I look back at a great journey, firstly it was an enlightening journey; I came here to gain some experience as a scientist and especially as a biologist. Currently I am doing a bachelor in Biology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and want to specialize myself in animal behaviour. For my holidays I was looking for a place where I could help science as a volunteer. I learned of the NGO Honko through a Belgian TV show named “Tot aan de maan en terug” where the NGO and its directors were briefly presented. The project interested me a lot, I didn’t know much about mangroves at that time; I only had had a short introduction about the subject at school and that was all I knew about mangroves. So I began to do some research about this ecosystem and the NGO. That’s how I learned more about this amazing ecosystem which is able to live in extreme environment flooded by tides and which has a high salt concentration. Mangroves need conservation because they are over used by the local population who depend on the resources found in the mangrove to survive. Honko helps the local population to use the mangrove sustainably by introducing projects like mangrove plantations or fish farming. In this way people can still take resources out of the mangrove without killing this ecosystem. I had already sent lots of emails to different organizations without getting any response so I had lost hope of going anywhere for the summer, but I thought that a last one couldn’t hurt.
About a month later I heard the sound of my inbox and Honko proposed me to come and do a research project. This is how I ended up spending my holidays in the mangroves looking at the influence of environmental changes in a degraded mangrove on male fiddler crab behaviour. Before beginning the data collection, Ben showed me the mangrove from south to north passing on to the boardwalk and next to the channel. After that I began my research project, firstly I took some environmental data like the canopy cover or sediment type. After this done I started the behavioural part and spent hours looking at those lovely fiddler crabs feeding, going into their burrows or waving at the sexy females that were walking around.
Beyond being an educating experience it was also a life changing experience. Ben as supervisor had the hard task to teach me life lessons like the fact that Father Christmas is real ?!?! Thereby teaching me important life lessons, living at the centre taught me to cherish the little things that make life easier in Europe that I had forgotten about. Like the luxury of having constant electricity, running water, especially hot water, internet, a nice matrass or simply a nice piece of chocolate.
Finally this adventure gave me the chance to get to know a wonderful island, I always wanted to come to Madagascar. I never knew why, I had the feeling that the moment I would be there I would know what had driven me all these year to try to get there. And indeed when I set my first step on the Malagasy ground an indescribable feeling of happiness hit me as a wave hitting a rock. I have discovered a country with an amazing nature and lovely people. I only have seen a little part of it yet, at the moment I have visited the spiny forest in Mangily, the national parc of Isalo, the beach near Ifaty, we saw some whales with the organization CetaMada, celebrated Mangrove day, and of course spent lots of time in the mangrove of Ambondrolava. I am already thrilled by what I did and this is only the beginning of my discovery of the island.
My time at Honko I nearly over, and it is time to say goodbye, I want to thank you guys for all you have done for me, by welcoming me into the centre and home, for showing me around, helping me gain with my project.
Keep on your good work with the communities and helping of the mangrove.
Misaotra betsaka and veloma,
Mathilde Vissers, Honko student summer 2013