09/10/2013 06:36 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

My Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving Experience

I chose to do the marine wildlife conservation project in Madagascar because not only do I want to work as a marine biologist in the future but being a qualified diver already and having a natural love for the ocean, I knew that I wanted to spend my summer working on it!

Lauren chose to do the Marine Conservation and Diving project because her heart was set on becoming a Marine Biologist. She discusses her experience, specifically about how the project helped her overcome bad exam results!


Image courtesy of Lauren Pestana ,Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving

I chose to do the marine wildlife conservation project in Madagascar because not only do I want to work as a marine biologist in the future but being a qualified diver already and having a natural love for the ocean, I knew that I wanted to spend my summer working on it!

Whilst I was over there I did valuable baseline surveys of the coral reef fishes, invertebrates and benthos. One of the best parts of this was having to learn over a hundred fish species, which may sound like a drag but when you'd learnt them all and you went underwater it wasn't just blue fish or a striped fish anymore. It was like it suddenly became a whole new world that you were just starting to understand, so as we understood it we could teach others around it to gain understanding as well.

I was expecting daily life on the project to be hard, no phones, no laptops, no facebook?! It just made me wish life at home was like that as well. We'd wake up at around half 5, eat breakfast (rice with sugar), then have a morning dive survey then at about 11 we'd eat lunch (rice and beans) before another survey in the afternoon. Then we'd eat dinner at around 6 or 7 before going to bed no later than 8. That's the basic daily routine, in between those little details we dived off massive waterfalls, trekked through forests and rice paddies, got incredibly inebriated off the potent local rum, played with lemurs, snakes and chameleons, dived with stingrays, sea turtles and even dolphins, met the crazy but lovely locals and even conquered my fear of using the longdrop (literally a hole in the ground for a toilet, it actually gave me a sense of liberty towards the end).

Halfway through my stay I received my AS level results and all my grades were 2 or 3 off my predicted grades which was absolutely gutting to say the least. To get my results I have to trek quite far to a rock that gets signal so I had to then trek back to camp and return to this rock with an ipad so I could look at various university grades, I was fighting back the tears. This is what my diary entry that day reads. 'I was gutted. I cried. I walked back to camp to collect the ipad. Along the way I saw two young boys playing with some rope tied to a rock. They stopped playing when they saw the white person, pondered for a moment then waved and smiled at me. I walked back through the swamp that you have to trudge through to get to camp. I passed an elderly woman carrying vegetables on her head, wading through half a mile of thigh high water. I came to the end of the swamp and walked through the rainforest, I could hear lemurs brushing through the trees and I could see snakes scattering in my path. I stopped for a moment, still with tears in my eyes and span around. Everywhere was so empty but so full. No civilisation, just life.

I reached the end of the rainforest and came to the village just before camp. I passed the water pump, dirty water spewing out onto a tiny 3 year old washing himself alone with his enlarged belly, taking sips every now and again. I looked around, people working so hard for so little. I got to camp, collected my iPad and walked through all of that all over again for what would be the 3rd of 4 times that day.' That day was definitely the day that everything clicked whilst I was there. Nobody else can say they walked through a rainforest and a swamp to climb up some rocks to get their results. The sad thing is I wish more people could say that, but sadly not enough young people travel like this and I urge them seriously to do so but sadder still, the term 'results' to the kids in that village means absolutely nothing. They will never know what its like to sit an exam and have that sick feeling for months until your results come, but we will never know what its like to sit in a hut covered in diseased mosquitos, drinking dirty water and fighting daily, but then again they don't know that either, to them there is nothing else and they do not know better. To us that is surviving, to them it is living.

Getting bad A level results, I feel is one of the best things that's happened me. It made me actually look around me and reassess everything, it made me turn around and say that I don't want to carry on as it is and I want to do something that I want to do, that I have a passion for. Now I'm working with bamboo sharks daily, which I wouldn't be doing without going to Madagascar. So thank you everyone and I really do urge people young and old to go and see the world and learn things that aren't in a textbook.

By Lauren Pestana

Author Lauren Pestana's adventure, the Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving was organised by Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO that runs 320 conservation, community, and adventure projects in 57 countries across the globe. You can read more volunteer stories on Frontier's Gap Year Blog and get the latest project and volunteering news from the Frontier Official Facebook page.