realised that there was nothing to be frightened about. Everybody I met, from other volunteers to staff and locals, were kind and welcoming as well as great fun.

What surprised me most about volunteering was the endless possibilities to learn. In my first week, I found myself being familiarised with 184 species of fish, being lectured on marine conservation whilst also being taught both Malagasy and French. What may have seemed like a quiet camp, was in fact a community of like-minded ocean enthusiasts who were always willing to do and learn more.

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Since childhood, the ocean and everything that it holds has always interested me. Next year, I will study marine biology at university but I was eager to travel and gain new real-life experiences in the marine world first. I began volunteering on the coast of Kenya by helping to conserve the turtle populations through community education on the hazards of overfishing, protecting turtle nest sites and rehabilitating injured turtles.

This volunteering experience highlighted the importance of both education and habitat protection. I wanted to continue my conservation efforts by protecting our seas. The MRCI Marine Conservation Volunteering Programme gave me the opportunity to learn and teach in what seems like another world, Madagascar!

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Marine Conservation Volunteering Program: My Learning Journey

When volunteering in the marine conservation program, you can pick which group of marine life you want to learn and survey. The choice is between benthic (sea floor), sessile (coral reefs) and active swimmers (fish). I chose active swimmers! From the onset, it was my priority to learn and identify 184 species of fish found within MRCI’s dive site, Turtle Towers.

Every weekday, I was given the opportunity to dive and identify new active swimmers through point-out tests under the water. Back at camp, I had guided study lessons to help me memorise the (what seemed never-ending) species list. During the week, I also partook in regular beach cleans which, despite the long hot walk, always felt rewarding after coming back with 2 or 3 sacks full of litter. We would later recycle all of the pollution into our own ‘eco-bricks’.

Picking up old plastic bottles, toothbrushes, flipflops and broken sunglasses opens your eyes to scale of waste we produce in our modern world. So much of what we use in our daily lives will eventually end up in our seas. My direct experience of collecting our universal waste has inspired me to actively take part in helping to stop plastic pollution. Through education and new policies to ban and limit plastic waste as well as investing in new plastic alternatives, we can change our flawed waste disposal system and help keep our ocean clean and healthy!

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BlogIsland Outreach

Mitsios Boat Trip

 

2020 wasn’t a great year for anyone, so to combat this the MRCI staff and volunteers decided a trip was needed to get everyone in the right mood for 2021. Piling the Spirit of Malala high with diving gear, cylinders, cameras, and food we set off to the remote Mitsio Islands, 70 kilometres to the north of Nosy Be, for a weekend of diving and exploration.

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A 5-hour journey from Turtle Cove, the Mitsios are comprised of around a dozen islands, with several of these being grouped together as the 4 Brothers. Each of the Brothers is made up of towering grey basalt cliffs topped with lush vegetation, with a huge array of seabirds wheeling and circling around them. With the sun already sitting low in the sky as we arrived, we decided our first stop would be Nosy Ankarea, where we snorkelled along the local reef system and walked among the baobabs growing just a few dozen metres back from the shoreline. As we returned to the Spirit of Malala the seabirds were replaced by Madagascan Fruit Bats, who came gliding off the cliffs in search of fruit and flowers to feed on, their orange-tinged fur seemingly glowing with the light of the setting sun.

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Following a top-class meal prepared by Chef Fred and a good night’s sleep on Grand Mitsio, the only permanently inhabited island in the group, we set off early the next morning for our first day of diving. Arriving at the first site, one of the 4 Brothers, we started off with a deep dive for those qualified and began exploring the reefs and corals that had been so highly rated by everyone we spoke to. And they did not disappoint.

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For several of our divers this was their first ever attempt at the Giant Stride entry and following a little bit of coaching from the staff they were entering the water like pros. Everywhere you looked there was a different amazing encounter, with huge schools of fish at every site, dozens of stingrays, turtles around every turn, and even a few wary Octopus peeking out of their dens to watch us pass by. The Mitsios had something for everyone and being an avid lover of macro life and photography, they gave me the opportunity to tick off one of my top marine wildlife encounters, with a huge Peacock Mantis Shrimp happy to pose for me in his burrow towards the end of our 2nd dive.

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With an evening spent eating a traditional Malagasy meal of rice and fresh fish, with a couple of cold beers to go with it, we bunked down for our last night in the Mitsios. In the morning we set off for Nosy Toloho, the site of our final dive of the weekend, to finish off our trip in style. Nosy Toloho provided us with a fantastic wall dive where schools of surgeonfish and barracuda swirled around, and huge Longfin Spadefish trailed us throughout the length of the dive, chasing our bubbles and bumping our fins.

With the kit and cameras packed, Captain Abdou turned the Spirit of Malala around and set the course home, but not before we were treated to a final meal of freshly caught mackerel and a last cold beer. The Mitsios did not disappoint and from the seabirds to the shrimp it was a fantastic trip that I would recommend to anyone who visits this amazing part of the world.

 

Author: Pádraig O'Grady
Photos: Chris Scarffe & Michel Strogoff/ Copyright Madagascar Film & Photography, and Pádraig O`Grady

 

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Blog

Dive Certification Well Earned

 

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MRCI is proud to announce that Gariste has recently acquired his PADI open water dive certification. PADI, Professional Association of Dive Instructors, is the world’s leading scuba diver training organization whose qualifications are internationally recognized and respected.

Gariste is the grounds keeper at MRCI’s Turtle Cove Base Camp. He has been with MRCI longer than any other member of staff, having started work during the original construction phase of our base camp. Gariste is originally from Ambanja, but has been living and working on Nosy Komba for over 12 years.

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We’re sure that many past MRCI volunteers and staff will fondly remember Gariste for his friendly nature and willingness to help. During his time with MRCI, Gariste has become an integral member of the team. Over the years he has become proficient in English by attending camp classes and through conversational learning, he is also an accomplished small boat captain.

All the staff at MRCI are extremely proud of Gariste and we look forward to helping him achieve his next level PADI certification, and in due course his Dive Masters. Special thanks need to go out to Jacques van Wyk, past MRCI Director of Diving and Health and Safety, and to the MRCI Marine Conservation Team who contributed to Gariste’s training.

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It is through the continued support of our volunteers and staff that MRCI is able to put programs into place that uplift our local communities and staff. We wouldn’t be able to do it without all of you. Wishing everyone a prosperous new year filled with opportunities for all!

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Blog

MRCI at the Frontier of the Pandemic

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Media focus on the pandemic has been actively covering first world countries but not as much has been said about African countries like Madagascar. It has been seemingly forgotten and left to face the problem on its own.

The south of the country has been savaged by drought while the north struggles with the decimation of the tourism industry. Where once international aid kept these communities afloat, they now find themselves in severe poverty.

The main source of assistance these communities receive are from NGO’s like Madagascar Research and Conservation Institute.  MRCI has been distributing food aid to the most vulnerable in Nosy Komba, Nosy Be and Ampoagna.

This initiative has only been possible with the support of past volunteers and staff through the Project Komba initiative. It has been able to raise funds for rice and other necessary food parcels for those in desperate need. Pushing the frontier and expanding our relief efforts beyond our base on Nosy Komba has always been one of MRCI’s goals.

Unfortunately, many of the volunteer organizations in the area, such as Frontier, are not involved in relief operations and have been forced to close their doors due to the pandemic.

Currently, a travel ban to Madagascar is in place for approximately 30 countries. By March/April of 2021, we envision that the situation will have improved. We look forward to when our volunteers are able travel to Madagascar and partake once more in MRCI programs.

The conditions on the ground in Madagascar are not going to improve immediately once restrictions are lifted. Your help as a volunteer is of tremendous importance now more than ever.

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