Blue Ventures
By : Nora Dunn
Blue Ventures is an award-winning non-profit volunteer tourism organization that does some amazing marine conservation work in Madagasgar and other Indian Ocean communities. They have a unique eco-tourism business model that supports their social enterprise, and as such they have created the largest community-managed marine reserve in the Indian Ocean.

Blue Ventures' Beginnings
Al Harris, the Founder and Director of Scientific Research for Blue Ventures, was studying marine conservation in Madagasgar. He was frustrated with the lack of knowledge and management of the marine systems that communities depend on for survival - both as a livelihood as well as a food source.

He also observed that despite the lack of a marine conservation plan, the area hosts some of the biggest coral reefs in the world, all of which are largely unknown and unexplored.

Seeing a community need as well as a scientific mecca for marine research, Al founded Blue Ventures in 2003 to both educate and involve paying volunteers, using the business eco-tourism profits to fund further research and work with the local communities.

Since then, Blue Ventures has expanded dramatically throughout communities on Madagasgar, and they are also moving into Fiji and Malaysia with similar initiatives.

An Example of the Blue Ventures Impact
On Madagasgar, the village of Andavadoaka relies on harvesting octopus as its primary source of both food and income. In 2004, Blue Ventures and its volunteers worked directly with this village to develop the world's first community-run marine protected area for octopus. They implemented seasonal closures so the octopus could grow in size and number. These closures alone ensured that octopus would continue to thrive and be available to fishermen for years to come, and even made their intake of octopus (hence community income) 13 times larger!

Other neighboring communities have seen the positive impact Blue Ventures has had on all fronts, and have asked Blue Ventures to set up similar initiatives to help them. Blue Ventures is currently replicating this sort of conservation model throughout more than 50 other local villages, creating over 800 square kilometers of protected coastal and marine areas. Not only does this protect threatened marine habitats and environments, but it also benefits over 10,000 local villagers who depend on it for survival.

The Volunteer Experience
Paying volunteers arrive at Blue Ventures (in Madagasgar) after a week of traveling to this very remote place. Depending on their level of SCUBA experience, they will be trained to participate in underwater marine research and conservation science. This research work is done side-by-side with the team's trained scientists, so volunteers get to participate in active and relevant research and conservation work.

Volunteers are also made a part of community initiatives, and as such are given the opportunity to learn the local language and customs, and are introduced to the community elders who run the show. They participate in local festivals and ceremonies, teach English to the local children, and learn to cook from the village women.
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