Madagascar Turtles

Turtle Conservation + Island Hopping


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Gap Year in Madagascar contributing to Turtle Conservation

Turtle Conservation

Our turtle conservation program is based on the islands off the north west coast of Madagascar where lemurs, rainforests and stunning beaches all merge to create a unique and special environment ready to explore and conserve.

The aim of this program is to help our hosts identify and develop safe turtle breeding zones in northwestern Madagascar. Through the nature of the work you will get up close to these beautiful creatures whilst helping to ensure the future health and survival of the species into the future.

This program also includes a fantastic adventure phase where you have the chance to explore even remoter islands, on board the Spirit of Mahala, where you'll camp on beaches and meet fascinating local communities. A great bite sized program to include on your gap year.

A great adventure around the islands off NW Madagascar where you can explore, protect and conserve the endangered Hawksbill and Green Sea turtles.

Program Itinerary

This program is set amongst stunning tropical islands off the coast of mainland Madagascar, where you will conserve and protect critically endangered turtles before heading off on the Spirit of Malala for 10 days.

The following is a sample itinerary.


North West Islands of Madagascar

Nosy Be
You will fly into Nosy Be, which is the largest island just off the north-west shore of mainland Madagascar and you will no doubt hang out at the weekends around the buzzing town of Hell-Ville. On arrival you will be collected and taken to the port to catch the boat over to the smaller island of Nosy Komba .

Nosy Komba and Ampoagna
Your main base will be at the camp called Turtle Cove on Nosy Komba but you will also spend time at the very rustic camp called Turtle Beach on Ampoagna which is on the mainland of Madagascar and takes around 1- 2 hours to get between the two.

Nosy Komba is a small volcanic island lying midway between Nosy Be and mainland Madagascar. The volcanic hills, covered in bright green rainforest, fold dramatically down into the water creating white sandy coves. The island’s main settlement is the beach side village of Ampangorinana, strung out with winding lanes lined with embroidered tablecloths, woven baskets and woodcarvings. It is picture perfect.

Ampoagna is a very remote village on mainland Madagascar. It is incredibly beautiful with a long white-sand beach and a lovely coral reef offshore.


Turtle Cove and Turtle Beach
Turtle Cove is the main camp where volunteers on our other programs are based creating a busy social hub for our volunteers. The camp is built right on the water’s edge and directly opposite the famous Lokobe National Park over on Nosy Be. The pristine waters, heavenly sandy beaches and picturesque villages which pepper the landscape can only be described as out-of-this-world.

The main house serves as a meeting place and hangout for volunteers during the day. Large decks line the front complete with hammocks, bean bags and benches. Behind this main house, you’ll find the kitchen and dining area, a series of rustic sleeping huts that sleep up to 6 volunteers and bathrooms nestled among vibrant gardens.

Turtle Beach camp is more rustic but uber cool. There is no running water which is instead collected from a well next to the camp so expect bucket loos, bucket showers and bottled water for drinking.


3 meals a day, prepared in the traditional Madagascan style.

Expect: Rice, beans and vegetables with chicken, seafood or beef.

Wks 1 - 3

Turtle Conservation Conservation

Conserve and Protect
The aim of the program is to help our hosts identify and develop safe turtle breeding zones in northwestern Madagascar.

At present large numbers of turtle eggs are being plundered and reproductive females are being harvested for the souvenir trade. This, combined with the already naturally low survival rate of turtle hatchlings and the ever-increasing high tide flooding many of the nests are having a devastating impact on population numbers.

Currently two species of turtle are being monitored; the critically endangered Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtle who have seen their numbers fall dramatically in the last 10 years.

You will help by visiting the nesting beaches to:

  • identify the species and numbers.
  • date the new nests so we can identify hatching time.
  • establish a relationship with the local communities so we can include them in our conservation efforts.
  • monitor and remove plastic waste and other harmful products from the beaches.
  • measure its carapace.
  • check their flippers for calluses or notches (these indicate that the turtle has been previously tagged).
  • take photos and record the GPS location.
  • translocate recently laid nests that are in danger of inundation.
  • assist in hatchling release and data collection on translocated and natural nests.

You will be trained in species identification, equipment usage and data collection protocols.

Wks 4 - 5

Island Hopping Adventure Exploring + Adventure

Spirit of Malala
You’ll hop on board the Spirit of Malala, a 50ft dive/fishing boat which will take you to visit a few of Madagascar’s remote islands and bays.

Highlights will include:
Nosy Iranja
: comprised of two islets linked together by a stunning kilometre-long sandbar at low tide.
Bararahamay River
: verdant hills behind white beaches, known for their boat builders and wild honey.
Nosy Mamoko
: very remote and traditional and home to100-year old tortoises.
Russian Bay
: dating back to 1905 when a Russian warship anchored there and refused to return home as life was just so good.
The Radama island archipelago
: a stunning group of 4 islands where you’ll find transparent water, squeaky white beaches fringed with coconut trees peppered with small fishing villages.


You will sleep in pop up tents, which will be set up on the beach, waking up to the sound of crashing waves.


3 meals a day - cooked on the boat.

Program Details & Costs

We have two main departures in January and October to take advantage of the peak breeding season, when your help is most needed. However we can be super flexible in Madagascar so get in contact if you need more flexibility.

Programs start on:

2019: 10 Oct

2020: 7 Jan, 8 Oct


5 weeks
3 weeks turtles + 2 weeks boat
2019: £26452020: £2645

Dates Don't Suit?

Don't worry - we can work around this, just get in touch and we'll chat through options more suited to you.

Social Life

Guaranteed. The camp accommodates up to 40 volunteers, who come from all over the world, so it's busy and fun.


Program includes conservation and adventure phase.

Fixed Base

Apart from the boat phase, you will be based in one of the camps - so you have that home from home feeling.

Beach Life

Paradise - a Robinson Crusoe experience. Tropical island living.

Monday to Friday

Expect to be busy with your projects 5 days per week for about 5 hours a day.


The weekends are yours to do with as you please. You’re welcome to stay and chill at Turtle Cove or head off to Nosy Be if you crave a change of scene.

Backpacker favourites:

  • Visit the Nosy Komba lemurs and markets.
  • Explore Tanikely Marine Park and Lokobe National Park.
  • Horse ride along the beach.
  • Make a wish at the Sacred Tree.
  • Cool down under the Nosy Be waterfall.
  • Dance the night away in Ambatoloaka, Nosy Be.

We are really lucky here to have partnered up with our hosts - a government approved organisation undertaking environmental research, community development and educational programs on the islands of north-west Madagascar.

David Bird and his team are hugely respected and loved by the official authorities right down to the community kids, as their work is effective and delivered by fun, young volunteers who inspire and contribute.

David has built these volunteer bases, where all the volunteers live and spring board out to their projects. Over the years this has grown and is locally referred to as the 'volunteer village'.

Our host's mission is to:

Research and conserve the terrestrial and marine environments in and around Madagascar.
Provide the Department of Education with research data.
Assist the Department of Education in educating local fishermen on the importance of marine conservation.
Support and facilitate, where possible, other conservation and research initiatives.
Provide a suitable environment for volunteers to enable them to achieve their conservation and research objectives.

Leaper's Highlights

Have a read of what our Leapers have been up to...

Misaotra and veloma Madagascar Ellie Harland

10 weeks is no more than the blink of an eye in a lifetime of stories. It’s ephemeral and fleeting. It seems like an eternity that only lasts a minute. One day you’re a fresh-faced newbie arriving, the next you’re part of the furniture and know all the ropes all the while watching countless other volunteers come and go. It’s left me with cuts and bruises, a bag of sweaty clothing and a currency I can’t exchange, but without it I wouldn’t have these bizarre memories and newfound friends.

Don’t underestimate how fast time will fly, or how many people you will meet, take each day as it comes and make the most of it, come with an open mind and no expectations. Be ready to leave a western world, its comforts and its privileges. Here you will see children with no shoes and houses with no toilets, you’ll hike in humid forests and share a bathroom with 20 people, you’ll watch the sun set fire to the sky every evening and swim in the crystal waters, you’ll teach children the alphabet and help the locals build footpaths. Come to be involved and come to make a difference.

I have learned a lot from my time in Madagascar such as a tuk tuk beeping its horn at you is offering you a lift and the bucket you may find next to a toilet is used to collect water to help flush it, I’ve learned I float really well and I like pineapple and that the Fanta here is full of sugar. I’ve learned how to mix cement and sand to make concrete, how to scuba dive and how to hold a brief Malagasy conversation. We have all learned something valuable in our time, even if it’s just a bit of Northern Slang for all those who have never made it up as far as Durham.

I could not have wished for a better group of people to spend 10, 6 and 4 weeks with in Madagascar. I hope everyone enjoys their next adventure. Misaotra and veloma.

Madagascar - Conservation Week Tamzin Howard

The first week of volunteering work was all so new and exciting. Unfortunately, there was just not enough time in the week, nor enough energy for me, to try out all the activities. However, I could wake up in the morning knowing that I was going to be kept busy.

The path to Amang village, as expected on Nosy Komba, was practically non-existent. Half of the walk involved scrambling over rocks, the other half along the beach.

Ilo village restaurant and Chez Yolande were the places most of us headed for. That is, as soon as we had finished inspecting the markets on the way; wooden sculptures, local art pieces, food and clothes were in high demand. We chose those restaurants because of the access to the Internet and the charging facilities. The food at Ilo’s was great, famous for its pizzas. Although the prices were fair for Madagascar, they provided you with old western comfort foods.

At camp after supper we were sorted into our activity groups, however these weren’t necessarily fixed and the camp leaders would have been happy for any of us to change if we wanted to. I was put into my first forest group, and introduced to the head of bird walks, Lucy and head of reptile walks, Caitlin. Both made the transition into working camp life a breeze...

First morning of volunteer work, the lemur walk was cancelled as Jimmy was ill. So, all the lemur walkers joined the reptile walk. At first the walk felt a bit overwhelming, however, the next morning at 6:30am we were to go on a walk up to the Church which was a lot longer. After these walks, every other walk was much easier. We discussed later in the week the possibility of sleeping at the church, the food was meant to be very good. There were a quite a few keen leapers who wanted to go, but those who were leaving the soonest got priority.

The most relaxed walk so far was the bird walk because instead of constantly looking at the floor, you could give yourself a breather by sitting and listening and looking for different types of bird. I’d love to take part in these more and learn to recognise the bird from their call.

Overall, the week’s been full, with plenty of down time too. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Helville at the weekend.

Sun, sea and mosquitos Katie Dunn

So we’re now safely back on dry land, despite various threats of tropical cyclones or being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Well to be exact, there’s only the one of us being eaten alive, and apparently his blood is so tasty he acts as a repellent for the rest of us. Sorry Winston…

We all loved the boat so much. The sea breeze, the chilled atmosphere, visiting true pirate islands where we could sword fight each other – it was fantastic. For me there were several highlights.

Firstly, visiting a lemur park on a remote island, where the lemurs would jump up onto your shoulders and eat bananas out of your hands. There were three different species of the lemur in one place at the same time, which is rare. We also found a giant tortoise on a different island who we fed lots of bananas too.

Secondly, Winston and I just happened to be swimming off the boat when a pod of wild dolphins appeared and swam right under us. They moved through pretty quickly, but we still managed to see them underwater and they were beautiful.

Another highlight would be the beach party we had for one our instructor’s birthday. We had a big bonfire and music, and a local Malagasy man came out to dance with us by the fire.

Nosy Iranja was a perfect island where some of the Pirates of the Carribean movies were filmed. Pure white sand and aquamarine sea. Three of the leapers saw 6 turtles while out snorkelling. There were lovely local markets on the island too, and a little bar with cold drinks – the consensus is it was everyone’s favourite place.

Finally, just being on the boat with the wonderful crew and our instructors Justin and Alice was brilliant. We slept out on deck each night looking up at the stars and enjoying the cool night breeze – we actually needed blankets on the boat! The food was fantastic due to our brilliant chef Mark, and we all got really close and learned lots about each other.

Now, returned to camp, we miss the boat, but are ready to get stuck in to the forest conservation and teaching.

Scuba diving and feeding lemurs in Madagascar Katherine Tracy

Hello, to everyone back home! We have just finished our second full week in Madagascar. This week I think we all really have settled in. The homesick feeling isn’t there anymore and everyone is starting feel more comfortable with one another. We started our Padi Open Water course this week and every single one of us are doing a fantastic job. Kyle, our dive instructor, has told us on many occasions that we are one of the first and only groups that haven’t had any problems with learning the skills and being able to complete them. So, I think we are all giving ourselves a nice pat on the back.

Diving is challenging, as there are so many things you have to think about and make sure you are doing it correctly. Thankfully Kyle is a wonderful instructor and is making it as easy as possible for us all to understand. Next week is when we start going over the reef and putting all the skills we’ve learned to work.

On Sunday, a group of us went into Ampang, a village not far from Turtle Cove. We went to the lemur park and it did not disappoint. The lemurs are extremely curious and they love food, so we brought a bunch of bananas. If you hold the banana out, they will climb right onto your shoulders and eat it out of your hand.

Thankfully, during the week we do get some downtime where we can just sit around, relax, and mingle with the other volunteers. The days are long and I find myself going to bed around 8pm some nights, but it feels like it’s 2am. We wake up early and are busy all day, so it’s a very easy pattern to get into. All in all, it’s been another amazing week here in Madagascar and I’m confident to say that it will only keep getting better each week.

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