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Marine and Wildlife Conservation - Madagascar

Rachael Castle gets some hands on experience with wildlife in Madagascar on her projects with Frontier

Volunteer Rachael Castle relates her experiences of double Madagascar stint on Frontier's Marine Conservation & Diving and the Wildlife Conservation Adventure projects .

Into the Wild: What was the favourite part of your trip?

Rachael: Learning about and seeing all the different animals and fish, especially the geckos, they're really cute.

Into the Wild: Was the project what you expected it to be?

Rachael: Yeah, although the living conditions were quite basic they were better than I thought they'd be (the shower is great).

Into the Wild: What activities and tasks did you carry out on the project?

Rachael: I had to do camp duty once every two weeks or so, which I didn't mind so much because it kept me busy, it was interesting having to cook dinner for about 30 people! In the forest I took part in bird surveys, reptile surveys, lemur surveys and active searches for reptiles and amphibians. We also set up small mammal traps at one of the survey sites. For marine we did base line protocol (BSP) surveys after we had completed our dive training, I was usually on either schooling or territorial fish for the BSPs.

Into the Wild: What did a normal day on the project consist of?

Rachael: When I was doing the wildlife conservation project for 10 weeks I went into the forest Rachael was able to get to know the local children and visit a school on her projects in Madagascar with Frontierwith the other research assistants (RAs) about 3 or 4 times a day to carry out various surveys, for the bird surveys we had to get up at 5am! I got used to that after a while though. When I was on the marine project for another 10 weeks I could maybe wake up a bit later, me and the other marine RAs would get our dive kit ready and then head for a dive site on the camp's boat and carry out a BSP. Occasionally I'd go snorkelling to help another RA for collecting BTEC data, or we'd be learning about fish or marine invertebrates. If I was on camp duty I'd still be able to do most of the surveying, but I'd have to wake up at 5.30ish to get breakfast ready and to clean up camp, then start to cook dinner at around 3.30pm.

Into the Wild: What skills did you gain on the project? Did you gain any BTEC qualifications?

Rachael: I learned how to dive up to PADI Advanced Open Water, diving is so fun, and it's great to get so close to marine wildlife. I'm currently finishing my BTEC, I did my project on birds and it was a great motivator for data collection, it's definitely kept my brain working which is handy if you're taking a gap year from uni!

Into the Wild: What were your favourite activities or trips during your time there?

Rachael: I was really lucky and I was able to go on two satellite camps (one when I was on the forest project and one on marine), for the forest sat camp we went to Madagascar mainland for a week, I got to see lots more wildlife that I didn't see around camp, and different habitats. For marine we got to live on a catamaran for 3 days and go diving at different locations, again we saw different wildlife to what we usually saw, and some of the dive sites were pretty spectacular.

Into the Wild: Do you think the experience has helped you with your Environmental Biology degree?

Rachael: Definitely, I got to see some of the things I'd learnt about in my lectures, like mudskippers and mangroves. Also the training that we had to do before we could help in surveys will be beneficial I'm sure, especially the fish ID, the diving qualification and the BTEC. Also I feel more motivated to do extra work to get a better degree.

Into the Wild: How has your time out on the project changed your thoughts or plans for the future?

Rachael: I actually know what I want to do when I finish my degree now (I want to do an internship with the RSPB), and possibly go on to do a postgrad course.

Into the Wild: Did you get along with the staff and the other volunteers?

Rachael: Yes! Everybody was so nice and friendly; I miss a lot of people that were there when I was. There'd always be a great atmosphere on camp and it was fun to be around everybody (I remember one time when a game of tag randomly started, people were running around everywhere, it was really funny).

Into the Wild: You're quite keen on photography; which photo from the trip is your favourite image and why?

One of Rachael's favourite photos from her time on Madagascar with FrontierRachael: Either the photo of the camp's boat FiFi on the beach, because it makes me think of camp and the stunning view from the beach, or the photo of a leaf tailed gecko that I saw on a night walk, they're now one of my favourite animals.

Into the Wild: Was it difficult capturing good shots of the wildlife?

Rachael: It was hard trying to get photos of birds (my camera didn't have a very good zoom-in) and they'd fly away most of the time. It was quite easy taking photos of the reptiles though, especially the tiny chameleons, once you'd found one of course. A lot of people brought out their nice DSLR cameras and they got some amazing shots of the wildlife. I brought out my 35mm fisheye lens camera with its underwater housing so I got some interesting photos of marine life.

Into the Wild: What was your favourite animal encounter?

Rachael: When we were on the boat going to a dive site to do a BSP we saw a small pod of dolphins, they were close to us so we got in the water and tried to swim with them. They were wild dolphins so it was a great experience. Diving with sea turtles was also amazing.

Into the Wild: Did you get a lot of spare time? How did you occupy yourself and what were your favourite activities to do on your time off?

Rachael: Sometimes when the weather was bad we didn't do much because the wildlife would be hiding, so we'd read or play card games. On sunny days when we couldn't do surveys for one reason or another we could sunbathe or go for a walk or snorkel. During my last week on camp I went with the teachers to a local school and I got to see how they taught the children English, I really enjoyed it and the kids were enthusiastic and full of energy. We got Saturdays off, and we got to go on trips to nearby places (one place has a park where you could feed black lemurs bananas and they'd jump on your shoulders, a great experience) or go scootering around Nosy Be, again another really fun experience.

Into the Wild: Did you enjoy the diving and seeing marine wildlife?

Rachael: Yeah! I'd never dived before (apart from a try dive), diving itself was really fun especially when there was time to play after a survey. The dive course was good; I enjoyed the Advance Open Water course the most. Some of the fish that we saw were weird looking, like the sling jaw wrasse or the Indian Ocean bird wrasse, and most of the fish are really colourful. A marine park nearby had really large fish and quite a few turtles, some people saw sharks and octopus too. There were plenty of invertebrates too, the sea cucumbers are my favourites- they look funny!

Into the Wild: What would you say was the most useful thing you packed and took out there on the project?

Rachael: My sarong, because it dries quickly and I could use it as a towel, a sun bathing mat, a piece of clothing and it rolled up really small so it took up less space than a towel.

Into the Wild: Do you have a favourite memory from the trip?

Rachael: All the RAs and most of the staff took part in a big carnival, which is known about all Rachael and her fellow vounteers plus the Frontier staff attended the local carnivalover Madagascar, and we danced in front of hundreds of people for 2 and a half hours. It was amazing, the crowd loved us and there was a brilliant atmosphere, it's something I'll never forget.

Into the Wild: Any funny stories from the trip you'd like to share?

Rachael: Plenty, one I remember well was when I had a 20cm centipede crawl up my shorts, it was terrifying at the time but it makes me laugh now. Needless to say I am no longer scared of insects in the UK.

Into the Wild: Describe the trip in three words.

Rachael: An incredible experience.

Into the Wild: Have you learnt anything new about yourself from the experience?

Rachael: That I can learn new species of animals quite easily

Into the Wild: Would you do anything similar again?

Rachael: I would probably do another dive project again, just because it was nice being in warm water and seeing coral and colourful fish. I would do a forest project again in Madagascar because we didn't have any leeches and the birds and reptiles were wonderful to see, I'm a bit scared of some creatures in the forest though, mainly big insects and spiders.

For more information on opportunities to volunteer abroad including all our projects in Madagascar with Frontier please visit the website.



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