Madagascar - School Expeditions - Operation Wallacea

Madagascar – School Expeditions

Madagascar Schools Booklet (forest and marine) 2017

Shrewsbury school put together a fantastic photobook of their 2013 expedition to South Madagascar, you can find this here.

Research objectives

Madagascar has some of the most spectacular biodiversity in the world (lemurs, tenrecs, baobabs and over half of all known chameleon species), much of which is endemic. The Opwall teams are conducting a long term monitoring programme in the Mahamavo dry forests. Whilst Madagascar has now declared 17% of its land area as protected areas, much of this land is already severely degraded, so the actual area of land under protection is much smaller. An alternative approach to just declaring land as protected and not allowing any usage, is to develop community managed areas such as Mahamavo, where there is a patchwork of protected and managed areas. DTZ, the German Technical Cooperation Agency, has established a series of community managed forests in the Mahamavo area that appear to be successful and may form the basis for conservation and improving livelihoods in other parts of Madagascar.

The objectives for the Opwall research programme are to monitor how the forest structure and biodiversity changes over time in the community managed dry forests of Mahamavo, both to document the performance of a community managed area in terms of biodiversity conservation as well as to identify additional areas where a forest replanting programme could be initiated to extend the forest coverage. In addition the Opwall teams are documenting the biodiversity value of the adjacent wetlands with a view to getting this area upgraded to a Ramsar site.

The marine research camp is based on Nosy Komba Island at the north-western tip of Madagascar. The research objectives at this site are to complete annual surveys of the reef fish and coral communities to assess the effectiveness of the national park in protecting the reefs.



Structure of the expedition

The expedition is structured so that the first week is spent working with the Mahamavo forest research teams.  For the second week the groups have the option of travelling to the island of Nosy Komba to complete a dive training course or learn about Indian Ocean reef ecology or, alternatively, groups can remain in the Mahamavo forest for a second week.

Week 1 – Mahamavo forest

During the first week the teams will complete surveys including :

  • Herpetofauna routes: A small group of students led by a herpetologist walk slowly along forest sample routes scanning the vegetation and ground carefully for reptiles and amphibians since many species, particularly leaf tailed geckos, are quite cryptic. When an individual is detected the location, species and the distance from the route centreline are recorded. These transects are completed both during the day and at night using spotlights.
  • Lemur routes: Groups walk slowly along the route with a lemur specialist scanning the canopy closely for groups of lemurs. When a troop is detected the location, species, troop size and the distance from the route centreline are recorded. These transects are completed both during the day and at night using spotlights.
  • Bird point counts and mist netting: Students join an ornithologist completing point counts in the early morning. Teams form an outward facing circle and record all the birds seen or heard over a 10 minute period. Mist nets are also used for cryptic species. When birds are caught the ornithologist will demonstrate how they are removed from the net, handled and morphometric measurements recorded. Blood samples are also taken from the first 20 individuals caught from each species for genetic analysis.
  • Amphibian Surveys: Groups of students will be led by a herpetologist to an inland lake or rice paddy and collect as many frogs as possible over a 40 minute standard search period. Each frog collected is  identified to species, weighed and morphometric measurements taken to determine the abundance of each frog species in the area as well as the population structure.
  • Butterfly surveys: Pollard surveys of butterflies are completed along a series of fixed transects.
  • Bat mist netting: Mist nets are used to sample the bat communities and all bats captured are identified. Students are shown how captured bats are removed, handled, identified and morphometric measurements recorded.
  • Forest structure plots:  The aim of taking measurements in a stratified sample of 20m x 20m plots in the forests is to track changes in the biophysical properties of the forest such as canopy height, sapling density and basal area.

The groups will also complete a Madagascar Wildlife and Culture course with lectures on Introduction to Madagascar, biogeography and evolution of Madagascar wildlife, species concept, biodiversity conservation in Madagascar, people in Madagascar and conservation synthesis.

Week 2 – Nosy Komba Marine Camp

On this option the school will be based at the Nosy Komba Marine Camp and will be completing one of the following options:

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives, and open water dives to gain an official SCUBA qualification.
  • Indian Ocean Reef Ecology course: Completion of a Indian Ocean reef ecology course consisting of lectures and in water practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures cover an introduction to coral reef ecosystem, coral and algal species, marine megafauna mangrove and seagrass ecology, ecologically important invertebrates, identification of coral reef fish, reef survey techniques, threats to reefs and marine conservation.
  • PADI Open Water referral course: For this option students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components. This course takes three days to complete, after which students will join the Indian Ocean reef ecology course.

Madagascar Teacher


Mariarano base camp 
The students will be based in a camp near to Mariarano village. There are large covered areas for meals and a field laboratory with library, computers running the biodiversity database, GIS and statistics software. Accommodation is in shared tents, there are jungle showers and toilets in the camp. Part of the time of the expedition will be spent in this main camp and the other part in one of two satellite camps.

Matsedroy or Antafiameava
This camp is adjacent to the lake, a second camp Antafiameva is also used and a short walk from a mangrove system. Both are set up in the same way as the main camp at Mahamavo with tent accommodation.

Nosy Komba
A small camp set near the beach on the island of Nosy Komba. There is a communal dining and lecture area where lectures are given and meals served.  Accommodation is in shared tents with toilet and shower facilities.