Our expeditions take place in environmentally and culturally diverse regions of the world. All of our expedition volunteers are thoroughly briefed to be aware that we are privileged guests in our host countries, towns and villages.
We provide pre-departure materials and in-country guidance to ensure that all team members conduct themselves in a culturally sensitive way. We take very seriously our responsibility to minimise negative impacts on the environments in which we work, as well as to provide tangible benefits to our host communities.
A few months after the Sarteneja Homestay Group formed, we met Blue Ventures. They really helped us to start and we've been working with them since then. All of the women and families are benefitting economically, making us less dependent on our husbands money, and allowing us to develop other artisanal activities.
As part of our commitment to investing in people, we award several fully-funded marine science and scuba diving scholarships each year for university students from the Western Indian Ocean region and community members from the Velondriake area of southwest Madagascar to undertake an intensive six-week training course in conservation research alongside our expedition volunteers.
The programme focuses on learning how to scuba dive, conduct ecological surveys, and identify species. We have also trained the first Malagasy national to be certified as a PADI Open Water Instructor, and the first three Malagasy nationals to be certified as PADI Open Water Assistant Instructors.
We regularly hold “open days” to inform local communities about our research, and our conservation team supports them to develop strategies for sustainably managing their fisheries and marine resources. This ranges from developing markets for invasive lionfish in Belize to establishing periodic reserves for octopus in Madagascar.
We also enable communities to develop alternative livelihoods such as sea cucumber farming in order to reduce pressure on their marine resources and improve their economic status. Our community work even encompasses reproductive and maternal health in Madagascar, where we train local women to offer basic health education and services in their villages.
We are committed to supporting and developing accommodation models that benefit our host communities.
Our expedition volunteers in Belize are hosted by a local homestay association during the time that they spend in the village of Sarteneja. The Sarteneja Homestay Group is made up of several local families who provide accommodation and meals for our volunteers. This model ensures that there is a direct benefit to the local economy and gives our volunteers an authentic Belizean experience. Our partnership with the Homestay group helps diversify income-generating opportunities and we have invested over US$300,000 since March 2010.
At our expedition sites in Madagascar and Timor-Leste we are working with local communities to develop Homestay programmes. These programmes give our volunteers the opportunity to live with host families, experiencing local life and directing ecotourism revenue to our host communities.
We have a strong commitment to local employment, with over 50% of our expeditions teams employed from the communities with which we work. Wherever possible, food and supplies for expeditions are purchased from local vendors. Volunteers are encouraged to build relationships with community members through purchasing goods from local shops, and spending time in our partner communities and villages.
Our school scholarships programme was established by a number of our expeditions staff and alumni, who wished to create a lasting educational legacy for the young people whom they had connected with while in Madagascar. Thanks to the ongoing generous donations and fundraising efforts of our ex-volunteers and supporters, we are able to send more than 200 disadvantaged children in the Velondriake area to school every year and have been supporting education in the region since 2005.
Blue Ventures’ commitment to education goes beyond school scholarships and includes environmental education through to marine science courses and even Saturday schools. Our Education Coordinator explains more in a recent blog.
You can help us to support coastal communities in Madagascar by joining our school scholarship scheme.
Our dive protocols have been developed to ensure that our research teams and expedition volunteers are aware of the fragility of the marine environment in which they are diving, and take all necessary precautions to prevent harming the reefs.
Divers are required to maintain good buoyancy control so as to avoid accidental contact with the reef or stirring up sea floor sediment. Research boats are only launched in areas that avoid damage to reefs.
Our expedition sites are located in areas that avoid sensitive habitats and vegetation types, and we carry out monthly beach clean-ups in partnership with local communities. Fresh water use is kept to a minimum, and all waste is sorted and disposed of as responsibly as local conditions allow. Expedition staff and volunteers are encouraged to use only biodegradable cleaning products.
Electricity use is minimised to a few hours per day, and renewable energy is promoted wherever possible. In 2008, we conducted an internal audit of our energy use and carbon footprint relating to all of our expeditions and conservation activities in Andavadoaka, Madagascar. The recommendations made in that report have been implemented in order to reduce the impact of our operations.
We have been recognised six times at the annual Responsible Travel Awards, winning the prestigious ‘Best Volunteering Organisation’ in 2010, and also winning the ‘Outstanding Volunteer Project’ in the Global Youth Travel Awards in 2015, and the ‘Best Volunteering Organisation’ in the British Youth Travel Awards in 2012.
As a leader in responsible travel, we have been recommended as an ethical volunteering organisation by the Guardian and the Telegraph.
Our staff are active and influential members of the tourism industry, and as members of Tourism Concern’s Ethical Volunteering Group and the Year Out Group we work with partners to raise standards and promote best practice.