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Category: Island Outreach

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.


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.


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.




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.


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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Volunteers with Silver Linings

January 2020


Our volunteers and programs came to an unfortunate halt this past week. A tropical storm passed over, which made way for an unusual week. Due to poor visibility and high swells our marine volunteers were unable to dive. The turtle conservation volunteers didn’t get to do their active turtle surveys. The muddy and slippery trails meant no hiking for the forest volunteers. Teaching and community volunteers were confined to Turtle Cove Camp, as boat rides and hiking to Ampang became too risky.

Wet season is no joke, and we take all of the necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. Despite everything, the positive energy displayed by our volunteers shined through and saved the week. Vibrant new volunteers gave it their all and carried out beach cleans, strengthened their species knowledge through games and lectures, countless bamboo straws and eco brick were also made!


The most significant event of the week was by far our beach clean. We had volunteers from all programs join in and take part. It is the middle of turtle nesting season, and although we have been eagerly awaiting any sign of turtle activity, we’ve received no indication of turtles nesting. So, when we came to find a beach littered with about fifty eggs, it was equally devastating and exciting. Turtle Conservation Manager, Russel, was part of the beach clean-up crew. He was able to offer valuable insights into what had occurred and what it meant for the baby turtles.

Unfortunately, due to the fragility of turtle nests (or clutches), the beached turtle embryos had no chance of survival. Two important and sensitive factors when turtle eggs are laid in their nest would be their orientation within and temperature. These factors ultimately affecting their survival. The harsh storm and exposure on the beach meant that there was no chance of survival for the turtle eggs that we had found. Russel opened a turtle egg and talked everyone through turtle development.


Although a sad experience, our volunteers found it very informative and left with a greater understanding of the many challenges that these animals face. We left our beach as clean as possible and continued our clean ups as much as we could throughout the rest of the week. The energy of our volunteers is unparalleled and we wouldn’t be anything close to what we are without them.


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BlogIsland Outreach

The Spirit of Malala is Filled with Adventure

Author: Kelly King
Date: September 2018

The Spirit of Malala

Island outreach on The Spirit of Malala

One of the amazing volunteer programs that we offer is Island Outreach, where volunteers spend 10 days sailing on our conservation and research vessel, The Spirit of Malala, to surrounding islands as well as to the mainland of Madagascar. The trip is a combination of projects giving volunteers the opportunity to teach, do construction, participate on turtle and bird data collection, collect batteries from local villages for recycling and go on regular hikes!

The Spirit of Malala

For Volunteers with a limited time frame the trip allows for them to participate in projects, and travel around Madagascar at the same time! Each trip is accompanied by a staff member, a forest guide as well as The Spirit of Malala boat captain, Abdou, and a private chef! I was lucky enough to get to go on a recent trip and had an incredible time with the group of Volunteers that I went with.

The Spirit of Malala

The journey began in Nosy Be where the Volunteers and I visited the CNRO museum and learned about Madagascar’s marine life. Hearing about the local marine life, especially seeing the whale skeleton, had all the Volunteers excited to get in the water! When we left the museum, we headed to the port where we were picked up and brought to The Spirit of Malala for the first time! The boat is incredibly comfortable, there are two bathrooms (both with showers) a table with enough chairs to sit 14, a kitchen, and even a swimming platform to make entering and exiting the water easier.

The Spirit of Malala

During the trip, all of our bags were stored on The Spirit of Malala but we would actually set up tents and sleep on the beach at night! Meals were prepared and ate on the boat (all were extremely delicious), and we were able to take showers on The Spirit of Malala as well. When we were traveling from place to place everyone could be found lounging in the beanbags or sitting up in the front of The Spirit of Malala, journaling, napping or getting to know one another. Seeing how we were all living in very close proximity for 10 days, everyone got to know each other quickly and it was never difficult to find someone to join you in a game of cards or a conversation.

The Spirit of Malala

By far one of the highlights of the trip is that it gives the volunteers the opportunity to see many places in Madagascar over the 10 day period. Every day we arrived at a new white sand beach, or swam on another unbelievable coral reef. We traveled to multiple islands and the north of the mainland. We even stopped in Nosy Iranja during the trip which is by far one of the most beautiful places I personally have ever been.

Other highlights of the trip besides the amazing locations, we were able to see 4 different species of lemurs, we had 4 whale sightings and getting to see new born baby sea turtles at the turtle conservation center we visited! Everyone also agreed that the locals in the communities we stayed in made the trip so enjoyable for us all. Multiple times during our trip, people would join us for a bonfire on the beach, and would perform traditional Malagasy music around the fire.

When the 10 days came to an end we all agreed we could happily do another 10 (or 40) on The Spirit of Malala!

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The Spirit of Malala

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BlogIsland Outreach

Island Outreach Boat Trip on The Spirit of Malala


Island Outreach Boat Trip with seven different destinations in 10 days, let the journey begin.

Our trip started with a lovely tour of the CNRO (Centre National de Recherches Oceangraphiques) in Nosy Be where we broadened our knowledge on some of the history and wildlife Madagsacar has to offer.

It was the start of a 10-day journey with 12 new faces from all corners of the globe. Places like Mexico, Croatia, New Zealand, South Africa and Columbia just to name a few. It’s always a gamble when it comes to who you will land up with, but it was as if we were all meant to be on this trip together. There was just such a positive energy from the get go and everyone just seemed to get along like peanut butter and jam.  For many onboard it was their first time to Africa and their first time on a boat so we could say it was the start of many firsts.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 1:

The boat was captained by Abdu and Menjah served as our guide throughout the duration of our journey. With Abdu’s many years of experience we felt as if we were in safe hands upon boarding The Spirit of Malala. We waved our goodbyes to Hell-Ville and Nosy Komba and started our two-and-a-half-hour journey to the sacred island of Nosy Mamoko, where we would be spending two nights.  The boat turned out to be very comfortable and as we set off the in-house chef, Ilos, was filling the air with the most amazing aromas which seemed to be brewing from the tiny 2×2 kitchen. The first leg of the journey everyone got to know each other until we reached Mamoko. The sun was dipping casting some beautiful light over the island of Mamoko, yet leaving us with enough light to squeeze in a good snorkel. The skies were displaying an array of oranges and pinks as we were busy pitching our tents on Nosy Mamoko for our first overnight.

At first many of us weren’t too sure of what ‘sacred’ entailed but we soon found out through Menjah that it meant no making use of the land for any toilet needs and no form of shoes allowed on the island. So as much as this trip has offered many firsts, it also made for a truly unique first time experience of going for a number two in the ocean. It undoubtedly led to a few awkward moments when you spotted someone from the group heading into the waters at 12 at night or early hours of the morning.

It is always quite an adaptation to adjust to a new cuisine and routine and in Madagascar snacking isn’t as much of a thing as in many other places so meals are usually around 6am, 12pm and 6pm. So, it goes without saying that by 6pm everyone was ravenous, but to our delight Ilos had the braai going with the Couta (King Mackerel) that we were lucky to catch fresh on our way to Mamoko. He prepared the Couta with a local Malagasy sauce made of tomato, garlic, onion, lemon and accompanied with some rice (riz blanc). As they say hunger is the best spice, however in this case the flavours were truly just phenomenal. Having our bellies filled we ended our day chatting on the beach stargazing next to our bonfire.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 2:

At around seven in the morning we would either do a turtle survey or a bird survey.  The group would split into two. One group venturing into the forest in search of bird species, recording their findings as they go. The other group would look over the turquoise waters with keen eyes and search for any breaching turtle. We had it on our agenda to visit two cascades for the day one before and one after lunch, so we wasted no time and started our journey to cascade number one. It was fascinating how the landscape changed from the lush, forestry vegetation to more sparse grasslands with a more arid biome.


Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 3:

Things started slightly earlier as we had to pack up camp and move on to our next destination. However we had a nice little surprise in store beforehand. After our turtle and bird watch, Menjah guided us into the village where we met with the queen of the village. Meeting her was such a humbling experience as it felt as if she greeted each of us individually and afterwards started calling “maki, maki, maki” which is the call for the lemurs. It was in no time that the trees started shaking from all corners.  To our amazement nearly 30 lemurs popped out of the trees and approached us.

(2)DAY_03_FRIDAY_08_JUNE_Island Outreach Boat Trip

They were surprisingly tame and some even hopped onto our shoulders to get hold of the bananas that we had on offer. It was really interesting to see how when it comes to feeding time the females are the dominant ones and don’t allow the males to eat. Just when we thought the lemurs were a highlight of our morning we got to see a 100-year-old tortoise. We got the engines rolling again and ventured on to Ampoagna after our amazing experience on Mamoko.

In Ampoagna we went for a walk through the village which is located on a serene white sand beach. Simply walking through the village was a very peaceful experience. Our aim was to go and have a look at the progress that the construction team has made with their efforts on building a clinic for the area as there is no medical center or clinic in any of the surrounding areas. As we were about to leave the locals wanted to challenge us to a football match which we happily took up. Sadly, we didn’t do too well.

Day 3 - Island Outreach Boat Trip


Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 4:

Probably the most serene day on the trip so far. The waters were extremely calm with not a drop of wind. We wasted no time in getting this beautiful day on a roll. First up was a snorkel at Ankazabravana, a marine protected area. It was truly amazing visibility and the aquatic life was absolutely abundant. With a few sightings of emperor angelfish, Moorish idols, parrotfish, batfish and a variety of surgeonfish we definitely got our fix. Our snorkel unfortunately came to an abrupt stop when we swam into a colony of jellyfish. Next up we had a hike planned trekking across areas of Russian Bay where Mary unfortunately fell and injured herself a little. Everyone was rather sad that we had to divert our path to the coast for the rest of the journey, but it led us to a turtle breeding ground where we stumbled upon a batch of turtles hatching and making a run for the ocean. Everyone quickly changed their feelings towards Mary and having to divert paths as it led us onto what most people considered the highlight of their trip.


Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 5:

After having spent another night in Russian Bay we ventured out in the morning to a place called Sugar Loaf. It looks like an enormous rock simply plonked in the middle of the ocean. It led to some pretty fantastic snorkeling as the rock formation forms a wall underwater that is thriving with coral and marine life.


On this little island we got to see 3 varying species of lemur including the Safika. Which for many was a dream to see. The island also has a private room, aka the love room which everyone seems to be keeping open as a potential for their honeymoons one day as it is truly picture perfect. Nestled amongst the trees on the peak of the island you are surrounded with 360 degrees of turquoise beauty. After a delicious meal by Ilos we were led on a hike in a different region of Russian Bay by a local guide, Maul. It was a long 12km hike, but knowing that one gets a meal prepared by Ilos made it that much easier.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 6:

We started early as it was onto Baharamamay for the next few days. It wasn’t all that bad as when we got back onboard Ilos had French toast ready to go.

Nosy Iranja - Island Outreach Boat Trip
Nosy Iranja

Arguably one of the top five most beautiful places myself and the rest of the group have seen. It feels as if you would be stepping into a postcard. It redefined unreal. We did a quick hike up to the lighthouse designed by Gustave Eiffel the same person who designed the Eiffel tower. En route to Nosy Iranja, Ilos reeled in yet another fresh fish. He performed his magic behind the scenes and we were served the most succulent roasted fresh fish with saffron coconut rice and a shredded carrot and cucumber salad. Absolutely delectable, well to the point where everyone enjoyed one or three scoops too many. But since we had the opportunity to snorkel with green turtles after lunch everyone decided to put their food comas aside and rather hop in the water to snorkel with the green turtles, which is not something you just get to do everyday.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 7:

Today we hiked through the landscapes of Baharamamay where we also walked through a swamp to get a feel for what the loacals need to go through on a daily basis. Walking through the swamp, it almost felt as if it was trying to swallow us in as each step you take it just sucks your foot in and you need to give a serious tug to move onto the next step. It really gave us a greater appreciation and understanding of the day to day life of the local Malagasy people.

After our lesson, we got to play a match of football with the locals and in this sense, it really defined what it meant to have a home ground advantage. The pitch had two wooden poles set up on either side as goal posts and whilst playing you need to dodge an array of roots, rocks and trees nestled in and around the pitch.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 8:

Abdu organized a special experience for us today as he got two piroques which we used to row further into the bay. We were extremely lucky in spotting a sea eagle on route. There was not much chit chat on board as everyone was taking in the scenery. It was as if we were entering the mangrove scene in Life of Pi. The water was glass and almost mirrored the sky surrounded by lush green mangroves on either side. As much as it was a beautiful experience we all got to understand first hand that rowing on a piroque isn’t the easiest mode of transport. It’s one of those moments where you appreciate Ole Evinrude for inventing the outboard motor.

After lunch, we could go for a snorkel, but it was rather clear that the rowing made people ‘slightly’ fatigued and everywhere you looked people just found a spot to nestle themselves into. We got the opportunity to teach in the village once more and enjoy a soccer match afterwards with the locals. A big part of the Island Outreach Program is to collect old batteries from all the places we visit as batteries that get left without proper disposal can contaminate litres of ocean water. So after the match we went around from hut to hut in search of batteries.

At 7pm, everyone was in bed.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 9:

We got to go past Nosy Iranja for one last snorkel on route to Russian Bay for our last night. The trip back to Russian Bay was rather long but everyone was happy to spend a few hours on the Spirit of Malala, a place that has become home for the past 9 days.

Island Outreach Boat Trip

Day 10:

Everyone woke up slightly sad knowing that it is the last day on our magical trip. At least there was one stop planned at Tanikely before we headed back to camp. And oh, my Tanikely truly had amazing snorkel, definitely one of the best as it is situated in a marine reserve.


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Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program
BlogIsland OutreachReviews

Madagascar Made Marvelous On The Spirit of Malala

Honestly, it was definitely the highlight of my trip. I had such an amazing time, the 10 days could not have gone faster. Each day we did something different and new, and were able to experience so much. It was a great opportunity to be able to travel around some of the different islands of Madagascar and to visit the mainland too. I felt that this really gave us a feel of Madagascar, letting us experience more of the Malagasy culture and seeing more of what Madagascar has to offer.

We were definitely treated a lot on the boat: the cooking was delicious, with large portions; we even got desserts too! There was rum punch, we also had a really fun bonfire. The trip was a great bonding experience, bringing everyone closer together. Kyle and Emma were just so amazing, I don’t think I could have asked for a better pair of staff to come with us. They were like the mom and dad of the group, but also were so much fun to have around. I will never forget the marvelous time I spent on ‘The Spirit Of Malala’.

Also, I just want to give feedback in general about the time I spent in Madagascar. At first I was very homesick and I was finding it all very difficult. But as time went on, I learned to cope with everything a lot better and become more confident. The living conditions are very basic, but that’s part pf the fun of it. It makes you appreciate all the luxuries of back home. This is what many people in these countries live like. I really enjoyed the variety of the programs and how each day was different.

Everyone was very friendly and supportive on camp. I was able to experience so much during my time in Madagascar, and its something I’ll never forget. Teaching and working with the community was such a rewarding experience, as you know that you are helping out those less fortunate than you. Seeing how some of the Malagasy lived made me realise that I shouldn’t take anything for granted, and I have definitely come back home with a different mind frame. I feel that I have grown as a person, both in my confidence and in my attitude towards life. It is important to embrace everything that life has to offer, and not to miss out on any opportunities, as you regret what you don’t do, not what you do do.

– Alex

Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program Spirit of Malala Madagascar Island Outreach Program