Madagascar, the country made popular by the Dreamworks’ films in 2005 has always been and always will be a biologist’s dream. A country full of endemic and diverse flora and fauna that is under severe threat by deforestation and over-fishing. Being a research assistant on this Operation Wallacea expedition allows them to achieve their objectives of monitoring how the forest structure and biodiversity of newly established community managed forests are changing over time. This helps identify whether managing forests in a local based way can provide a viable alternative to national parks in terms of protecting biodiversity which is largely ineffective. As a biology student specialising in zoology, the varying monitoring projects such as pollard counts on butterflies and distance sampling on lemurs are of great personal interest. They are also of great academic interest as they allowed me to gain insight into the world of field research and allowed me to gain and practice skills that are best learnt in the field.
In addition to learning terrestrial based monitoring, I also had the opportunity to assist in marine research. This allowed me to gain my SCUBA qualification and help on the marine transects on the effects of over-fishing and tourism on the coral reef structure and local turtle population. This was an amazing experience which taught me skills not easily accessed in the UK.
Before I left for my expedition it was very hard to be nervous about anything, due to being so excited. This feeling was very valid because there genuinely was nothing to be worried about. All the researchers, local guides, dissertation students and fellow research assistants on the expedition from all around the world were the kindest and funniest people you could ever meet. We were all very fast friends. Sharing these amazing experiences with complete strangers means that they’re now a few of my closest friends. It’s pretty impossible to not be friends with your tent mate as a Coquerel’s sifaka lemur rustles in the trees above your tent every morning or as you walk barefoot carrying your SCUBA gear for your first qualified dive ever. There was not a single thing to complain about except maybe the constant rooster waking you up at the crack of dawn – but it’s all part of the experience.
This is a experience I firmly believe that everyone should try at least once in their life, biologist or not. It teaches you more than just academic skills, all while teaching you specific social skills that are very rarely learnt in any other situation.
I will 100% return to Madagascar in my future and I’m already excited for it!
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