Dive in & help collect vital
research in

Help protect the coral reefs by scuba diving every day

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  • Duration
    4-12 Weeks
  • Minimum age
  • Start dates
    1st & 3rd Monday
  • From
  • Duration
    4-12 Weeks
  • Minimum age
  • Start dates
    1st & 3rd Monday
  • From

Madagascar Marine Conservation

Travel to the picturesque island of Nosy Komba in Madagascar to help the local team gather vital raw scientific data about the surrounding coral reefs and the marine life that call it home. Dive into the depths of the crystal clear waters on a daily basis and come face to face with a diverse abundance of marine life including sea turtles, sting rays, dolphins, whale sharks and more.

You'll receive comprehensive and practical training that will allow you to undertake research based activities at sea. This involves identification training for marine wildlife (including turtles, fish, corals and invertebrates), as well as being taught the methodology of coral baseline surveying - a key skill in marine conservation as a universal approach to monitoring the state of the worlds coral reefs.

Built into the steep, rocky slopes of Nosy Komba, the accommodation overlooks the spectacular coral reef below. Surrounded by lush green forests a stone’s throw away from a picturesque white sandy beach, you can enjoy stunning views out across the ocean - this really is paradise. It won't all be work though and you will have plenty of time to relax on the beach, go snorkelling in search of sea turtles, hike through the forests in search of lemurs, go whale watching and so much more.

Swimming with turtles every day!

I spent 7 weeks on the marine programme and it was some of the best weeks of my life. I have made incredible friends from all over the world and have fallen in love with Madagascar. Every aspect of the project was fantastic and swimming with turtles everyday was beyond anything I could have imagi... Read More

Emily BallNovember 2019

Background to the marine programme

The vast majority of the diverse marine species that live within Madagascar’s coral reefs are under threat. Increased fishing pressures and coastal developments and deforestration are reducing the diversity of the whole ecosystem on the island. When combined with mass coral bleaching events and storms due to climate change, more reefs than ever are currently being destroyed.

After several years of hard work and research by the local team and international volunteers like yourself, the reef closest to the volunteer accommodation has been designated a ‘no take’ Marine Protected Area (MPA) - prohibiting all fishing activities and restricted boat activities.

Marine Protected Areas have been proven to be an effective management strategy to curb the negative impacts of anthropogenic activities by providing a protected ‘sanctuary,’  allowing populations to rejuvenate and recover.

Not only this, but it has also provided the unique opportunity to additionally monitor the effectiveness of the MPA over time. The data collected can then be compared with other reef sites that are still heavily impacted by direct anthropogenic pressures. The reef research you will be assisting with is vital to justify the need for the MPA, to raise awareness in the community and to provide more sustainable local fishing opportunities for years to come.

Working in collaboration with a number of oceanographic organisations, you will also carry out several other initiatives to gather vital raw scientific data. This is your chance to become hands on as you dive in the crystal clear waters around the island on a daily basis to survey reefs and nudibranch, assess coral bleaching, monitor turtles and other marine life, clean beaches and so much more. You will also be involved with establishing and monitoring artificial reefs within National Parks which are proven to be an effective way to enhance coral reef stability and sustain the abundance of reef species. 

Where will I be volunteering?

Established in 2013, the local team is a registered NGO approved by the government set up to assist the Madagascar Department of Education with their research supporting the conservation of the environment around the island.

Their aim is to actively contribute to the conservation of the unique flora and fauna of Madagascar, both in and out of the water. Through long term monitoring and species-specific projects in collaboration with a range of international partners, the team undertake environmental research, community development and provide education to the local communities.

The research base is located on Nosy Komba (also known as Lemur Island or Nosy Ambariovato), which is situated within the Mozambique Channel. The island is surrounded by white sand beaches, mangroves and seagrass beds leading to a fringing coral reef.

The coral reef opposite the research base and volunteer accommodation has been established as a no-take marine protected area since 2016. The reef ranges from a few metres to 15 metres in depth and consists of a reef bank of hard coral, soft corals and sponges with varying outcrops, channels, boulders and slopes.

This provides a fascinating, diverse habitat and feeding ground for a whole host of marine biota ranging from groupers and turtles to nudibranchs and stingrays. The reef provides an astoundingly higher level of productivity for the marine environment in otherwise nutrient poor waters. 

What is my role?

Your main focus while in Madagascar will be to assist the local team in collecting vital research data about the health of the coral reef and all of the marine wildlife that call it home. This will include the following activities:

Reef surveying - You will join the local team on daily dives to collect time-series data recording diversity and abundance of fish, invertebrate and reef building organisms through reef surveys at various sites along the coast of Nosy Komba, the famous Lokobe National Reserve and the island of Tanikely.

Turtle monitoring - While diving and snorkelling, everyone will actively seek sea turtles to continue the work on establishing an estimated inventory of turtles using the reef surrounding the island as well as establish an annual population census. During the nesting season (November to March), you may also get the chance to monitor breeding sites and protect nests from any disturbance by participating in nightly walks and ‘sleep overs’ on the beaches.

Nudibranch Research - Carry out surveys to determine the species density and biodiversity of nudibranchs in the area as well as associated substrates.

Beach Cleans - On a regular basis, everyone will clean specific beaches to clear them of any debris and litter, helping to save the lives of marine animals. The amount of litter and type of litter is also recorded, with the data used to monitor waste across the Indian Ocean for an international research project run by the University of Cape Town.

Artificial reef structures - When the project allows, you will be able to assist in constructing artificial reef structures to deploy in the surrounding waters as well as at the marine national park of Tanikely Island. By increasing the coral reef size and health in the area, the hope is that the coral will be able to generate quicker.

We can’t be underwater 100% of the time...if only it were possible! In addition to the above tasks, you will also be able to participate in a whole range of ‘dry activities’ which are essential to the functioning of the marine project.

Data entry & analysis - With so much scientific survey work going on underwater, there is a lot of data and photos to input and analyse. All volunteers will assist with data entry on a rolling basis and analysis is undertaken by all those that are willing and/or have prior experience with data handling.

Community work - On a bi-monthly basis, you will be able to plan forest and marine orientated classes and fun scientific experiments to engage with the locals, explain why we are here and help them understand why and how they can conserve their natural environment.

When you first arrive into Madagascar, you will receive comprehensive training to fully prepare you for your volunteer adventure. This will involve identification training for marine wildlife (including turtles, fish, corals and invertebrates) and also the methodology of coral baseline surveying - a key skill in marine conservation as a universal approach to monitoring the state of coral reefs. In addition, you will be taught how all of the work fits into the bigger picture of conservation management required for establishing marine protected areas and improving coastal ecosystems.

What will a typical day look like?

You will generally be volunteering from Monday to Friday with each day broken into morning and afternoon activities. After dinner each day, everyone meets to go through the tasks for the following day.

The schedule will vary greatly and it does depend on the project needs, the tides and of course the weather. There will be varying amounts of down time during the listed morning and afternoon programme activities depending on the day and project.

Please find below a sample schedule -

07:00am - Breakfast at the camp
08:00am - Start of morning activities
12:00pm - Lunch at the camp
14:00pm - Start of afternoon activities
18:00pm - Dinner at the camp
18:45pm - Briefing to discuss the tasks for the following day

You will have several hours of free time throughout the day and in the evening where you are more than welcome to relax on the beach, go snorkelling in search of turtles, enjoy the views from the dive deck or socialise at the accommodation playing games. 

There are no volunteering activities planned for the weekends and this is your perfect chance to head off and explore more of Nosy Komba and the surrounding islands. There are so many things you can see and do including walking the narrow stretch of beach at Nosy Iranja, go lemur spotting at Lokobe National Park, climb Mont Passot to enjoy the 360 degree views, hop on a boat and go whale watching or simply relax and enjoy your surroundings.

Where will I be staying?

Built into the steep, rocky slopes of Nosy Komba, the eco-friendly volunteer accommodation is a multi-level compound overlooking the spectacular coral reef below. Surrounded by lush green forests a stone’s throw away from a picturesque white sandy beach, this really is paradise. You can relax and unwind on the large dive deck that is complete with hammocks, bean bags and benches, providing the perfect spot to enjoy the stunning views of the ocean that extends all the way to Lokobe Forest Reserve on Nosy Be.

You will be staying in one of several locally built bungalows that are nestled within vibrant gardens and enjoy stunning views. Volunteers can expect to share a hut with four to six other volunteers in wooden bunkbeds.

Other things to consider

Scuba Diving – The programme strives to give volunteers one dive per day, with an average of four to five dives per week. However, it is important to note that dives are subject to the training schedule and weather conditions and cannot always be guaranteed.

PADI Advanced Open Water - To participate on the Marine Conservation program, volunteers must have both PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water Dive Certification or equivalent to survey. PADI diving courses can be completed when you first arrive into Madagascar with the local team at the research centre, costing $440 and $340 retrospectively . However, volunteers must complete the PADI E-learning portion of the training prior to arrival, as access to WIFI is limited - full details will be provided within the volunteer handbook when you confirm your placement.

Required Equipment – As part of the programme you will be required to take the following scuba kit along with you to Madagascar, a mask with tempered glass and snorkel, fins, wetsuit, surface marker buoy, waterproof watch, medium to large dive slate and a dive compass. More information is provided within the volunteer handbook when you confirm your placement.  

Turtle volunteering in Madagascar - paradise!

  • December 2023
I travelled to Madagascar to do the Turtle Volunteering Programme on the island paradise, Nosy Komba, for a week during September of 2023 with two close friends I know from school. Our experience was truly eye opening and was an extremely productive trip for all of us. Many lessons were learnt, and I genuinely believe we all grew as people despite being there for only a week.

Ben's story