MRCI's Marine Conservation volunteers are involved in a variety of projects focused on the protection of the marine ecosystem in Madagascar. 

Madagascar Research and Conservation Institute's Marine Conservation Programworks both independently and in collaboration with oceanographic organisations to gather vital raw scientific data through a number of initiatives including: Reef Surveys; Coral Bleaching Assessments; Nudibranch Surveys; Artificial Reef Surveys; Turtle Monitoring; Invasive Species Monitoring; Beach Clean Management. All marine volunteers receive comprehensive practical scuba-diving and theory training to prepare them to undertake research-based activities at sea. This includes species identification training for marine wildlife, which includes turtles, fish, corals and invertebrates. Volunteers are taught the methodology and diving techniques required for coral baseline surveying, a key skill in marine conservation as a universal approach to monitoring the state of coral reefs. In addition, volunteers are taught how our work fits into the bigger picture of conservation management required for establishing marine protected areas and improving coastal ecosystems.


Project Location:   MRCI is based in Northwest Madagascar on the small island of Nosy Komba (‘Lemur Island’) also known as Nosy Ambariovato (‘Island surrounded by rocks’). Situated between mainland Madagascar and the large island of Nosy Be, this volcanic island offers a unique peace and tranquillity as there are no roads or cars on this island.



The MRCI research centre, Turtle Cove, is built into the steep, rocky slopes of Nosy Komba as a multi-level compound overlooking the spectacular coral reef below. Turtle Cove is nestled between a beautiful tropical forest and a pristine beach overlooking Nosy Be and the world famous Lokobe Forest Reserve.  Just meters from Turtle Cove, volunteers can experience incredible coconut tree fringed beaches with easy access to MRCI’s home coral reef, now declared a Marine Protected Area by the Department of Environment in conjunction with MRCI, the local community and the Department of Fisheries.

Volunteers on the Marine Conservation program can volunteer for a minimum of 4 weeks to a maximum of 12 weeks.  Our volunteers range in age from 18 to retirees and everyone in between, though most are in their early to mid-twenties.  MRCI’s Marine Conservation program can accommodate up to 24 divers while our research centre at Turtle Cove can accommodate up to 54 volunteers at a time across all programs.


Languages Spoken:  All program staff and volunteers must be able to speak, write and understand English. Our program staff and volunteers come from all over the world and speak a myriad of other languages in additional to English. Locally, our operations staff and the people of Madagascar speak Malagasy and some French. Volunteers have the chance to attend free Malagasy lessons offered on camp and learn more about the language and culture in this beautiful country.


Essential info:  Volunteers are expected to have their own health insurance. Vaccinations are not typically required to enter Madagascar, however this may vary depending on your travel path. We recommend consulting a travel doctor about vaccinations and medications. Recommended vaccinations for Madagascar include: yellow fever, tetanus, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, typhoid, and rabies.

In addition, we recommend carrying preventative agents with you including sun screen, after sun lotion, mosquito repellent, rehydration supplements, anti-malarial medications, and anything else recommended by your doctor.  There is access to good, fairly priced medical care here in country if needed. Due to the hot, humid climate, it is incredibly important to drink enough water. We have filtered drinking water available on camp; just be sure to bring a good reusable bottle.


Volunteers receive comprehensive training to prepare them to undertake research-based activities at sea. This involves identification training for marine wildlife, including turtles, fish, corals and invertebrates. They are also taught methodology of coral baseline surveying, a key skill in marine conservation as a universal approach to monitoring the state of coral reefs.


Volunteers also receive: 

  • Sleeping accommodations for the duration of their volunteer time
  • Three meals per day, seven days per week on camp
  • Supervision and training by a team of Rescue Divers, Dive Masters and Dive Instructors
  • BCD's
  • Tanks + Air Fills
  • Regulators
  • Weight Belts + Weights
  • Scientific Survey Materials (i.e. quadrat, rulers, measuring tape, etc…)
  • Access to speed boat
Insurance:  Volunteers are expected to purchase their own health insurance.


Not Included:

  • PADI crew packs / Manuals for the relevant course(s)
  • Snorkel and mask (with tempered glass)
  • Fins (open heel with booties are more comfortable for frequent use)
  • Wetsuit (long or short, 3mm minimum)
  • Surface marker buoy (DSMB)
  • Reel (a small finger reel is adequate)
  • Waterproof watch
  • Dive compass
  • Log book
  • Flights
  • Visa costs
  • Personal items 

Currency: In Madagascar the official currency is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA), which can only be exchanged in Madagascar. There are a number VISA ATMs located in Hellville which volunteers can draw cash from. We do however advise that you bring some Euro’s along with you.


Passport and Visa: All visitors require visas and a one to three month single entry visa may be obtained on arrival at the airport. We do recommend you check with the Consulate General as visa requirements can change at any time. A passport valid for 6 months after date of return is required. Please ensure you have at least two blank pages available in your passport before commencement of travel.


What to bring along:

Personal Items - Essential Items for all Volunteers

  •  Lightweight waterproof rain jacket
  • T-shirts/vests
  • Light long-sleeved sweatshirt/ jumper/ fleece
  • Trousers (suitable for going into the forest)
  • Shorts
  • Underwear
  • Swimming costume/bikini/board shorts
  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Walking boots or good trainers /sneakers
  • Flip-flops
  • Day pack (waterproof)
  • Dry bag/ziplock bags that will keep items dry
  • Lightweight single person mosquito net
  • Cotton sleeping bag liner and/or single sheet & pillow case.
  • Sleeping bag if coming in the cooler months (June-August)
  • Towel or sarong
  • Toiletries (soap, shampoo, razor, tampons, toothpaste, toothbrush)
  • Sunscreen (water-resistant, preferably biodegradable)
  • Insect repellent
  • Head torch (with rechargeable batteries)
  • Photocopy of passport, travel insurance details, dive qualifications (if relevant) and other important travel documents
  • Debit card/credit card
  • Spending money
  • Solar Panel Charger


 Personal Medical Kit (example)

  • Anti-malarial tablets
  • Paracetamol / Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamine pills / cream
  • Rehydration tablets / sachets
  • Immodium
  • Multivitamins
  • Antiseptic cream or spray
  • Motion sickness pills if prone
  • Bandage / Plasters
  • Dressings / Micropore tape
  • After sun lotion or gel


 Optional Items for all Volunteers

  • Battery pack (to use in conjunction with your solar panel)
  • Mobile phone (you can buy a local SIM card for around US$10)
  • A padlock to secure personal items
  • Laptop/iPad/iPhone
  • Camera (waterproof)
  • Books
  • Water bottle
  • Sarong
  • A nice set of clothes if you want to go out for dinner or dancing
  • Rash vest
  • Talcum powder
  • Treats/food difficult to get in Madagascar
  • Travel guide (many volunteers find Lonely Planet to be very helpful for preparation and once they are in Madagascar)


 Essential Items for Marine Conservation Volunteers

  • PADI Crew Pack (available to purchase online or from your local PADI Dive store)
  • Medium to large dive slate (A5-A4 size)
  • Mask (with tempered glass) and snorkel
  • Dive Fins (open heel with booties are more comfortable for frequent use)
  • Wetsuit (long or short, 3mm minimum)
  • Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) and reel (a small finger reel is fine)
  • Waterproof watch (resistant to 200 meters)
  • Dive compass
  • Log book
  • Dive computer (optional)
  • Dive bag (optional)
  • Diving knife (optional)

Program Requirements:  To participate on the Marine Conservation program, volunteers must have both PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water Dive Certification or equivalent to survey.  PADI diving courses can be completed with us in Madagascar at the research centre. Volunteers must complete the PADI E-learning portion of the PADI training prior to arrival in Madagascar as access to WIFI is limited. When applying for the Marine Conservation Program, volunteers must specify their level of scuba-diving and/or any training required. Visit our MRCI Dive School page for more information on our PADI courses. Please note, this project has a minimum duration of 4 weeks to allow sufficient time to complete the dive and marine research training required to participate effectively on the project. 


Internet: Wi-Fi is not available on camp, however there is Wifi access in the neighbouring village of Ampang, about a half hour hike from camp.  Volunteers will also have access to Wifi over the weekends either in Ampang village or on the Neighbouring Island of Nosy Be.


Laundry:  A hand washing laundry station is provided on camp with a clean water tap, concrete work surface for scrubbing, and buckets. Volunteers will need to purchase their own laundry soap (available on neighbouring Nosy Be) and can either do their own washing, or pay one of the local kitchen or care taker staff to do it for them. Typically, it costs 10,000 MGA per bag of laundry, plus soap.


About the Marine Conservation Program:


Reef Research 

The MRCI marine team collects time-series data recording diversity and abundance of fish, invertebrate and reef building organisms through reef surveys at various sites along the coast of Nosy Komba. MRCI are also monitoring the health of the coral in the wake of our changing climate through coral bleaching and invasive species surveys. After two years of survey work, the area of reef situated directly in front of our home, Turtle Cove, known as ‘Turtle Towers’ was designated as a ‘no-take’ Marine Protected Area (MPA), prohibiting all fishing activities and restricted boat activities. This provided the unique opportunity to additionally monitor the effectiveness of the MPA over time in allowing the reef ecosystem to improve after being subjected to heavy, artisanal fishing pressures and boat activities. The MPA site will be compared to our other reef sites that are still impacted by direct anthropogenic pressures. The reef research volunteers will be assisting us with is vital to justify the need for the MPA, to raise awareness in the community and to provide more sustainable local fishing opportunities for years to come. 


The organisms surveyed are divided into three species groups; the ‘active swimmers’ (fish), ‘benthic’ (bottom dwellers) and ‘sessile’ (stationary). Volunteers usually specialise in one of three species groups, learn the species and are trained how to participate in the reef surveys. 


All the data collected through our reef surveys goes to the Coastal Oceans Development Indian Ocean (CORDIO), and is shared with our national partner, Madagascar Centre Nationale Researche Oceanographique (CNRO).


Artificial Reef Research

The establishment of artificial reefs in key areas are proven to be an effective way to enhance coral reef stability and sustain the abundance of reef species. Madagascar has witnessed several bleaching events and reef degradation in recent times, so there is an urgent need to establish habitats which can support a greater diversity of marine species.


Coral Transplantation 

The MRCI marine team has recently constructed a series of small, concrete, boulder-like hollow structures called ‘domes’, with transplanted hard and soft corals attached to them. These domes have been arranged into rows parallel to Turtle Towers reef, within the MPA, which has been nick-named ‘The Orchard’. Over a 6-month period volunteers have helped to construct, implement, clean and monitor the progress of the ‘baby-corals’. Now, you will be assisting the marine team to survey The Orchard, and add new sites, recording growth rates of the corals, level of coral bleaching and assessment of the recruitment of additional species over time to the new artificial reef.


Creative Structures

The team has also built a collection of metal re-bar artificial structures beyond Turtle Towers reef, also within the MPA. The aim of both artificial reef projects is to provide additional substrate and habitat for organisms to grow and thrive, to boost the rejuvenation and recovery of the reef ecosystem within the MPA. Volunteers will have the opportunity to monitor and carry out surveys on these structures, recording the benthic assemblage cover as well as species biodiversity and abundance, to add to MRCI’s time-series dataset.


Nudibranch Research

Nudibranchs are a group of wonderfully diverse sea-slugs (gastropod molluscs). They have close associations with the marine invertebrates and are great indicators of reef diversity. Volunteers will actively participate in recording the species abundance and diversity of these marine molluscs. Volunteers will assist us to build up the MRCI catalogue of all the different species found in the area, which in turn helps to determine the health status of the coral reef. All the data is shared with our national partner, Madagascar Centre Nationale Researche Oceanographique (CNRO), who compare our species diversity with Nosy Be and other parts of Madagascar.


Turtle Monitoring

On Nosy Komba we see both the green and hawksbill turtles within and around the MPA. In addition, the beaches adjacent to Turtle Cove are visited by a small population of nesting turtles. Volunteers will be recording data on sightings of marine turtles around Turtle Cove, through dry ‘turtle watches’ from the centre and on snorkelling surveys. In addition, during the breeding season from November to March, you participate in ‘Extreme Turtle Watch’ patrolling the nesting beaches during the night for signs of activity. Volunteers will also have the opportunity to assist in environment workshops promoting turtle conservation measures. The overall aim is to establish the frequency and population strength of the varying species which visit as well as any seasonal and long-term charges in population size. The data collected on these important, endangered species is shared with the C3 UK Branch of the International Union of Convention of Nature (IUCN).


Company: Volunteer World
Location: Africa
Town: Nosy Komba
Country: Madagaskar
Map position:
Nosy Komba, Madagaskar


Contact person: Caitlin
e-mail: Email:

Marine Conservation Research Assistant