The biodiversity in Madagascar is something that should be witnessed by every biologist, as more than 90% of species are endemic to the island and in July, eighteen students travelled to Madagascar for a truly unique experience.
The first week was spent camping in a remote Mahamavo dry forest, assisting scientists with collecting data on a range of endemic animals. Surveys of herpetofauna, lemur routes and birds using mist netting, captivated the students, even when many of the surveys started at 5am. Lunches based on rice and beans, long drop toilets and outside palm leaf covered showers (bucket and a cup) helped students appreciate the luxuries of home. The students were quickly absorbed into the Malagasy philosophy as they travelled half the length of the country and completed a series of lectures on their wildlife and culture. A trek between the main camps kept fitness levels high and gave time to recognise the Malagasy value of zebu. This coincided with a visit to a local school, where the students sang songs, played football with the local children and gave an opportunity to practice their French.
The Island is large, and the roads rough. Students developed patience travelling from the North West to the island of Nosy Be. Here they learnt more on the endemic species through an additional series of lectures, this time marine based and focussed on the local reef. Students dived in the Indian Ocean and visited the local reef systems, including the protected tiny Island of Nosy Tanikely. Under the supervision of PADI instructors, students dived twice daily to learn the skills required to achieve the Open Water PADI scuba qualification. Those already PADI qualified took part in the ecological reef course and assisted the marine scientists with collecting data on the marine organisms. Dolphins, turtles and rays were spotted and students developed their ID skills, as well as a variety of specialised organism dive signals.
The students primarily joined the expedition to enhance their biological understanding and help with the conservation efforts, and these aims were fully accomplished. The additional cultural appreciation and life skills gained on the Madagascar expedition was to many, an unexpected yet priceless bonus.