Learn to identify the elegantly swaying soft corals, the grape-like hard coral massive bubble and the lacy gorgonian fans or any one of the 150 plus species of colourful fish frequenting the dive sites. Your dive experience will be rich and rewarding once you are able to tell the difference between the species living in the ecosystem you are helping to conserve.
Whether a dive novice, experienced SCUBA diver, budding scientist or newcomer to the field of marine conservation you are welcome and able to support and contribute to our marine research and conservation work.
During the first two to four weeks of every expedition our field scientists take you through a well structured and intensive science training, which provides you with the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out research dives. The training involves numerous diving excursions as well as informal lectures, small group discussions and practical exercises on coral and fish species identification.
Depending on your dive level when joining us, you will, during the science training, also learn how to dive or advance your diving skills by completing further dive certifications (up to Divemaster level).
Once you have reached PADI Advanced Open Water level and passed your science training you will carry out one to two dives a day collecting relevant reef data. You will be diving 5 days a week with Saturday’s off for community conservation work and Sunday as a rest day and you can join us year-round for a period of 3 -12 weeks.
Expedition prices vary according to your current diving qualification and length of stay in Madagascar but, as a guide, start at £2650 for 6 weeks. Use the price calculator to get an estimated cost which you’ll also receive if you apply. and please just let us know if you want an exact quote before you confirm your place. If you have any special requirements (e.g. non-diving volunteer, joining outside normal expedition dates, medic, medical elective or research) please contact us for an accurate quote.
Please note – from June 2019 our Madagascar expeditions are transitioning to an eight-week standard length which will include internal travel from Antananarivo to our expedition site. If you are interested in joining an expedition from June 2019 onwards, we will be in touch upon receiving your application to confirm the changes with you. Feel free to contact us for more details prior to applying.
In an area where as much as 87% of the population are completely reliant on marine resources, our community based aquaculture programme plays a critical role in diversifying livelihoods and providing alternative income sources to fishing. Working with the University of Toliara’s Marine Science Institute and local seafood exporters, Blue Ventures is connecting isolated coastal communities with lucrative international markets for sea cucumber, enabling families and especially women who are excluded from traditional fishing, to develop their own aquaculture businesses.
As a marine conservation volunteer you will visit Tampolove, where sea cucumber and seaweed farms are located, and assist farmers harvesting sea cucumbers whilst learning about aquaculture and how Blue Ventures integrates their projects in the field. During your time in Tampolove you will have a homestay experience with a farmer which offers you the unique opportunity to authentically immerse yourself in the Malagasy culture and experience the local way of living first-hand.
Blue Ventures supports its partner communities to develop the skills they need to manage their marine resources sustainably and our team works tirelessly to deliver training at all levels. As a volunteer you will gain insights and assist with some of those programmes.
In order to build capacity for local staff and eco-guides we developed a buddy programme. Volunteers are paired with a suitable individual and during informal conversations, fun games and sessions, help your team partner develop their English language skills or improve their IT and computer skills. In order to provide a better understanding between local staff members and volunteers during these exchanges, you will receive Malagasy lessons during the first few weeks on expedition. Jacks, our Malagasy Volunteer Liaison Officer, facilitates these classes, which enable you to experience a richer cultural exchange with locals during homestay and other activities and a better learning experience for your team partner and you.
Day in a life
Another opportunity for you to make use of your newly acquired Malagasy language skills is our “day in a life” initiative. As part of this programme, you will shadow a Malagasy for a day in order to understand what their life is like. They might show you how to sail, how to fish or go octopus gleaning with you. For them this is another opportunity to improve their English, but also to introduce their culture and way of living to volunteers from all around the world.
Assist a Malagasy Scholar
Each year we award several scholarships for Velondriake community members and university students to join our international volunteers on expedition. Scholars gain practical field skills and knowledge on marine conservation, learn how to SCUBA dive, conduct ecological surveys and identify fish and coral species, which allows them to take a more active part in the conservation and management of Madagascar’s marine resources. If they are on expedition during your stay, not only can you exchange experiences and ideas with them and help improve their English language skills but you can support them during their studies and thereby contribute to their progress throughout the expedition.
Every Saturday morning, children in the village of Andavadoaka gather at our dedicated education centre to take part in “Saturday School”, which is designed and led by our Education Officer Paul together with local teachers and Velondriake committee members. “Saturday School” intend to integrate conservation and health education and are organised in the form of workshops and activities, which are fun, engaging and creative. Activities are offered to in-school and out-of-school children and aimed at creating a supportive environment in order to solve problems and find connections across subjects. When additional manpower is needed, volunteers assist Paul in these planned activities. You might assist or take part in beach clean-ups, field trips to local sites of ecological importance such as mangroves or an environmental awareness session in the classroom.
Although the expedition schedule is fairly packed with diving and other project activities, there is also time available for recovery and relaxation. If you prefer some down time, you can simply spend time reading a book or taking a nap in a hammock in your eco-cabin by the beach. If you’re feeling more active you can learn to sail a pirogue with local fishers, explore the baobab and spiney forest, take a picnic or go camping out to one of the nearby islands or play football and rugby against local teams or your fellow volunteers. Alternatively, you can explore nearby villages and take a ride on a Zebu cart or enjoy some of Madagascar’s delicacies whilst spending time in a homestay with a local Vezo family. If you fancy your hand at some cooking, there’s even opportunities to learn how to make some of the local delights and Jack’s is always on hand to organise any of these activities.
Madagascar, the fourth biggest island on the planet, is a place unlike any other. Separated from the rest of the world for over 100 million of years, it’s home to a staggering array of unique plants and animals, making it one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. The island’s incredible abundance of flora and fauna doesn’t finish at its shores with Madagascar’s waters supporting one of the largest coral reef systems in the world and a rich diversity of marine life.
Blue Ventures’ expedition base in Madagascar lies at the edge of a shallow lagoon, protected from the open ocean by a series of fringing and submerged coral reefs, which provide a vital resource base for local fishers. Common sightings are nudibranchs, moray eels and turtles and should you join us between April and September you are very likely to see humpback whales.
Our team and volunteers are based at a hotel-restaurant called Coco Beach, with comfortable wooden eco-cabins overlooking the white sandy beach and turquoise blue sea beyond.
You will share your bungalow with a maximum of three other volunteers. You do have the opportunity to book private accommodation, which comes at a small supplement of 10% of the expedition price. This option is ideal for families, couples or those wanting their own space. All of the accommodation has eco-toilets and shower blocks close by.
During your expedition you will likely spend several nights in local Homestay accommodation with Malagasy families (dependent on expedition schedule).
Homestays are an important part of our strategy to diversify and strengthen alternative livelihoods for coastal communities, ensuring the economic benefits of tourism go directly to community families, rather than resorts or international investors. They provide a rich cultural experience, and the chance to really understand the lived experience of your host community.
Read more about this unique experience from the perspective of a previous Blue Ventures volunteer.
Three meals a day are prepared by local chefs, with varying vegetables and seafood dependent on what’s available, and we are normally able to cater for those with specific dietary requirements, particularly vegetarians. Volunteers are also given the opportunity to learn how to make traditional snacks, such as doughnuts, fish samosas and tortillas. Tea and coffee is available with most meals and treated drinking water is freely available on site, with bottled water and other beverages available to purchase from local restaurants or shops.
No matter where you are departing from (unless you already are in Madagascar), you will arrive at Madagascar’s capital and only international airport Antananarivo. Our new 8 week expeditions will now begin in Antananarivo, where we will arrange for you to be met at the airport and transferred to the Raphia Ivato Hotel for the first night. The rest of the group will be arriving throughout the day, and in the evening there will be an evening meal and introductory briefings. The next day the group will depart Antananarivo on our Overland Tour, a four day, three night adventure through Madagascar to the town of Toliara where you will be met by our expedition team.
You will get to see lemurs and chameleons, visit National Parks, where you can swim in natural swimming ponds, dive under waterfalls and explore grasslands and sandstone cliffs and canyons. You will visit local craft workshops, see rice paddies sprinkled with Madagascar’s traditional red brick houses and the brave ones can even take a ride on a pousse-pousse! This is a unique opportunity to get to know Madagascar’s breathtaking diversity.
For your way back from expedition site, you will need to arrange a domestic flight from Toliara (airport code TLE) back to Antananarivo (TNR). Please note we are no longer running overland tours north at the end of expeditions. You will be able to research and book internal flights through Tsaradia, ensuring to change the currency to Euros to enable online payments. As delays are common with travel in Madagascar, you will need to book your internal flight for 1 day after your expedition end date, and your international flight 1 day later than arriving in Antananarivo. For example; if your expedition end date is the 25th, you would book your internal flight for the 26th, and your international departure flight for the 27th at the earliest.
It is also important to plan all your flights with consideration to the maximum number of days you can stay in Madagascar. There is a 90 day limit to tourist visas. Currently, you will be able to get a 60 day visa on arrival to the country, and if your stay is longer than this you will need to get a visa extension in Madagascar. This can be done in Toliara and will take 1 day to visit the necessary offices. Previously a 90 day tourist visa was available on arrival and many guidebooks and online sources will still advertise this. Please note visa requirements do vary between countries and are subject to change, so we ask all volunteers to check their individual requirements during their pre-departure preparations and make the appropriate arrangements.
During underwater research dives you collect critical marine inventory data, which feed into published reports and scientific papers about the state of Madagascar’s coral reefs. You will work with local communities, non-governmental organisations and marine institutes towards implementing and maintaining sustainable local environmental management plans. Thereby you contribute to the further development of Blue Ventures’ efforts to support coastal communities in marine conservation.
Due to a drastic decline in fish stock, Blue Ventures’ founder Alasdair Harris started establishing marine conservation programmes in collaboration with the local community more than a decade ago. Those were and are necessary in order to sustain and increase fish stocks and ensure a sustainable source of income to local fishers. With the help of volunteers it is possible for us to monitor and evaluate some of our ongoing conservation projects and understand if the health of the reefs we are working on is improving. The village has won the Equator Prize, awarded by the United Nations Development Program, for its innovative approach to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
You can find answers to common queries about Blue Ventures expeditions below, or please contact a member of our staff with any questions you may have and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
We’re here Monday to Friday, between 9.30am and 6pm (GMT). Call us on +44 (0)207 697 8598.
1. Complete and submit our online application form.
2. If we’re able to accept your application, we’ll send you an email offering you a place on your chosen expedition with a link to download our detailed pre-departure guide.
3. If you request to speak to us about joining an expedition, we’ll give you a call at a time that’s convenient for you and answer any of your questions over the phone. You’re also welcome to come and visit us at our London office.
4. Once you’ve decided that you’d like to join a Blue Ventures expedition, you’ll be asked to confirm your place by paying a non-refundable deposit and agreeing to our booking conditions. This allows us to guarantee you a place on your chosen expedition, with the full balance of your expedition fees due at least 6 weeks before departure.
5. Once your place is confirmed, you’ll be asked to complete and submit various forms, including medical forms to be completed with your doctor, and details of your travel insurance policy, flights and emergency contacts. We’ll be on hand to provide any guidance that you need, and are always happy to answer any questions as our volunteers prepare for their trip.
Please click on the ‘Dates & Costs’ tab to see our upcoming expedition dates.
Our expeditions in Madagascar now follow an 8-week schedule, with the first week involving our overland tour from Antananarivo to Toliara and then 7 weeks at our expedition site in Andavadoaka! It is possible to join us for both less and more than an 8-week expedition, so please contact our team if you would like to discuss custom dates.
In Madagascar, there is a 90 day limit for visas and tourist passes, therefore the duration of your entire trip (including any time in the country before or after your expedition dates) must not be longer than 90 days. However, recently only 30 day and 60 day visas have been available for purchase at the airport on arrival, and 90 day visas require an extension in-country. As Blue Ventures’ 8-week expedition will fit within a 60 day visa, we strongly encourage our volunteers to plan their time in Madagascar to a 60 day limit, unless otherwise discussed.
Yes! Ideally, you would join an expedition on the advertised start date and leave earlier. This way you can complete the dive and science sessions at the start of the expedition and integrate into the group. However, we can offer some flexibility so if you have very limited availability please contact us to discuss how we can best tailor your time to optimise your expedition experience!
Please note the following regarding our flexible dates:
If you arrive to or leave the expedition on a different date to the advertised schedule, then you will be responsible for the additional cost of your transfer(s) between Toliara and Andavadoaka. This is a fixed cost of £170, one way, as the journey takes 6-8 hours minimum and requires the hire of a driver and car for two days. If you join us on custom dates, we will make these bookings for you and you will be invoiced for the full car cost before departure. Sometimes other volunteers or Blue Ventures staff will be travelling on the same date and when this happens we are happy to split the cost between passengers and refund the difference. Whilst we can and do offer flexible start dates, this option is more challenging as you are unlikely to be travelling with anyone else, and will not be met by a team member when you reach Toliara.
We ask for a non-refundable deposit in order to be able to guarantee you a place on your chosen expedition, and the balance of your expedition fees is due at least 6 weeks before departure. In the unlikely event that a volunteer isn’t able to join the expedition and has already paid their balance, their travel insurance company should be able to offer a refund. Volunteers who pull out 4 weeks or less before the start of an expedition will not be eligible for a refund. Volunteers who pull out more than 4 weeks before the start of an expedition will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Anyone can join a Blue Ventures expedition providing that they’re in a reasonable state of fitness and good health; we require volunteers to go for a medical check with their doctor prior to departure, with a medical form that the doctor must sign. Volunteers must be able to swim 400 metres confidently and tread water for 2 minutes unaided.
Absolutely! Blue Ventures has alumni from all around the world (over 50 nationalities to date!) Anyone is welcome to join a Blue Ventures expedition providing that they’re able to speak and read English, as all dive and science training are in English.
Typically our volunteers are aged between 17 and 60, but there’s no upper age limit. Every expedition group is made up of people with a wide range of ages, and the average age of our volunteers is 28. If you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to contact us.
We insist that all volunteers who wish to scuba dive are at least 17 years of age, although we accept volunteers under 17 years of age to participate in non-diving activities (so long as they’re accompanied by an adult), and families are welcome to join too.
Volunteers are put in contact with the rest of their group 6 weeks before the expedition starts. This allows them to get to know each other a little, and even coordinate travel plans if they would like to travel together.
No! With a high staff to volunteer ratio, our expeditions team are on hand to support you to develop your marine science skills.
You can learn to dive with our highly experienced dive instructors in Madagascar. There is no better place to take your first breath underwater and get hooked on a new adventure for life!
Around half of our volunteers haven’t dived before, so you won’t be alone. All our volunteers are trained to PADI Advanced Open Water level before they can complete research dives.
There are regular flights to Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar from all over the world.
We recommend checking prices with SkyScanner for prices to Antananarivo.
Within Madagascar we recommend joining our overland tour from Antananarivo to Toliara, where the expedition starts. You can also make this journey with Air Madagascar.
We’re happy to help and offer advice – just fill in the form above and we’ll get back to you.
Our expeditions formally start and end in the town of Toliara.
To get to Toliara from Antananarivo you can either take our overland tour (recommended!) or fly with Air Madagascar.
Transfers between Toliara and our field site Andavadoaka take 8-12 hours by 4×4, and are organised by Blue Ventures.
Yes, we require you to have two forms of insurance: both normal travel insurance and specific dive insurance provided by Divers Alert Network (DAN).
DAN are our chosen partner for our scuba emergency evacuation plan, so we insist that all volunteers have a valid DAN insurance policy.
Most nationalities need a tourist visa when entering Madagascar, and this can be obtained at the airport on arrival. This can then be extended if necessary, to a maximum of 90 days, which will be arranged for you by our in country staff. Please ensure you research which currency your visa will need to be paid in. Recently, we have found that for UK Passport holders obtaining a Madagascan visa on arrival can only be paid for in either Euros or Madagascan Ariary. Euros can be obtained outside of Madagascar, Ariary can only be obtain in country. Therefore, please plan to carry the required amount of Euros in cash for your visa, unless otherwise advised. Please contact us if you think you might need further information.
Before you join an expedition, you should see your doctor or an accredited travel clinic who will advise you on the vaccinations that you need to visit for Madagascar. As a guide, the standard vaccinations are:
● Polio, tetanus and BCG (Tuberculosis)
● Yellow fever (only necessary if staying in a yellow fever country en-route to Madagascar)
● Meningitis (A & C)
● Hepatitis A
● Hepatitis B
How much you spend on site will largely depend on you. Generally speaking, you won’t need any money on site as you are provided with three meals a day, accommodation and all expedition activities. Most volunteers do however like to buy snacks or drinks (water is provided), souvenirs and phone credit, so we suggest a budget of around 160,000 MGA per week. There is no ATM (!) in Andavadoaka only in Toliara, where Blue Ventures meets you or the capital Antananarivo, so all spending money should be withdrawn prior to the beginning of the expedition. You can keep larger amounts of cash in the Expedition Manager’s safe.
We require volunteers to leave at least two days between the start and end date of the expedition and the day of their international flights, as delays in Madagascar are common and this eliminates the risk of missing international flights.
Depending on your own travel plans before and after the expedition there will be days where you will need to cover the cost of your own food and accommodation in Madagascar. The cost for a hotel is usually around €15 euro per night, we can often arrange group bookings with other volunteers to get a good price.
If you want to join our overland tour to see a bit more of Madagascar you can arrange this with London headquarters. Travel, accommodation and park entrance fees are included in the price for this before departure to Madagascar but we recommend you budget about £100 for tips, meals, snacks and drinks over the 3 or 4 day trip.
Please note at the end of the overland tour volunteers spend two nights in Toliara before the expedition begins, and the cost of this hotel stay is not included in the overland tour fee.
There is no wifi available (although Coco Beach Hotel may have operational wifi soon!), however even though Andavadoaka is 200km from the nearest town it is fortunate enough to have mobile and internet access, albeit sometimes quite limited. Pay as you go SIM cards can be bought in Andavadoaka and elsewhere. Dongles are available in Toliara, the expedition meeting and finishing point. Staff can aid you in finding respective stores. Laptops and unlocked phones to support dongles or local SIM cards need to be brought along by you.
Andavadoaka lies in the South West of Madagascar, which is one of the country’s driest regions. Therefore, we don’t tend to experience the worst of the cyclone season. The rain we do experience during rainy season (roughly December to March) can be seen as something of a relief when it’s usually fairly hot and dry! It also leaves the environment looking particularly lush and green, which we regard as a plus! So if you are thinking about the best time to join us, then the answer is that there isn’t one best time to visit Andavadoaka that fits all, and therefore we would recommend to plan your visit based on your availability.
Local chefs prepare three meals per day for our expeditions team and volunteers. Breakfast is fruit (such as banana or pineapple), freshly baked bread with honey or eggs (bring your favourite spread!) and coffee or tea. Lunch is salad, rice, spaghetti, beans, fish or meat, and vegetables. Dinner is rice, spaghetti, beans, fish or meat, vegetables and a dessert. We’re normally able to cater for those with specific dietary requirements, particularly vegetarians. Treated drinking water is freely available on site, with bottled water and other beverages and various snacks available to purchase from the local restaurant or shops.
Lots! In your down time, you could learn how to sail a pirogue with local fishers, explore the nearby baobab and spiny forest, enjoy the excellent snorkelling, relax in a hammock outside your ecolodge home, play beach volleyball against a local team or your fellow volunteers or explore local villages by foot or Zebu cart! Due to the remote location of our expedition site there is not really the option to travel far on your days off so if you wish to see a bit more of Madagascar we recommend joining our overland tour before or after your expedition.
Safety is our top priority when working both above and below the water in remote environments. Our volunteers are required to complete a medical check with their doctor before joining an expedition with us, and we aim to have a qualified medic on site at all times, with additional 24-hour medical support provided both from our UK based medical and within each expedition country.
Rest days (decompression days) are incorporated into our schedules, and conservative dive profiles allow for a large safety margin. Communications can be difficult on remote expeditions so our field sites and research boats are connected by VHF radios and/or mobile and satellite phones at all times, and our research boats carry medical oxygen on all diving trips.
We have a worst-case scenario medical evacuation (Medivac) plan, supported by 24-hour contact with our head office staff and medical advisers. All of our expeditions staff are experienced divers, with training in first aid and practical rescue management skills.
We require all divers to be certified PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) in order to take part in research dives.
However, around half of all of our volunteers have never dived before – so don’t let it put you off – there is no better place to learn!
PADI Advanced Open water certification will be carried out by our experienced Instructor at our expedition site along with the rest of the volunteers on your chosen expedition.
We also run Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and Divemaster training on site if you want to advance your dive skills further.
We require all divers to be certified PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) in order to take part in research divers.
Experienced divers who have not dived in the six months prior to their expedition are required to take a refresher course with us, to ensure that they are confident and well trained.
We dive five or six days per week, and you’ll normally dive once, and occasionally twice per day. The majority of our dives are science-related, for example, including training sessions, recording fish and benthic transect data, or surveying new reef sites. Diving is strictly weather-dependent due to safety concerns, and subject to logistical restrictions.
All expedition volunteers are trained up to PADI Advanced Open Water level. We also offer the PADI Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and Dive Master courses for those who wish to advance their diving qualifications.
Please note that volunteers must be on site for a minimum of 10 weeks to complete their PADI Dive Master and must complete in this order: Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and finally Dive Master.
All of our volunteers must be trained up to PADI Advanced Open Water or equivalent to participate in our underwater survey dives, so please contact our London-based expeditions team to check your qualification level if you’ve trained with a different scuba agency.
You’ll need to bring some personal diving equipment: wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, watch or dive computer, dive torch (for night dives!), delayed SMB with reel and underwater slate (for our research work).
You’ll be wearing your wetsuit, mask, snorkel and fins almost daily for 6 weeks so it’s very important that these fit well and are comfortable.
We provide the scuba equipment you need including buoyancy control devices (BCDs), regulators, weights and cylinders. It is also a PADI requirement that you have your own manuals for all the dive courses you are undergoing whilst on expedition so you’ll need to bring these along too if applicable.
You will go through a science training programme run by our field scientist at the beginning of the expedition, involving numerous snorkelling and diving excursions as well as informal lectures, small group discussions and practical exercises. All training materials are provided on site.
In order to ensure that the data we collect is scientifically robust you will likely be tested on coral and fish species identification. At our other sites, most volunteers pass these tests by the second or third week of the expedition, before moving on to underwater survey dives with our field scientists.
And counting… We’re extremely proud to have supported so many brilliant marine conservation volunteers who have actively contributed to our research and conservation work!
We’re delighted to welcome volunteers from all over the world to work with us in Madagascar, Belize and Timor-Leste.
On average you’ll do 1-2 dives per day after your dive and science training is complete. You’ll be diving up to 5 days a week (weather dependent) so you’ll clock up a lot of underwater time!