Last summer, I was lucky enough to explore Madagascar with Frontier, on the small island of Nosy Be. The project primarily involved marine conservation, though I also participated in their forest rejuvenation scheme, all whilst fully immersed in the wonderful environment and culture. Most of my time was spent on a beach camp, the beds located barely ten meters from the sea.
Frontier have two sites on Nosy Be, one their beach camp, and one in Hell-Ville, the main town on Nosy Be. Here, they operate an education programme, teaching English to a number of the local children and leading sustainability awareness.
It was in the Hell-Ville Community building I passed my first few days, acclimatising to the new environment. This included my first evening in the lovely ambiance of the Tamana bar (below) which offered everything from inexpensive food, drinks and rooms.
I was also fortunate for my arrival to coincidentally align with the final day of the Donia Music Festival, hosted each year, and attracting artists from a variety of genres, alongside around 50,000 visitors.
The main attraction was, however, the beach camp. The only way to navigate between these locations was by boat, which was always exciting. Nothing feels freer than surfing over deep blue-green waves almost everyday.
The amenities on the beach camp were relatively basic, not even involving beds, electricity, or running water. Given the aims of the project, this was expected, and a welcome break from the industrialised Western World. For three weeks, I could live without the constant pressures of social media and relentless advertising.
My first week I was inducted into the forest rejuvenation project, which involved conducting surveys of the local wildlife on walks into the jungle. The more famous ring-tailed lemurs aren’t found on Nosy Be, but it is home to Black, Hawk’s sportive and Mouse lemurs. We also saw a wide variety of insects, lizards and snakes, sometimes in the camp itself.
Walking through the forest, the damage inflicted by people is truly remarkable, especially surrounding the enormous Ylang Ylang plantations covering much of the island. Farmed for the natural oils found in many modern beauty products, this invasive species has been destroying native flora and fauna.
Much of the surviving, lush forest was utterly incredible. I was able to walk at least once a day, providing a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the vivid network of greenery interspersed across glittering ocean.
Following my first week, I spent two weeks participating in their marine conservation programme. This involved conducting mangrove surveys, beach clean ups and, of course, scuba diving to survey aquatic populations.
Once upon a time, I could recognise and identify around 50 of the most popular species frequenting the reefs.
Living on the beach was a very relaxing and enjoyable experience. Activities were mixed, allowing us to engage with a variety of experiences, like a camp debate, and group viewing of the Blackfish documentary, which I highly recommend. They were also integrated with lots of downtime, allowing for lots of reading and writing time.
Each weekend, we would also take excursions away from the camp to different regions. On my first, I visited Nosy Komba, a neighbouring islands visible across an expanse of sea. Here, whilst staying an exotic bungalow complex, we were situated close to a lemur sanctuary. Here, when led by a guide, lemurs would be invited to clamber over you, and would eat bananas from the palm of your hand. There were also different reptiles, like tortoises, or snakes, which were rotated between the sanctuary and their natural habitats.
We also spotted a chameleon performing a bizarre ritual. They have occasionally been noticed committing suicide by starving themselves until they fall out of trees.
My second weekend, I was lucky enough to visit the stunning national park, Tanikely. A specially preserved section of coral reef, the water was perfectly clear, and was far too beautiful to be adequately captured by my slightly wanting photography.
This was followed by a night in Iranja, an incredible sand spit jutting out into open ocean, and almost entirely covered at high tide. It was the very definition of a picturesque tropical island, with perfect white sand.
Open a dictionary, look up paradise, and there’s a picture of Iranja.
After a blazing sunset tearing across the water, it was warm enough to lie under the stars deep into the evening. The lack of artificial light allowed for the entire sky to open up, exposing the entire milky way. At times, the waves also erupt with bioluminescence, but I sadly missed this. I was, however, compensated by seeing shooting stars.
On my third weekend, I went on a night dive, from Ambatalouka, another major town. This was my first experience of scuba in pitch darkness, and it was pretty thrilling. A number of crustaceans were active, as well as a number of not-so-active fish and turtles who were rudely awakened. Turning our torches off, and floating in the abyss of black, was a cerebral experience.
I have to recommend Madagascar as an incredible place to visit. If you’re hoping to volunteer and actively contribute, either as scientific research or education, travelling with a company like Frontier might be a good idea. Sadly, Frontier itself appears to have ceased all operations this year.
Here’s a final slideshow of some of my favourite pictures that didn’t quite make the post:
Thanks for reading! I regularly post short stories, contemporary commentary, or travel blogs like this, so stay tuned!
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