Murray Foundation Award

  • Operation Wallacea has recently formed a partnership with The Murray Foundation, a charity whose primary aim is to support young people participating in projects that advance education and develop an understanding of environmental processes.

    In line with this objective, together we have launched the Murray Foundation Award; offering five grants of £1000 to UK school groups taking part in any Opwall expedition. We are delighted to be able to offer such a fantastic funding opportunity to our students!

    The backbone of the application process is all about fundraising. In order to apply, we ask that students show us how they have worked together as a group to promote and raise money for their expedition. We are now accepting applications for our 2018 awards. For more information, please email murrayaward@opwall.com

Murray Foundation 2017 Recipients

  • 2017 was our fist year working with the Murray Foundation and running this Award. It was hugely successful and enhanced the expedition experience of five of our wonderful school groups – Chetwynde School, Merchant Taylors’, Netherthorpe, Thomas Rotherham College and Truro College. Post-expedition, each group was asked to write a short report and share their experiences with us:

Chetwynde School - Honduras 2017

Our expedition to Honduras involved seven students and two staff. We were very much looking forward to the trip, especially the jungle experience and spending time with the Scientists and learning about new species. We did many fundraising events ranging from weekly cake sales to music concerts. We had a Honduran food night and sold lots of raffle tickets. We had a Christmas festival which saw our Honduras stall fundraise a lot.

The application for the Murray foundation came as an email to Mrs Berry. We sat together in another meeting and collaboratively wrote a poem with ideas bouncing off each other. We were delighted to find out the poem had been chosen as one of the winning articles.

The expedition started with three flights: Manchester to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Atlanta (and an overnight stay) and Atlanta to San Pedro Sula (and an overnight stay).  It was all very organised and the flights and connections were great. Our expedition started with a ride up the mountain to base camp. This was approximately 2 hours in an open top truck with the most beautiful views.  At base camp we had our welcome lecture with other school students and sixth from students from all over the world. This lecture was based on the facilities at camp including accommodation, tents, toilets, DNA labs and kitchens, what to expect and safety (with particular notice taken to species to avoid).

After the welcome lecture we had a meal cooked for us by the local families and then we had to re-pack our large 50L bags into our smaller day bags as we were about to set off on our hike to a remote satellite camp, Guaneles. This walk usually takes about two and a half hours but we managed to get there in an hour and a half which the staff said was a record time. The was steep and uphill at the start and then downhill in the jungle. When we got to camp we were given a tour and were shown the hammocks, tents, toilets (hole in the ground), shower waterfall, communal area and finally the three-day schedule for each group. We were the only school there and were welcomed by the brilliant Scientists, camp manager and locals.

Our schedule involved many transects and activities ranging from light traps, bird mist nets, bat survey, tree analysis, herpetology, invertebrates, invert sorting and camp skills. Each transect had its challenges whether that was constantly being aware of your surrounding in the steep forest or looking out for potentially dangerous species, but the experiences gained were invaluable.  We managed to see a lot of beautiful and rare species and learnt a lot about the importance of maintaining the biodiversity in the forest.

After our three-day stay in Guanales we made our hike back up to base camp and continued our walk to Buenos Aires Village.  This walk was physically challenging as it was so steep, but one of the highlights of the trip was making it to the top and Greg pulling out a bar of Cadbury’s fruit and nut. We all had a piece along with the staff, scientists and guides. The village was a different experience to the jungle and we were so lucky to get the chance to stay here and meet the lovely locals. The local families were so welcoming and generous and we even got to experience a festival at the local school and made our own coffee with Doῆa Martinez.  We had lectures in the day on the different organisms and on operation wallacea and whilst on transects managed to see glass frogs, toucan, coral snake and a Mexican jumping viper.

We then made our way back to San Pedro Sula before getting a boat to the Island of Roatan. After a week in the jungle this beautiful island was paradise. We were shown out dormitories and met up with another school from England. We were split into groups of five and over the course of five days completed out five shallow water dives and five open water dives with many skills learnt along the way. We were all faced with individual challenges ranging from ear troubles, problems with equalising and mental challenges being in the water.  The amount we learnt about the importance of the coral reefs, the undersea cities filled with colourful fish, about how they are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. We had many lectures on health and safety and identifying fish whilst also completing our PADI open water course and theory tests.

Once we had completed our skills and theory we could dive and help to monitor the reef. We had clipboards and pencils and had to record the colour of the coral reef using a colour chart at different locations. One highlight described by everyone on our trip was the experience of swimming with turtles. This was incredible.

On the last day we got to do a fun dive where we swam with spotted eagle rays, saw lionfish and another turtle. This was a great but sad day. We had a final meal on take away pizzas with our friends, scientists and students from the other school. We then made our journey back to San Pedro Sula for our last stay overnight. This was a special evening as we sat down as our group of nine and all had a meal together. We took it in turns to say a little speech on what we had found challenging and what we had enjoyed and then thanked everybody for making it such a wonderful trip. We set off in the morning for our 26-hour journey home.

We learnt so much on this trip: how to be resilient, about diversity and culture, the importance of the forest and coral reefs and to do more to care for our surroundings as things are changing and we need to help in order to protect our areas of biodiversity. Many of us want to go back and help. Miss Norris and Mr Holmes hope to run more trips with Operation Wallacea and some of us want to study Ecology and Marine Biology at University with the intention of coming back and working with Opwall.

Thank you so much to Operation Wallacea for helping to organise this amazing trip and thank you to Murray Foundation for the £1000 that was spent on diving equipment for everybody, travel costs to and from the airport and all meals whilst making our six flights.

Merchant Taylors' School - Madagascar 2017

On the 5th of July 30 students and 4 teachers departed from Merchant Taylors School for our expedition to Madagascar. The group consisted of 22 students from year 11 and 8 students from year 12. All of the students set off with high expectations and excitement for a trip that was bound to be an unforgettable and enjoyable experience.

Our Group Leader Mr Bonfante introduced us to Operation Wallacea in 2015. Mr Bonfante is a true veteran of Opwall as it is organised as a bi-yearly trip that our school offers to our A-level students. It has proved to be an ever-popular event amongst our budding biologists despite the intimidating challenge of fundraising, not to mention the physical endurance needed for the treks and foreign climate.

Our fundraising as a group included the three peaks challenge and a lower school disco. For the Disco we sold tickets for £5 each and raised £550 in total from ticket and food sales. For the Three Peaks Challenge we raised £2,100 in total after giving £50 to the mountain range team and National Trust. This money was raised from roughly 20 students after climbing to the top of the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales, Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon respectively. Some of the members of the group raised £100 from busking in Liverpool ONE for the trip and equipment. Formby parish church also donated £500 trip in return for a small report along with some pictures for their magazine.

As a boost to our fundraising efforts, we were made aware of the Murray Foundation and the prize of £1000. Our teachers thought it would be a good idea to enter as it would allow us to buy expedition shirts and pay for a large part of the transportation. We also spent the money on extending our trip in order to spend a day on the aptly named ‘Turtle Island’ (or ‘Tanakily’ to the locals) during which we were able to snorkel and see the sea turtles that we wouldn’t have been able to see without the Murray Foundation’s generous prize of £1000.

We landed in Madagascar on the 7th of July after a rather arduous journey from Heathrow. It wasn’t until the following morning that the group were really able to really appreciate just how far away we were from home, already we saw signs of a vastly different culture to our own. We travelled to the forest camp consisting of a 10 hour journey to Mahajanga where we stayed overnight before making the hot and incredibly bumpy two hour ride in 4x4s to the forest camp where we were to carry out our expeditions with the scientific teams based out there.

Upon waking the next morning we headed to breakfast where we had the first taste of our breakfast for the week, doughnuts. They were unusual relative to the doughnuts we’d been used to back home but they tasted surprisingly nice and kept us going till lunch. On the second day we had 3 surveys, mist netting in morning, forest plotting in the afternoon, followed by a lecture, and the lemur survey after dinner. This was to be the standard schedule for each day at the camp. The Tuesday started out similarly we had breakfast and then headed out to the fields to do some sweep netting. This lasted for about 2 hours and was one of the more engaging activities as we were actively searching for insects 26 of which were found to be entirely new species! We then headed back to the camp for lunch before we went on an afternoon trip to the local school.

Once we arrived at the school the children performed a song for us and then we reciprocated with a rendition of our school song. We woke up on the Wednesday knowing that it was our last day on the base camp before moving over to the satellite camp. We spent the morning on the butterfly survey, chasing around butterflies for an hour in the hot sun was a tiring way to start the day but rewarding as it would help the team with their future monitoring. We came back to the camp to eat lunch and get our equipment ready for the 2 hour trek to the satellite camp. The walk was long and tiring and was only made worse by the midday sun bearing down on our backs. After walking for about an hour we reached the small river that we would have to pass through. We removed our socks, rolled up our trousers and set off through the river, making sure not to fall over. Once we made it through the river it was an uphill climb for about 30 minutes before we finally reached the top and could see the lake and the satellite camp. We headed down the hill as fast as we could being filled with energy at the sight of our goal. Upon arriving at the satellite camp we were told that water was much more limited here as there had been much less rain than usual and the lake was close to drying out, so our water usage was extremely limited. Extremely unusual for the camp, it was clear to see just how much of an impact global warming was gradually having on these forest habitats.

On the Thursday we left for a bird watching survey early in the morning. This survey involved us walking through the forest stopping at predetermined spots for 5 minutes and listening to and trying to identify all of the birds we could hear. It took a while to learn to recognise specific bird calls even with the help of our guides but it was a very enjoyable experience regardless. In the afternoon we were out with birds again except this time we were watching them as opposed to listening out for them. Each of us were given a specific bird species to identify and keep count of but this proved to be harder than first thought especially when there were so many different birds so close together. Once we got back to the tent we had a lecture and dinner before we then headed out on our final night survey, arachnids. This survey involved using your head torch to spot the spiders’ eyes hidden underneath the leaves on the floor and catch them by placing a specimen tube over the top of them and closing it when they climbed up. This was another enjoyable survey but was an optional nightmare for the students who didn’t like spiders. We then headed back to our tents for our final night before we left the first camp. It was on our way back to our tents however that we spotted how clear the night sky was and, for the first time in many of our lives, we were able to gaze upon the milky way in its entirety, leaving many of us speechless at just how beautiful it was.

As we entered the second week of our expedition we made the journey to the stunningly beautiful island of Nosy Be. We were dropped off in the shallow water next to the beach front camp and joking told to swim by our guides. Unbeknownst to us the ground underwater was a lot more mud than sand, which made for an eventful entrance to the camp and a few boys arriving in a wetter state than expected. This week we would be mixed with a group of students from another school for our dives. After some quick introductions we rapidly grew to enjoy the exchange and some members of our group still keep in touch with our companion school! After having a tour of the facilities we settled down for the night listening to the waves hitting the shore metres away from our heads.

The next morning at the crack of dawn we were taken out on our very first dive of the week, gathered at the shore in full wetsuit gear we waded out to deeper water so that the RIBs hired by the staff team could collect us. We would be carrying out our dive briefing aboard the well-named ‘pirate ship’ in the centre of the bay. On which we were told the objectives of our dive, the obligatory safety talk on the local rules and what we could and couldn’t touch whilst exploring the reef. Complete with tank, snorkels and masks we jumped into the surprisingly warm water and began our descent as a group of 8. For many it was the first time they had ever seen a coral reef in their lives so understandably the first impression was one of absolute awe. Our dives followed a similar format for the rest of the week, each studying a different effect on the reef such as fish identification and the effects of coral bleaching using a coloured chart and noting down the appropriate colour. Much like the forest week we were given lectures twice a day each focusing on a different topic for example the effect of mangrove trees and sea grass on the reef and how the levels of such organisms corresponded to the overall health of the reef.

The final day of the week we were rewarded with a trip to the island Tankily or ‘Turtle Island’ as previously mentioned. Everyone was to travel on the pirate ship together which lent a very Pirates of the Caribbean-esc feeling to each and every one of us. This was essentially as close as any of the group had been to a tropical island paradise that are so often advertised in holiday brochures. It was truly mesmerizing to feel the white sand beneath our feet and swim in crystal blue waters, a certain highlight of the day was the opportunity to see the local sea turtles which we had been

told we not native to the reef we had been given access to near Nosy Be. The island itself had a lighthouse on the centre of the island which could be accessed via a hike through the forest on a lizard littered path. The view from the lighthouse was spectacular and gave an excellent panorama of the surrounding beaches. Nevertheless, we had to leave eventually and although we were exhausted and perhaps ready for a relatively early night it was tough to see the island go from reality to memory. The last two days of the trip were emotional ones with 40 hours of travelling to get back to the airport in Antananarivo and the realisation that we would have to leave this all behind. Not to mention the newfound friendships that had been built between ourselves and the other school group. The 10-hour flight back to Heathrow and the goodbyes at the airport made for a rather solemn ending to the expedition but the general consensus was that we were all glad to be home with families, showers, toilets and proper beds.

Our time in Madagascar left all of us much the wiser regarding the true nature of conservation at a place where it was imperative to the survival of an extraordinary amount of flora and fauna (made even more important with 90% of species being endemic to the island). The daily lectures really opened our eyes to the true reasons for conservation and the documentation of animals both terrestrial and aquatic. Not to mention the impact global warming, deforestation and farming are having on the habitats for these truly awe-inspiring creatures. The effect on coral reefs were truly shocking as we learnt about bleaching – the loss of zooxanthellae from coral in high water temperature causing the coral to turn white in colour as well as stopping photosynthesis. Overall the trip gave us an enormous appreciation for the efforts made by today’s scientists working in the field and a greater awareness for global warming that is having an increasingly adverse effect on our planet.

We would like to send an enormous thank you to the Murray Foundation from all of us here at Merchant Taylors for this extremely generous donation and a truly once in a lifetime experience, without which we wouldn’t have been able to take part in what many of us recall as the best thing we’ve ever done!

Netherthorpe School - Mexico 2017

15 students and 2 teachers from Nethersthorpe School joined Operation Wallacea for their 2017 expedition. We joined forces with Brookfield School another school in Chesterfield but we didn’t really know any of them before the expedition took off. We all absolutely loved our expedition out with Operation Wallacea this year.  Although we can all admit the trip came with it’s challenges, there is no taking away from the trip is truly one of the best experiences of our lives. Everyone was right, despite all the uncertainty and fear and homesickness, it was absolutely amazing. We learnt valuable skills, made loads of new friends, and sweated more than you could ever imagine.

Week 1 – Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Surveys completed: Bat, bird, habitat, butterfly, reptile and mammal

Sightings: Grey Fox, White-nosed Coati, Collared Peccary, Spider Monkey, Howler Monkey, Jamaican Fruit Bat, False Vampire Bat, Mexican Free Frog, Veined Tree Frog, Cane Toad, Yucatecan Banded Geko, Green Tree Snake, Red Coffee Snake, Blunt-Headed Tree Snake, Plain Chachalaca, Ocellated Turkey, Keel-billed Toucan, Pale-billed woodpecker, brown jay, green jay, Green-breasted mango, Manakin.

We spent 3 nights at El Hormiguero, this was the most basic camp that we stayed in. long drop toilets, basic food and no running water quickly thrust us into life in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Everyone found it hard to adjust to our new home (especially the unimaginable amount of mosquito bites), but although it was basic it was beautifully tranquil. When the sun set the camp was at its most beautiful; with floors full of what look liked emeralds (but actually spider eyes if you looked closely) and fireflies galore all over camp.

Bird surveys: one of the sites for the bird survey at Hormiguero were the local Mayan ruins. These were beautifully carved and made the 4am get up much easier once we had put up the mist nets to catch the birds, we watched the sun rise over the ruins. The most birds caught on survey at Hormiguero was 5. We even got to see the allusive Manakin bird doing his Michael Jackson impression in the tree. To mark the birds we painted their nails with different coloured varnish to show where they were caught and if we were re catching the same birds, we then got to rerelease the birds back into the wild. Some of the birds we caught can be seen below. The most beautiful being the humming bird. Humming birds are super small and find being caught in the mist nets really distressing so we had to feed them nectar from a bottle to make sure they had enough energy to fly away once released.

Bat Surveys: These were also carried out around the Mayan Ruins or in the bat cave at Hormiguero. Mist nets were used again to collect the bats. The most bats surveyed at Hormiguero was 20 but at KM20 we caught a whopping 53 in one evening. We even caught a vampire bat that loved to dab. The bat surveys were really long nights, if there was no rain the surveys sometimes didn’t finish until 3am! The amazing variety of bats that we saw made the tiredness worth it. At KM20 some of us even go to rerelease the bats after we had collected our data.

Mayan Ruins: Part way through the week we were given the day off from surveying and both the Netherthorpe and Brookfield groups joined forces for a day at the Mayan Ruins. We all thought that we would be getting a break, no such luck, the ruins were huge and we climbed 4 of the biggest to take in the breath-taking views of the forest around us. Unfortunately, this was the day that rained so hard that the raindrops bounced back up to your knees once they hit the floor. We came prepared with our waterproofs but the Howler monkeys were not impressed by the storm, we had never heard a noise like them. Once the storm cleared we watched baby spider monkeys playing in the trees. This was one of the best days of the trip.

For days 4-7, we moved on to another site –  KM20 was like a different world to Hormiguero. It had running water for showers, electricity and its own museum (with air con J) we felt like we were living in luxury compared to Hormiguero. Despite of this if you ask us Hormiguero camp was the best camp we stayed in because it was so basic. We really did live in the forest those nights. At KM20 the survey sites were further away so we go to ride in an open top truck to and from the sites. This was great because we were always so sweaty, the 20-minute drive to KM40 easily dried your sweaty clothes ready to take the jungle smell home to mum to do the washing, we obviously didn’t want her to feel left out.

Butterfly surveys; the butterflies on both camps were beautiful but depending on the weather we caught varying amounts from a dismal 2 to an amazing 80. To lure the butterflies into traps we used gone off banana and to examine their beautiful colours we observed them in a plastic food bag to ensure that we didn’t damage their wings.

Habitat surveys; habitat surveys at both sites were amongst the most important as we need to know what habitat different wildlife like the best and if the habitat is changing what that is doing to the distribution of organisms in the area. During these we counted trees and measured their circumferences. Although this sounds boring it was actually really fun and gave us all a great sense of achievement. We saw an abundance of wildlife on these surveys too.

Week 2 – Akumal. Surveys completed: fish, coral, sea grass

Sightings: French Grunt, Queen Parrotfish, Stoplight Parrotfish, Sergeant Major, Queen Angelfish, Green Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Southern Stingray, Red Lionfish, Bluehead Wrasse, Goliath Grouper Nassau Grouper, Great Barracuda, Nurse Shark, Red Snapper, Brain Coral, Star Coral, Staghorn Coral, Giant Barrel Sponge.

When we arrived in Akumal we were so excited by being reintroduced to civilisation. Little did we know that this week would be just as exhausting as the previous week, the schedule was gruelling (some groups were up at 6am and lectures didn’t finish until 9pm) but we did get beds with real matresses and also air conditioning in our bed rooms which made it easier to sleep. We thought that this week would be more of a ‘holiday’ week, we didn’t realising how tiring diving twice a day was. Most of us learnt to dive in Akumal, it’s a crazy feeling to think that most of us are now PADI trained and quite easily could become marine biologists in the not-so-distant future.

Some groups saw turtles every day, one group even had a faceoff with one very confident sea turtle but the most enjoyable day way the day we saw the Nurse Shark on the sea bed.

From visiting Mexico, we gained obvious scientific skills including how to collect data, plan transects, and capture a variety of different organisms. We further developed practical skills we already have, and learnt how they work in a real life scenario and in practical situations. It really help with certain aspects of you’re A-level biology, as well as providing a broad knowledge of the Mexico wildlife. But on top of this, we learnt valuable life skills, we learnt how to get along with people from all over the world, and for many of us it was our first real taste of a professional setting which some of us might find ourselves in. Being so close with professionals that have insider knowledge of our common interests was incredibly informative and allowed for many of us to further expand our knowledge, on whichever sector we preferred. It allowed for many of us to experience the world in the way we want to pursue it.

It’s undoubtable that our scientific knowledge increased drastically throughout our two weeks in Mexico. From a combination of both tropical semi deciduous forest and marine environment we now all have a wide range of information on the wildlife of Mexico. However we also developed skills that aren’t included in the persuasive material used to promote Mexico. You build relationships with people who you would never expect, and become vulnerable and dependent on people for a variety of reasons. You need them for moral support when you miss home, for fun nights under the stars and the mosquitos, for an alternate supply of bite cream when you inevitably run out. Nothing becomes your own, you share everything and you become close with people in a way you would never expect. It’s these bonds, these bonds formed in extreme conditions, in the heat, the humidity and the miles of walking which make the experience so enjoyable. It’s one thing to adore the trip which you undoubtedly will, but it’s another to get to experience it with people who you adore it just as much. Standing watching Howler monkeys swinging above you, with rain pouring like you’ve never experienced, with these people who are just as content with you are is something completely unique.

Before embarking on our expedition we were awarded the Murray Award of £1000. This went a huge way to making our expedition more enjoyable and less stressful. We firstly used the Money to pay for the transfers from School to Manchester airport. Although this doesn’t seem imaginative it did mean we could afford a bigger coach for all of our luggage to fit on easily. Secondly the award paid for the first nights meal in Cancun. This was great as it enabled us (especially those who could not afford the meal) to get to know everyone in the group without the worry of the cost. Finally, and most importantly we have started a fund with the majority of the money. This fund will be used so that future students who cannot afford the expedition will be able to attend and have the same amazing experience as we did. To be awarded some of the fund the students will need to take an active role in fundraising and raising awareness of conservation issues within school. We decided on creating the fund as most of our trip was already paid for by the time we won the Murray Award. We are extremely grateful that the Murray Award has allowed us to leave this legacy at Netherthorpe School, words and pictures can’t really describe the amazing time we all had on the expedition.

We are all also well aware of the pressure and stress placed on the volunteers who are out there all season, and we only get a hint of what they are put through, none the less we think they are all amazing. They all are so wonderful, and individual, offering their own insight into the world of biology, and their own experience of the world and we would like to say thank you. They did an amazing job, providing valuable experience to budding young scientist and showing their experiences of the world. So, thank you Operation Wallacea and The Murray Foundation, for the best summer of our lives.

Thomas Rotherham College - South Africa 2017

Thomas Rotherham College is based in Rotherham, South Yorkshire which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary as a Six Form College. Formerly Rotherham Grammar School with a student population of 600, the college has grown both in terms of buildings and population and now has approximately 1600 on roll each September. The Biology department is a big department within the college; in 2016-17 the department had 230 students. The Department first organised a trip to South Africa with Operation Wallacea in 2010 as a result of student feedback, requesting that an International Conservation trip would be a brilliant way to end their 2-year course. It is difficult to put into words the benefit that the students get from the expedition, it is a life changing experience quite literally. Several of the students who have been on previous expeditions changed their options for university and now work as conservationists worldwide.

After initial interest from the students, a parents evening is held to give parents and guardians the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have to address any concerns. Then it is full steam ahead! The group known as TRIBE 2017 (Thomas Rotherham International Biology Expedition 2017) then met every two weeks in college to plan fundraising and to work through identification of African species.

The fundraising team from Operation Wallacea visited the college to go through many fundraising ideas with the students. The major fundraising event that the students organised was a race night. They organised the venue, designed and printed tickets, visited Meadowhall shopping centre in order to get donations for a raffle at the race night. They contacted Rotherham United and were given a signed football shirt to auction, and Sheffield United who donated a signed football. 120 tickets were sold, a very good effort from 7 students. The night was a tremendous success, almost a £1000 profit on the night. It was this effort that won the students their award from the Murray Foundation. The students produced a PowerPoint of the race night from the initial idea to counting the money on college after the event. The process was very straightforward for such an enthusiastic team of students who met after college one evening to put the PowerPoint together.

The 29th June came very quickly, everyone was excited as we travelled down the M1 to Heathrow. After an 11 hour flight we arrived in Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg where we met the staff and students from St Mary’s in Canada who were with us for the two weeks. We were soon on our coach ready for the 10 hour transfer, driving out of Jo’berg, it is really sad to see the living conditions of so many people. A couple of stops on route, and we were soon at Hudspruit (8 hours later) and it was into the back for a game viewer for the last 90 minutes of our journey into the Greater Kruger National Park. It was still light so we were able to keep a lookout for our first African animals and we were not disappointed, we saw kudu, impala, giraffe, cape buffalo, dwarf mongoose, warthog, baboons and of course the focus of our conservation efforts in the first week, the iconic African elephant.

Day 1: Saturday. After in introduction, we had a lecture on Bird ID, our students were quite good as we had been practising. This was followed by a lecture on African mammals, the Operation Wallacea staff are so enthusiastic. After lunch we went on a game drive to put into practise our newly acquired ID skills, What an afternoon, two massive African bull elephants, buffalo, waterbucks, impala, kudu, warthogs, blacksmith lapwing, hornbill and vultures. Back in camp for a lovely dinner, and an early night, everyone was tired and we had to be up at 5.30am on Sunday for breakfast before heading to do a bird point count at dawn.

Day 2: Sunday. Bird point count, followed by a game transect, (sun cream time for Michelle), counting, sexing and aging any mammals. We saw and counted elephants, zebra and the usual antelopes. After lunch we had a lecture on biodiversity, than uploaded our photos of all the elephants we had seen and then used the photos to produce detailed identification charts for each elephant based on distinguishing features. The students were so excited as they got to name the elephants and add them to 100s already identified and logged.

Day 3: Monday. Another 5.30am start. Bird lecture at 6.30, followed by another game transect, more elephants, crocodiles (didn’t count them as not mammals!) and our first nyala. In the afternoon, we had bushcraft training.  Early dinner and then Bush camp. We all slept out, in a “secure” camp, around the campfire.

Day 4: Tuesday. Back from bush camp, later breakfast. A couple of early morning lectures, then out for a rather relaxing marula tree survey, survey completed, nice drive back to camp, saw glossy starlings and a lilac breasted roller, a stunning coloured bird and a few hornbills. We also saw zebra, so well camouflaged, and a lone giraffe, and a big elephant herd, comprising adult females, juveniles and a couple of little babies. They were calmly browsing the vegetation until a couple thought our game viewer was a little too close, and the adults circled the youngsters and then charged us. Elori our ranger calmly reversed away but not as fast as the elephants! Then she stopped, luckily so did they. We then reversed again, they charged and then we stopped, so did they! The herd then lost interest and moved away, so we were able to drive past them rather quickly, and they charged for the third time. Back in the safety of the camp, we were all so relieved. Apparently, it was a series of mock charges, so we were not in much danger.

Day 5: Wednesday. Had breakfast with a striped kingfisher, carnivore lectures with greater flamingos flying overhead, followed by a brutal habitat assessment, over 4 hours with temperatures reaching 30oC. We had a superb evening, our lecturer gave us an insight into Rhino conservation, the subject of her PhD. It was a real eye-opener, everyone was enthralled. It is quite possible that all White and Black rhinos could be extinct in the wild in 5 years. A big herd of elephants passed our camp during the evening, really spooky, they are so quiet and hard to see in the dark.

Day 6: Thursday. Breakfast at 5.30 in preparation for another bird point count at dawn. After lunch, we went on a game drive, buffalo, the usual mix of antelopes and more elephants! And jumped off the game viewer and went on a game walk along the river to look for hippos, and we soon found them. Even more exciting a pride of 7 lionesses were on the opposite bank. Words cannot express how excited we all were, this is my fifth trip and my first lion sighting, unbelievable, just unbelievable, what a way to end our first week in Kruger.

Day 7: Friday. we left Struvig Game Reserve at 4.30am, everyone in good spirits, 13 hours later we arrived at the Exodus camp in Sodwana Bay. Dinner and into our tents, to settle in, a documentary on Sodwana Bay and it was bed time. 6.30 start for a 7.30 transfer to the scuba centre to get our kit.

Day 8: Saturday. Kit sorted at the Scuba Centre, snorkelers out on a boat ride, saw the odd humpback whale, a snorkel on the reef, loads of fish, especially yellow backed fusiliers. Back to camp in the afternoon, 4pm lecture on Coral reefs, everyone was buzzing with what they had seen and done during the day. Everyone in bed (roll mat on the floor) by 8.30 on Saturday night!

Day 9: Sunday. Divers had an early start to get their 2 dives in the Indian Ocean, snorkelers a bit later. Snorkelers saw dolphins and a green turtle.

Day 10: Monday. Another early start, snorkelers saw spinner dolphins who play with the boat, jumping out of the water and spinning, hence the name. Too many fish to identify on the snorkel. Our 4 students learning to Scuba Dive completed their course today, massive congratulations to Nicole, Rebecca, Hannah and Will. They are now PADI qualified, along with Emily who was already qualified.  Back to camp for more lectures on coral reefs.

Day 11: Tuesday. The snorkelers swam with a massive manta ray, brilliant and then a pod of Humpback whales passed with 25 metres of our boat, 6 adult females and a youngster. Our divers could relax and enjoy diving in the Indian Ocean. 

Day 12: Wednesday. Overcast morning for a sand dune succession walk and talk. The snorkelers got to swim with Dolphins. It was Rebecca’s birthday and someone had managed to get the obligatory baby and toddler photos, blown them up to A4, laminated them and pinned them on the wall, she was so impressed, my words not hers.

Day 13: Thursday. delayed transfer to beach, ocean really choppy today, boat ride was brilliant. Divers all had brilliant last dives. Before we ate we were treat to a display of traditional Zulu dancing from children from a local orphanage.

Day 14: Friday. 5.45 departure, most people asleep on the coach. A couple of comfort breaks later and we were in Tambo International Airport. Quick goodbyes to our Canadian friends. Overnight flight meant we all managed some sleep, our mini bus and driver were waiting to collect us and we were back at TRC by 11am on Saturday morning.

It was a pleasure to spend 16 days with the students, yet again we were complemented on their exemplary behaviour, good manners and willingness to work hard. In terms of the future, two of our students have gone onto university, and both are looking at returning to South Africa in the near-future as a University volunteer. The other 4 students have entered the second year of their A level programme, they have already been into the lessons of new students to “sell” the expedition to next year’s students.

As I said earlier, the trip is life changing, to see the students grow in confidence throughout the two weeks is incredible. Before the planning began, they were just 7 students from the 230 who chose to take part. Now they are friends for life, the students who went on previous expeditions still meet up with each other and the staff to catch up. Not only do they an awful lot about conservation, they learn a lot about themselves, they meet challenges head on, they are respectful of people from other cultures and value the opportunity that they have been given.

The £1000 award was used to fund the PADI open water referral course completed in the UK, the cost of hiring the dive equipment whilst in Sodwana Bay and pay for their PIC card when fully qualified divers. The remaining money was used to buy me a gift to say thank you for organising the trip and for buying their TRIBE 2107 hoodie. Thomas Rotherham College staff and students (TRIBE 2017) are so grateful for a kind gesture in offering the £1000 Murray Foundation Award to offset some of the cost of the expedition.

Truro College - Honduras 2017

In July 2017, students and teachers from Truro & Penwith College took part in Operation Wallacea Honduras. The group consisted of 16 students, mainly studying A Levels in Biology, Geography or Environmental Science. This year was the first time the College had organised a trip of this type and scale, and its first involvement with Operation Wallacea, with behind the scenes planning having gone on for two years. We were introduced to the trip at an initial information evening with an Opwall representative in March 2016 which was followed up by a presentation by the Opwall fundraising team. All the students who participated had to raise money for the trip.  We set up a group chat to share ideas.

During May and June, most of us were heavily involved in studying and sitting our A Level exams, so the departure date rather rushed up on us. Some of us only had a few days between taking our final exams and leaving for Honduras. It certainly focused the mind and was a great thing to look forward to during the endless hours of revision.

Everybody had their own personal fundraising goals and methods. Two students, Miguel and Jessie organised a themed evening meal ‘Una Noche en Honduras’, hosted at the student-run restaurant, Spires, within the College. The meal consisted of a main fish or vegetarian fajita dish option with traditional starters and desserts. We planned to sell 45 tickets costing £18 each via email and word of mouth to friends, family and college lecturers. Each guest was emailed a digital ticket to bring on the night. As the event approached we quickly sold out, and with 45 as the maximum table number, we were forced to turn people away! Spires is entirely run by the students and food is prepared, cooked and served by Catering Diploma students. The meal provided a great opportunity for them to practice their skills with an unusual cuisine. The evening was a huge success: altogether we raised approximately £800 with a further £80 from raffle tickets. Both ourselves and the staff present could tell people about the trip with Operation Wallacea – a first for the college. In addition to this, a number of the group sold Opwall raffle tickets individually and set up a couple of online donation pages for friends and family.

The invitation to apply for the MFA was forwarded onto us by the group leader, Lowenna Bradley. Miguel and Jessie put together a presentation which took the form of a PowerPoint and submitted it to the Murray Foundation in June. It included information and pictures of ‘Una Noche en Honduras’ together with our ideas of how we would like to spend the award. We were delighted to hear that we had been successful a number of weeks after.

Our expedition began at 12.30 on Sunday night at Truro College where we boarded a coach to Heathrow Airport. Two planes, over 40 hours and one hotel later we arrived in San Pedro Sula in the north of Honduras.  We stayed a further night in Gran Hotel Sula alongside several other Opwall groups. In the morning, we all set off at 5am towards Cusuco National Park, site of the first week of the expedition.  In the town of Cofradía we changed from buses to 4×4 pickup trucks. Riding in the cargo area, we headed into the hills. By this time, we were only accompanied by one other school group. We arrived at the village of Buenos Aires. in time for lunch where the group split again.  Our group set off into the Core Zone to spend the first few days at the satellite camp whilst the other group stayed in the village. The six-hour hike took us into the heart of the National Park and by the time we arrived night had fallen and the rain was pouring down, making the final steep slope into camp particularly treacherous. Fortunately, this would prove to be the only real rain we were to experience during our entire stay.

A typical day in the forest was made up of 07.00 breakfast, often tortillas and jam, at least one morning activity, followed by a cooked lunch at camp at 13.00, an afternoon activity and food at about 19.00, before a final evening activity until late.  Each activity was led by at least one Opwall researcher. There were about six at this camp as well as a number of local guides, evidence of the valuable role Opwall plays in providing local employment.  It was a very full routine and even though we were only there for a week it felt like we did a lot in a short time. 

Day 1 – watching the lekking behaviour (male courtship dances) of the Red-Headed Manakin, searching for river-crabs and jungle skills training. The latter involved assembling hammocks, fire-making and baking tortillas.  In the evening, we went light-trapping for moths and beetles, certain varieties of moths were being caught and recorded as part of one researcher’s studies.  A final highlight was a sighting of a Tarantula near the camp.

Day 2 – we started early before breakfast to help with mist-netting of small birds.  The mist nets were already pre-assembled and positioned so we observed the leaders retrieving and measuring the different species, helping directly with the recording and the release of the birds. After breakfast, we followed one of the transects to help with re-setting dung beetle pitfall traps.  Dung beetles are an indicator species of the health of the rainforest and were being studied by one of the PhD students on site.  That afternoon was spent doing habitat surveys – this included calculating the height of trees, measuring leaf litter depth, recording tree types, measuring girths, soil density, number of saplings and fallen trees. These surveys are used by Opwall to calculate the amount of Carbon the 20x20m quadrat studied can store, in turn used to equate the Park’s total area in Carbon Credits, a sort of currency that polluting multi-national companies can purchase in an effort to become carbon neutral. Our final activity of the day was an evening herpetology walk recording different species of reptiles and amphibians along a river transect.  Every species was identified, measured, recorded and then released. The highlight of the walk was spotting a deadly venomous Mexican Jumping Viper, which we obviously didn’t handle!

Day 3 – In the afternoon we hiked back to Buenos Aires, passing the other school coming in the opposite direction, and arriving by 17.00.  We were then allocated to our sleeping quarters, this time in the homes of local villagers, 2/3 to a house. In the evening whilst some rested or light-trapped in the village, three of us hiked back into the forest to watch and help the team mist-netting for bats. At Buenos Aires our routine was the same with the addition of two lectures a day – these covered topics about the biodiversity and unique ecology of the Park. Because of the forest’s altitude, the species that live there are geologically isolated from other areas within Honduras. This means that they have been evolving separately, leading to a high number of endemic species, found nowhere else in the world.

Day 4 – Next day some of the group ascended into the canopy with Canopy Access, a specialist team who took Sir David Attenborough into the canopy for the filming of Life of Mammals. This was a stunning way to have a treetop view of the forest as well as stretching our physical abilities.  After lunch, we carried out another pitfall dung-beetle transect during which some members of the group saw a Guatemalan Neck-Banded Snake. Finally, in the evening we had a further herpetology walk to another river where we also met up with the bat team again.  Highlights included hearing and seeing Glass Frogs, a Coffee Snake and an unidentifiable snake which proved to be new to the Park.

Day 5 – we accompanied a group on a herpetology walk where we spotted a Coral Snake, one of the most venomous snakes in the world!  In the afternoon the entire Truro group went to help a local coffee farmer plant trees in his coffee plantation.  Coffee bean plants grown in the shade produce a higher quality product at the cost of a reduced yield.  This also benefits the environment by partially reforesting areas of cleared rainforest.  Looking across the farm, it was heartening to be able to spot the trees planted by previous expeditions. We also learnt about coffee production in Honduras which is a vital part of the local economy

Day 6 – we joined a bird-watching group which headed along a track towards the river. Highlights included an Emerald Toucanet and various Oropendolas and vultures. Returning to the village we took delight in watching and filming a Praying Mantis attacking a Glass Butterfly! That afternoon we were joined by the second group, returning from Guanales, and had a barbecue feast of avocadoes, barbecued chicken, chismole (a tomato and onion salad/salsa), quesillo (curd cheeses) and tortillas.  All the food in the rainforest was prepared for us by local señoras and was delicious – all local traditional dishes.  The final lecture that evening summarised Operation Wallacea’s work.

The remaining week of our trip we spent on the Island of Roatan, one of Las Islas del Bahia, the Bay Islands.  Leaving Buenos Aires early in the morning we headed down to San Pedro again and changed buses ready for the long drive to La Cieba on the coast, via the town of Tela where we stopped for lunch at a service station.  One ferry ride and a short drive later, we arrived at West End resort and settled in to our accommodation for the next week.  This was in comfortable bunk-houses with balconies overlooking the tropical bay.

Next morning, we split into three groups according to the activities we intended to do – one consisted of those who had already completed PADI Open Water or equivalent and were therefore qualified to dive; a second those who were signed up to undertake the PADI Open Water course during the trip; and finally, those who had chosen to snorkel.

Once again, we were up each day at 07.00 and after breakfast (of pancakes) we had a lecture and practical followed by a dive starting at 10.00 and returning for lunch. The afternoons followed the same pattern with the second dive finishing by 17.30 for an evening meal and ID lecture with the entire group from both schools.  Late evenings were spent visiting the town for ice cream and playing cards.

Over the week we completed nine dives at various local sites, one on the third day being cancelled due to a power cut when we all snorkelled instead.  We saw Hawksbill or Green Turtles on every dive, along with a vast range and variety of reef fish – a huge Porcupine Fish, the stunning Queen Angel Fish, the colourful Spotlight Parrot Fish, a 20 strong squad of Caribbean Reef Squid, and a Mantis Shrimp, to name just a few.  The trainee divers also saw an Eagle Ray.  During the dives we learnt how to conduct various under-water survey techniques using quadrats, line-transects and video cameras, and coral colour-charts.  The lectures on species identification also proved invaluable as did a species guide bought for the group by our lecturers allowing us to identify what we saw on the dives.  The day-time lectures formed part of a reef ecology course and were given by a variety of marine biology experts, covering topics such as reef formation and mangrove ecology.  In the practical’s, on land and in the shallow waters, we also collected and measured sea-urchins and learnt techniques to measure coral reefs using our own models.  We also heard all about a project run by one of the researchers into the efforts to regenerate the population of Long-Spined Sea Urchins after the catastrophic Diadema die-off in 1983, when more than 97% of the population disappeared due to disease.  The final dive site was the most spectacular as we got the chance to dive right through deep narrow canyons on the reef.

During the week, everyone was required to prepare a presentation on one of several topics, ranging from shark-finning to protection of coral reefs, which we presented on the final day.  That evening we all went out together for a pizza and one last ice-cream in West End town. Our trip home was again long and tiring involving another overnight stay in San Pedro where we made the most of the hotel swimming-pool before our flight next morning to Houston and then Heathrow.  After another six hours coach drive we were back in Truro, exhausted and already missing the warmth of the Honduras sun!

We wanted to use some of the Award to the benefit of the community in Cusuco where we were staying.  Whilst we were there, the field representatives contacted the local school and arranged an opportunity for us to visit and meet some of the children.  We spent time with one of the three classes and read to them in English from a book about snakes, translated by Opwall staff into Spanish. We also did some drawing with them of rainforest wildlife.  A relaxed morning activity, it made a great change towards the end of our time in the forest.  The visit gave us an insight into the local community and how the families live.  We agreed to leave most of our award to buy useful things for the school.  We later learnt that they had put together a pack containing a paper pad, pencils, a sharpener and an eraser for each student as well as buying items for the classrooms including a globe, maps of Honduras, a periodic table, scientific workbooks, a football, and a Frisbee. The remainder of the money we put towards having a meal out as a group at a local pizzeria at the end of our time in Roatan as a thank you to the Opwall staff and to our lecturers.  It was a great treat for us all.

Martin Suthers’ Grant

  • Martin Suthers was a good friend to Operation Wallacea, and acted as Trustee and then Chairman for the Opwall Trust for 16 years. When Martin sadly passed away in 2016, he left a legacy to help students get out in to the real world and gain the hands-on field experience required for a career in conservation.

    The Martin Suthers’ grant is available to UK and Ireland University students who are embarking on any expedition in 2018. There are two grants of £250 available and, as with most grants, there are specific criteria that volunteers must meet to be eligible to apply; they must demonstrate that they have fundraised a significant proportion of their expedition already.

    After raising a minimum of £1000, you can apply for this grant by telling us exactly how you did it. To support your application you must also be able to supply at least three photos of fundraising activities, and/or any promotional materials you used (posters, leaflets, tickets etc).

    Applications for the Martin Suthers’ grant are now open; please follow the link below and complete your online application no later than Friday 30th March 2018.

    Please note that the information you provide us with may be used to advise future volunteers on their fundraising. This could be in the form of case study documents, presentations, and social media posts. If you do not wish to have your fundraising success shared on social media then please let us know by emailing socialmedia@opwall.com.

    Apply Now!

Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists

  • Operation Wallacea had its inception in the central area of Indonesia known as the Wallacea Region. This biodiversity hotspot derives its name from the great Alfred Russel Wallace and the work he did in the region. 2013 marked the centennial year of the passing of this highly influential biologist and field naturalist (see http://wallacefund.info/). It was a letter from Wallace to Darwin explaining Wallace’s postulate that evolution was occurring through natural selection that caused Darwin to hurriedly publish his seminal work. Although Wallace always admired the detail and thoroughness of Darwin’s work, he was, by far, the better field naturalist and funded his extensive travels in the Amazon and Malay archipelago by collecting and selling specimens to the Natural History Museum in London. As a result of these extensive travels, Wallace began to observe the puzzling distribution of species and developed fundamental theories about what is today known as the study of biogeography.

    Wallace had none of the financial advantages that Darwin had, but was driven by a spirit of adventure, a thirst for knowledge, and a determination to act on those attributes. Operation Wallacea has been taking undergraduates from the US and other countries into the field to help a network of more than 200 academics conduct biodiversity surveys in remote parts of the planet since 1995. Initially, these research programs ran only in the Wallacea region because of its long isolation from continental land masses and high levels of endemic species. However, the programs now run at 25 research sites in 15 countries and are entirely funded by the tuition fees paid by more than 2000 students each year.

Grant Types

  • The first is for UK university students, and is sponsored by Premier Oil – there are 10 grants of £1000 available to those students booked onto an Opwall 2018 project to Indonesia as either a research assistant or dissertation student, and currently studying at a UK university.

  • The second is for US university students – there is 1 grant of $1500, 1 grant of $750, and 3 grants of $500 available. This grant is available for any students enrolled as an undergraduate at a US academic institution, and booked on to any Opwall 2018 project.

How to Apply

  • Please email your application to wallacegrants@opwall.com. The text of your email should include your name, contact information, the name of your university and details of your Opwall expedition. Alongside your email, please include the 6 following attachments:

    1. Unofficial transcript from your university showing grades attained thus far. Students currently in their first year should provide evidence of Higher/A-Level grades
    2. Full CV showing academic achievements to date, outdoor activities undertaken and future aspirations
    3. Reference letter 1 – From a current or previous teacher who can attest to your academic abilities
    4. Reference letter 2 – From someone in a position of authority who can provide a character reference, for example an employer, guidance counselor, club or society leader
    5. Details of any financial aid that you have secured to complete university (bursaries, scholarships, hardship grants)
    6. A maximum 600 word summary of how, if awarded the grant, the sort of work that you would be doing in the field would mirror the type of field work done by Alfred Russel Wallace (please do your research!)

     

    Applications for the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant 2018 are now open. The deadline to submit the above documents is Wednesday 21st February 2018.

    Please note that both successful US and UK applicants are required to write a short ‘post-expedition’ article, accompanied with pictures of your trip. This piece should be no more than two pages, more details will be given upon receiving the grant.

    All UK winners will be asked to attend an Operation Wallacea Trust meeting in November 2018 to personally thank the representative from Premier Oil and give a short presentation on your experience. Your short article will also be supplied to Premier Oil for use in their 2018 Corporate Responsibility Report.

Wallace Grant 2017 Recipients

The successful applicants for the 2017 US grant were as follows:

1st place ($1500): Eric Wuesthoff

Since I was a young child, I have been passionate about wildlife. So, when I found out about the opportunity to pursue research for my dissertation with Operation Wallacea, I was ecstatic. I had always dreamed of one day traveling to Madagascar, one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world, and this was my chance. But first, I had to figure out how to afford it.

To fund my expedition, I worked three jobs during the academic year for over 20 hours each week. While it could be challenging to balance these commitments with my classes and social life, I felt it was important to put in the effort to make my expedition a reality. I also applied for several scholarships and grants in the months leading up to my adventure. I was fortunate enough to receive some awards from my university as well as the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant. This generous grant allowed me to make my childhood dreams a reality as I flew off to Madagascar.

My first night in Mariarano base camp, all of the nocturnal lemur researchers went out on our first nocturnal survey. Just minutes after setting off, we came upon an enormous kapok tree, flowering in the midst of the dry season. Its nectar had drawn an array of wildlife, including cat-sized flying foxes and four species of lemur, their beady eyes reflecting the lights of our head torches. Close by, a tree boa slithered lethargically through the branches, unbothered when we picked it up to marvel at its intricately patterned scales. I was awestruck by this gathering of wildlife found nowhere else on earth, and this was only my first day on site!

The next six weeks were packed as I collected data with a team of other researchers for my dissertation. I studied the ecology of mouse lemurs, focusing particularly on their use of mangrove forests along rivers. Many days were spent traversing the river on a small motorboat with a Malagasy guide, setting traps for the mouse lemurs and searching for their shiny eyes at night. While I was searching for lemurs, I was also fortunate enough to spot elusive Nile crocodiles and a nesting pair of Madagascar fish eagles, one of only 200 left in the wild.

We baited our live traps with banana and brought any mouse lemurs lured by the tasty treat back to our camp. There, I handled them while my colleagues measured their weight, length, and other key body measurements to assess the health of the population. I learned quickly how to hold the squirmy primates to keep them comfortable and still while they were measured. We released them back where we captured them in the evening. Throughout my study, we captured over 150 individual mouse lemurs. I am excited that the data I collected will help inform conservationists on how to protect these unique and endagered primates.

My experince in Madagascar with Opwall was all I could have hoped for and more. While there, I was able to see (and touch) amazing wildlife, meet incredible people, and strengthen my love for field research and conservation. I so grateful to all of the Operation Wallacea staff, the local people of Mariarano and Antafiameva, and all of the dissertation students and research assistants I met who helped make my expedition so spectacular. I want to give a special thanks to the panel that awarded me the Wallace Grant, which was instrumental in supporting my research. I encourage anyone who is consdiering an Opwall prgram to take advantage of this incredible opportunity-it is truly life-changing!

2nd place ($750): Quinn Parker

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out in the field when I signed up to go to Madagascar with Operation Wallacea this summer, but it’s safe to say that my six weeks studying mouse lemurs was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Camping in the dry forest in the Northwest corner of the country, I fell in love with the forest and all of the animals that call it home. It was absolutely incredible to be able to get up close and personal with animals that I’d only ever seen on TV before—and not only was I learning about them firsthand, but I also came to understand the complex dynamic between the wildlife and the people of Madagascar. I had the opportunity to work alongside PhD students from the University of Antananarivo and Mahajanga who were so passionate about the species that are found in their part of the world and nowhere else. Operation Wallacea created such a unique community where we were able to learn about everything from lemurs to snakes to spiders, as well as how the local people play a part in the conservation of the forest and work together to protect the species that we all hold dear.

I was there to research how two species of mouse lemur, the grey and golden-brown, were responding to edge effects and the different habitat types of the area, whether it be continuous forest, savanna, agricultural fields, or somewhere in between. Over the course of my time there, my team and I were able to gather so much data about the lemurs and their lives, allowing us a better understanding of how they are faring in the region. I will never forget the thrill of spotting mouse lemurs high up in the trees, jumping from branch to branch and watching us with glowing eyes, or watching the sunrise over the savanna on our way to check on one of our transects. Being so close to these species made me all the more passionate about saving their habitat, and learning more about what role we can play to make that happen.

I am so grateful for my time in Madagascar, which couldn’t have been possible without the generous funding of the Alfred Russell Wallace grant, as well as a number of grants from my university promoting environmental research. Madagascar is such a special place, with so many incredible species found nowhere else in the world. I am so grateful and would like to thank Operation Wallacea and all of the amazing staff and students for an incredible summer! Being able to live and work there, even for a short while, is something that I’ll never forget, and something that has shaped my future aspirations in the field of conservation.

3rd place ($500): Kelsey Allen

I had never wanted anything more than to explore the African bush, so when I was given the chance by Operation Wallacea, I was determined to find the funds to make it happen. I spent the summer before washing windows in a retirement community. I charged $5 per window and provided full window and screen cleanings. After I had completed a few client houses, the word began to spread and before I knew it I had made over $1,000 in only a few short weeks. I was elated, as I was completely in charge of funding my entire trip. I was also graciously awarded $500 from the Alfred Russel Wallace grant. That last influx of money finally gave me the funds to pay off my expedition to South Africa.

I spent three weeks in Dinokeng Game Reserve and other week obtaining my scuba certification at Sodwana Bay. The entire trip was unreal, however the most memorable moments came from our close encounters with the large megafauna of the African Bush. I saw wild elephants closer than I would have ever believed! To be able to observe such a magnificent creature that closely was irreplaceable. There was another time that the elephants decided to get very close to our camp sight, so our field guides had to deter them away. The thought of elephants getting that close to us was a little scary, but also incredible, since this is obviously a problem I had never run into at home.

I had never worked with bird research prior to my expedition, so I would be dishonest if I said it didn’t thrill me at first. After the first week of bird surveys I become enamored with the vast diversity of birds in the reserve. I actually asked the field guides for extra bird survey time so I could hone in on my skills. I am now taking an ornithology class so I can learn more about birds in other parts of the world. I have even considered attending a few mist netting opportunities around my home town.

My last week spent in South Africa took place at Sodwana Bay, so that I could get my certification for scuba diving. I was absolutely terrified of going that deep under the ocean, but I did not want to regret this opportunity. I am certainly glad I went through with it because it was my favorite part of the entire trip. It was mesmerizing seeing the world in a different way. I had never seen so much blue in my life! I certainly had not gotten that close to sharks and coral reefs. It was the most beautiful experience that I have ever undertaken and I highly recommend that everyone should try it at least once, so they can look at the world in a new way.

This experience has proven itself to be irreplaceable. I cannot thank those that helped me along the way enough. The fact that the Alfred Russel Wallace grant committee and my window washing clients had enough faith in me to make this worth while means the world to me. I sincerely hope that more people will take opportunities like this, because it is the best feeling in the world to achieve your childhood dreams.

3rd place ($500): Cortnie Meier-Welch
3rd place ($500): Selena Zhao

The successful applicants for the 2017 UK grant, each receiving £1000, were as follows:

Abigail Clarke: University of Exeter

My name is Abigail Clarke. I am currently in my second year of studying Environmental Science at the University of Exeter. During the summer of 2017, I went on a marine conservation expedition to Hoga Island, Indonesia. This enabled me to carry out reef surveys and to learn more about the important marine conservation projects that Operation Wallacea are working on there. I was on-site for a month and met some amazing people, whilst getting to experience some of the best diving sites in the world.

How you fundraised for your expedition:

I raised the money for this expedition in several ways:

  • I received a very kind grant from Premier Oil;
  • I raised some funds by organising a marine conservation awareness event in a local bar near my university on one of our regular Thursday Student nights. It was quite well attended so we did end up bringing in a little bit of money which helped towards my total;
  • I was also an intern for Gasrec (a bio-LNG supplier for trucks) over the summer. My earnings from this internship allowed me to cover the remaining cost of the expedition.

Highlights of the expedition:

Apart from having the most amazing time diving every day, I would definitely say the highlight of the expedition was that I was able to see the most incredible wildlife. One moment, in particular, stands out for me above all others. This was during my second week, whilst acting as a research assistant for a dissertation student. At the end of one of our dives, someone in the group pointed towards the sea bed and there was the most intricate creature I had ever seen – a large cuttlefish. We watched it for at least ten minutes before we had to end the dive, due to lack of air. This was a highlight for me because I have always loved cuttlefish and wanted to see something so rare and remarkable.

One of the most memorable things about Indonesia was the amazing sunsets – we all had a routine to go and watch the sunset every evening before dinner. They were the most astonishing colours – pinks, oranges, yellows and purples. That was definitely one of my favourite times of day.

The whole of the last week of my expedition was a highlight. This week I became closest with the other volunteers and I felt that I made the biggest contribution towards the data collection, to help save the creatures living on the reefs. Each day started with a dive at 7 am and another at 11 am, and then every afternoon we would spend four hours analysing the data that we had collected on those dives. This week was special as the volunteers were actually allowed to complete the data analysis. So that made it feel as though I felt like I helped the most in that week.

How it may have influenced your future academic/career path:

I was completely inspired by my time in Indonesia and it has definitely convinced me to change my plans for after I graduate. I had previously decided that I would always travel after university – I planned to work for a while to save to go on another expedition and then return to start working.

However, after talking to so many inspirational people whilst I was in Indonesia, I have now decided that, after university, I would like to complete a Dive Master internship and then travel the world diving and meeting new people. This expedition has allowed me to think further ahead and plan more than I ever have before. Becoming a Dive Master would allow me to continue contributing to saving our oceans, to continue learning and to do my own conservation projects. It would allow me to travel for longer and to create many more memories.

This expedition has also changed my academic path – when I returned to university for my second year, I decided to change one of my more geography-orientated modules to an ecology module. I am grateful that I was able to do this because my course is very interdisciplinary. I feel as though my expedition to Indonesia has helped me to find my passion and now I feel as though I am capable of anything!

Skills developed on the trip:

Whilst I was in Indonesia I developed many valuable skills from carrying out the reef surveys, as well as from the experience of all of the incredible people I met there.

In my first week, I completed a reef survey techniques course, where I learnt how to survey reefs effectively and also to recognise the species and their Latin names. We had three lectures a day and would then dive twice, putting the techniques that we had learnt earlier in the day into practice.

In the second week, I had the role of a research assistant for two dissertation students who were completing projects on Cleaner Wrasse behaviour, including how they cope with imitators. My role was to help them by filming, observing and taking notes of the fishes’ behaviour, and then the students used this data to support their dissertation.

During my third week, I completed my Dive Rescue course in order to extend my diving knowledge. Each day we learned a whole different set of skills including:

  • CPR;
  • How to take someone to the surface if they are unresponsive;
  • How to deal with minor injuries; and
  • How to supply someone oxygen.

I also completed my “Emergency First Responder” qualification in this week. My new rescue skills also proved very valuable – I had to help a novice diver by sharing oxygen due to a defective regulator and I helped another with buoyancy problems who was ascending too fast at the end of a dive.

In my final week, I was research assistant again, monitoring data collection and data analysis. Our team collected data on benthic composition, invertebrate species and fish abundance along a belt transect. We then analysed this data using various computer software. We also filmed four randomly selected quadrats along the transect and then produced three dimensional models of this data, which we then analysed. This was the first time that three-dimensional reef modelling had been carried out in the Indo-Pacific region. This data is very useful to understand the extent of reef degradation from the impact of global warming, bleaching incidences, ocean warming and acidification and destructive fishing methods. I really enjoyed collecting and analysing this data. It was definitely one of my favourite weeks of the month that I was on-site in Indonesia.

Conclusion:

I loved every moment of my time on-site at Hoga Island in Indonesia. Operation Wallacea are completing fundamental and very critical conservation there and I am so grateful that I was able to be able to support their work.  I really appreciate the grant provided by Premier Oil that enabled me to go on, what proved to be the trip of a lifetime. My experiences during this expedition have helped to reshape my future plans after university and to further stimulate my interest in marine conservation.

Cara Bradley: Hull University

After attending an Operation Wallacea talk at university (University of Hull) in October 2016, I decided the four week expedition to Indonesia, where two weeks was spent on Buton Island doing terrestrial research and two weeks on Hoga Island doing marine research, was best suited to me. I signed up in November and immediately got to work thinking of different fundraising ideas and researching grants I could apply for.

My first fundraising event was a quiz night in April at a local church hall. The quiz consisted of five rounds with a short break in the middle. During the break homemade buns as well as teas and coffees that had been donated by friends and family, were served. The winning team were each given an Easter egg while the team in last place got a small bag of Haribo sweets each. I had a suggested donation of £4 at the door but people could donate what they felt was appropriate. The night ended up being a much bigger success than was expected. We also had a lot of people sending their apologies (and donations) beforehand as they could not make it.

I also organised a ‘Prosecco and Nibbles Movie Night’ with tickets costing £10 each. For this event I hired an old-style cinema for a private showing of Bridget Jones’ Baby. Upon arrival guests were given Prosecco or non-alcoholic fizz and could snack on the variety of party food and treats on the table. Once the movie was over I held a raffle for 5 prizes which included gift cards donated by local businesses to my expedition. The Prosecco and some of the nibbles were also kindly donated by Marks and Spencer’s after writing to them about my expedition.

A huge thank you must also go to Premier Oil for their very substantial grant in support of my expedition.

My expedition was incredible, a once in a lifetime experience and one I will never forget. I had two weeks on Buton Island which was split with one week in Labundo staying with a local family before trekking up into the unexplored jungle where I spent a week on the mobile team helping the scientists survey a variety of animal groups. A few of my favourite bits included all of us sitting around a large twisted tree waiting until we heard a loud, high pitched call and upon looking could see these big eyes on the little tarsiers running around inside! The highlight though was when one of them decided to emerge further out of the tree and began jumping from tree to tree between us before heading out to find food. I loved waking up and falling asleep to all the jungle noises and in particular the morning we had to get up at 4am for the bird survey. It was amazing to hear all the different calls. As the area of jungle was unexplored we may have discovered new species of dragonflies and tree frogs which are new to science or else new morphologies of an already known species.

The following two weeks was spent on Hoga Island in wooden huts which compared to the jungle was like living in a palace, well, until it was three nights from the end and I woke up with a rat on my pillow beside me. The diving and the island looked like something off a postcard. The coral of the reef was very colourful and had a diverse and abundance of fish. On one dive in particular I saw both a three legged turtle and an eagle ray! It was absolutely surreal and due to the massive smile on my face I kept getting water into my mouth! On my expedition I was extremely lucky with the group of people I was with. We all got along and helped each other whenever we needed and a moment I will never forget was lying with them all in the sand watching the stars looking up at the milky-way before we all went home.

I am currently in my second year studying marine biology and was curious of whether I should have done a more generalized degree such as zoology and then specified at a later date or if marine biology from the beginning was the right choice. However, as much as I enjoyed both the terrestrial and the marine sections of my expedition, I discovered jungle life is probably not for me. One would think it would be the sleeping in hammocks, the trekking or lack of cleanliness having to bathe in a river but nope, for some unknown reason I am just too clumsy in the jungle! Having to trek through the jungle knee high in mud, unable to hold on to any of the plants around you, because ‘Hati! Hati! Spiky’ (Careful! Careful! Spikey), with a 10kg rucksack on your back and your feet getting stuck every step is definitely a test of balance and unfortunately, I ended up falling over too many times to count. One of the girls I met on the trip described me as: “if I sit down I fall asleep” and “if I stand up I fall over”, so I think that says it all really! Marine Biology was definitely the right choice.

Since we worked so closely with the scientists I was able to learn skills first hand and practice them in the field. We used a variety of survey techniques which included mist net bat capturing as well as netting butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies then learning how to handle and identify them. I managed to learn a few of the calls for the common birds on the island as well as estimate the distance of the bird just from listening to its song and call. One morning, a few of us went out before everyone else and were shown how to identify wild pig, jungle fowl and anoa tracks. We were also shown how to recognise disturbances to the ground. My first week on Hoga Island was spent completing the Reef Survey Techniques course learning different marine survey techniques and how to lay the transects along the reefs without damaging coral or disturbing any organisms. The course also involved learning to identify hard and soft corals, invertebrates and fish to family level. All of these skills will help me in my future career as the techniques behind them can be transferred to many different situations.

Corinne Spiller: Durham University

This summer I spent an amazing 6 weeks on Hoga Island, collecting data for my undergraduate dissertation with Operation Wallacea. The adventure pretty much started at Heathrow airport as I prepared for 4 planes, a boat and very little sleep before getting to Hoga. Having gone way over the 10kg luggage allowance for the internal flight, I was a bit concerned at whether the tiny 70-seater plane was actually going to get us to the Wakatobi. Thankfully we arrived in one piece!

The group of us that arrived on Hoga together bonded instantly, everyone was so nice and we all eagerly talked about what was in store for us for the next 6 weeks. The moment our boat arrived on Hoga Island is a moment I’ll remember for a long time – our first glimpse of the idyllic tropical island we would call home, and being met by enthusiastic OpWall staff and locals really fuelled my excitement for the rest of my trip. I quickly got used to the Hoga way of life: living in our wooden cabins, sharing the island with the geckos and monitor lizards, relaxing (working!) in the cabanas, and eating our meals together in the ‘lodge’.

In my first week I completed the Reef Survey Techniques course; this included lectures and in-water practicals on how to spot the different coral genera I was looking out for and how to use different survey equipment. It was also the week where I was introduced to some of the best diving on the planet! Since I’m a UK diver by training, the 10-15 metres of visibility, warm water and abundance of exciting marine life was something that I felt I could really get used to! I still find that, a couple of months later, I can recall all the names of the fish families that we were taught to identify underwater, and the ability to recognise different corals has been crucial for my dissertation research.

The purpose of my dissertation is to assess the impact of El Niño (thermal stress) events on coral mortality and genus composition on the reef, so for my data collection I produced multiple benthic surveys of the Hoga home reef using transects to look at the health and composition of different corals. I also conducted my own lab experiment to look at the effects of bleaching on different types of coral in different environmental conditions. Creating and running my own lab experiment was so exciting and has provided me with invaluable experience for further marine science research. Hoga was the perfect place to study for my dissertation and I cannot thank the dive staff and science team enough for their advice and enthusiasm towards all our dissertation projects!

To collect our data, we had two science dives a day at either 7am, 11am or 3pm. Although getting up for a 7am dive was a killer for the first week or so, the early morning dive soon became my favourite part of the day as this was when the marine life were at their best! I was lucky enough to see shoals of trigger fish, many venomous sea kraits, turtles, a Napoleon Wrasse and lionfish, to name just a few!

As well as doing some important conservation work, I met some amazing people and had such a good time with the other OpWall volunteers and the locals. I learned what life was like living without running water and very little electricity, and how to make the most of a diet that consisted largely of rice and fish! I also had over 40 incredible dives in the waters of the Wakatobi and honed my skills as a diver. As a result of my expedition I am now considering postgraduate study in oceanography or a career in marine conservation.

In order to cover the cost of my trip, I collected money through fundraising, grants and sponsors. A large amount of the money I raised for my expedition came from helping my family run a café at the local football club, and I alongside the £1000 grant received from Premier Oil, I also received a £1000 sponsor from the company Inixion. I also used the EasyFundraising site for other small donations. I would love to thank the amazing OpWall staff and students on Hoga for giving me the best possible experience; my friends, family and Inixion for helping me raise the money to go; and Premier Oil for the generous grant money offer, without whom I probably would not have been able to afford the experience.

Ellen Paganini: University of Leeds

Earlier this year I was awarded the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists, which helped me greatly in reaching my funding to go to Sulawesi as part of a research group, the Island Mobile Team of Operation Wallacea.

The eight weeks I spent in Indonesia over summer were a truly special experience. I got to travel and live in an incredibly interesting and beautiful part of the world, with a remarkable history in terms of evolutionary biology, which is one of my preferred areas of my degree and the focus of my dissertation, the data for which I collected during my expedition. Being able to collect the data first hand and having seen and handled the fabulous species I am doing my dissertation on makes my whole project so much more personal, thrilling and memorable, and even after a few months I can still picture the birds vividly. The way the expedition was set up not only allowed me to experience the weird and wonderful wildlife of the Wallacean region, but also to live within and be part of the Indonesian culture, in a manner that would unlikely be possible as a tourist. For the duration of the expedition, we lived with local people who hosted us, and engaged with them on a variety of levels, from sharing important moments with them such as Idul Fitri to playing with the children in the villages, who were very keen to teach me some basic Indonesian words. I can still now name all the parts of the body!

The type of fieldwork we carried out undoubtedly gave me some very useful and hands-on experience, from technical skills specific to my project, such as handling birds, putting up mist nests to catch them and surveying the area to assess their density and foraging habitat, to softer skills which can be applicable to any research context. These included working as part of a team and learning to pick up and alternate between a variety of different tasks, working in very hot and humid weather conditions, but also dealing with the unpredictable variables that come with field work which you certainly would not experience in a lab, but that also make the experience a lot more life-like and challenging!

Having carried out this type of research is such a beautiful part of the world has definitely inspired me to perhaps carry out further education, especially having seen what can be done over one research season and what can be done over a few years, as a PhD student was part of our research group and has been doing work in the region over the course of the last four years.

My taking part in this expedition was greatly aided and mainly made possible due to the two grants I received, the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists and the Excellence Scholarship offered to my though the University of Leeds, that granted me each £1000. These significantly reduced the cost that I had to bear myself for the expedition and allowed me to take part in a wonderful experience that will play such an important part of my last year at University and will remain vivid in my memories, like all the vibrant colours that Indonesia is full of!

Isabelle Morgante: University of Bristol

I went to Hoga Island as a research assistant for four weeks in order to gain practical experience in underwater data collection and to get an insight into topics currently being researched and in need of research in the field of Marine Science.  Having just completed my Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, I was hoping this expedition would give me an idea as to how I could transfer the skills I learnt during my degree to a career path more focused on protecting the underwater world.  However, to be able to join the expedition at all required some serious fundraising.  I mainly did this by tutoring GCSE Maths and Science throughout my final year at university in the evenings after lectures.  Thankfully a great deal of that pressure to raise funds was relieved when I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant.

My journey to Hoga took almost three full days of traveling, but the fact the island is so remote was part of the reason I chose it – so that I could be in the heart of the Coral Triangle and experience diving in a pristine area.  We were literally thrown into the deep end on the first day by doing our check dive so the staff could get an idea of our diving skill level.  It was great to be back in the water and it was amazing to see how much marine life there was just off the shore of the island.  The rest of the first week was spent on the coral reef ecology course.  It was an intense week consisting of two dives and three lectures per day but the amount I learnt about the marine environment in a week was phenomenal.  The staff members running the course were so knowledgable and by the end of the week we could identify fish families, corals to genus level, invertebrates as well as learning about how coral reefs function and common surveying techniques.  It also allowed you to get to know the other volunteers on the expedition and settle into island life.

Life on Hoga is simple – at first it was a bit of a culture shock to arrive from Western comforts to a bucket shower and no internet but after some adjustment, the simple lifestyle became enjoyable.  It was great to relax with friends in the early evenings after a fun but tiring day of diving by watching the incredible sunsets and no internet meant people weren’t glued to their phones!  We would all have dinner as a group and after relax on the jetty watching the stars and (when we were lucky) the bioluminescence in the water.

I was able to join the research assistant (RA) pool after completing the reef ecology course where you could sign up to assist on the various research projects that were happening on base.  All the projects were interesting and varied ranging from observing behavioral patterns of cleaner wrasse to DNA sampling of corals to see what makes some coral species more resilient than others.

For my first week as a research assistant, I chose to be part of the monitoring team.  This involved helping with the long term monitoring of various dive sights around Hoga in order to evaluate how reef health has changed over time.  The type of surveys you conducted each day were rotated around the group allowing you try out the various techniques used to monitor different components of the reef.

We conducted surveys to monitor invertebrates, the benthos, fish biomass and reef complexity.  For invertebrate surveys we used the belt transect method and in buddy pairs we would tally any organisms along the transect that were on the indicator species list.  For the benthic surveys, we would video the transect line and later analyze it by identifying to species level what lay under the transect tape every 25cm.  Fish were also monitored using film.  A stereo-video would be made of the transect and later every fish on the transect was sized and identified using special software.  The analysis was a time consuming but rewarding challenge and it was a good feeling to know that you were contributing to OpWall’s long term data base.  Finally reef complexity was measured using two techniques – by 3D modeling and using a rugosity chain.  For me the 3D modeling was a highlight of being on the monitoring team.  You would place a 2m x 2m quadrat – which was entertaining to maneuver underwater – on a section of reef and systematically film the entire quadrat in different orientations.  We would then render the model using the footage overnight and then analyze the model to determine its rugosity.  It was the first time 3D modeling had been used on Hoga so it was great to be able to get involved in using new techniques and technologies to improve on data collection.  It was amazing that some footage taken on a GoPro could be converted into a 3D model of the reef and allowed components such as reef complexity to be measured far more easily and quickly than the common method of using a rugosity chain.

Being part of the monitoring team also allowed you to go to more dive sites than the other projects as they were limited to only three sites so they could collect relevant data.  The diving was incredible and the diversity of aquatic life was unbelievable.  Almost every dive you would see something new or interesting  – a highlight for me was seeing a big school of bumphead parrotfish at The Ridge (one of the dive sites a little further from Hoga).  During the other weeks as a research assistant I helped with data collection for a variety of university dissertation projects on topics such as the effect of El Niño on reef health and the behavior patterns of anemonefish.  It allowed me to get a taste of all the different projects that were taking place on Hoga and get a feel for different techniques used to collect data.

Aside from helping as a research assistant, myself and another volunteer decided to set up a seagrass monitoring program that other research assistants could be involved with if they had free time or were unable to dive that day.  This information is valuable because seagrass provides shelter to juvenile fish and is vital to maintaining a healthy reef system.  The data collected could then be entered onto a database for an organization that helps monitor the health of seagrass beds worldwide.  It was amazing to have the opportunity to be able to set up something like this and to have the freedom to lead the set up of a new monitoring scheme with help from other researchers on base.

My time on Hoga went quickly and was very memorable.  It is such a unique place unlike anywhere I have ever been before.  It’s incredibly special to be able to live somewhere so remote in the heart of nature and be able to dive every day.  That’s not to forget the amazing people there and all the experiences we shared together.  I would never have been able to make it to Hoga was it not for the Alfred Wallace grant and for that I am extremely grateful.

As for my future, I am still undecided as to what I would like to do in my future but my time on Hoga has convinced me that I still would like it to be in the field of marine conservation. Perhaps I will continue to learn about creating biological models as I can use the programming skills I learnt during my degree on something that is interesting to me.  For now I have decided to continue my diving education and get my PADI Divemaster qualification and maybe after that train to become a diving instructor.

Martyn Jakins-Pollard: University of Essex

After shifting my focus in 2017, I realised I wanted to change my career path and get involved in marine conservation. After joining the University of Essex MSc (Tropical Marine Biology) I would never have expected to be saving for an 8-week trip to Indonesia focussed on scientific diving only a matter of months later.

My fundraising was widespread with £1000 coming from the University of Essex, over £500 from various events and raffle-based fundraising, another £1000 from crowdfunding and finally the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant. Whilst I applied to several grants, the Alfred Russel Wallace grant was a great opportunity to gain some more knowledge on the biological background of the region, which I had only a limited understanding of. This allowed me to research how Wallace contributed to much of the way we look at the biological world today, and prepared me for what I might see.

On arriving at Hoga, I was tired and stressed from the travel! Luckily there was no time to fret about this as I was immediately thrown in to a week of intense lecturing interspersed with dives, in order to get our scientific diving and species ID skills up to scratch. This, I am certainly thankful for, as I couldn’t have gotten through my dissertation without it. The first week was full-on, but once I was through it everything became a little more relaxed and the ‘lifestyle’ of being in the field really started to take shape. One of my favourite achievements was the way that after the first week of training I immediately found myself reciting the Latin names of every species I could when underwater, most of which I didn’t even know the common names for a week earlier!

Being someone interested in working towards the conservation of reef systems, the practical skills such as transects, observation and monitoring techniques are really important things that will definitely improve my employability. Over the course of the first four weeks I had to change plans so many times; laptops stopped working, phones broke and just about everything went wrong! This all combined was testing but I think was an important process to go through and results in great, relevant experience for applying to work in remote locations. Having to constantly change and adapt ideas to best suit the environment is a really essential. We can’t change the weather, we can’t change the water conditions and we can’t make animals behave how we like, but we were all there to understand why!

Weeks 5-8 were where things really peaked. Sightings that were rare for the first few weeks became a daily occurrence. During these weeks, I got into a real routine and these are my fondest memories. As things went more smoothly I started to get better at everything I did; diving, data collection, species ID, you name it. This is where I got the best data of my expedition and really learned how to be a scientist, having more time to interact with others and engage in interesting discussions prompted by the weekly lectures on conservation.

Getting to experience such a biodiverse region first hand was something I hadn’t dreamed of even a year before, but there I was spotting Rays, Barracuda, huge Parrotfish and Wrasse on a daily basis, with the varied and diverse reefs of the area showing all they had to offer. There was even an opportunity for some people to jump in the water with a pod of pilot whales that were passing through the area!

The reefs were swarming with fish and predators travelling around and as I was studying behaviour it was incredible to be able to sit back and watch the abundant ecosystem go about its daily business, looking at how different species affected each other. This resulted in great footage, as my research involved setting up cameras which were left to record when divers weren’t around, where I was able to capture videos of rays, turtles and even the more territorial fish attacking my camera! The biggest highlight of the whole trip for me was seeing a huge Napoleon Wrasse, lots of Banded Sea Kraits, Rays and large Parrotfish all in one dive. Although getting to watch a sleeping turtle for a while was a close second!

Before going away, I was apprehensive about if I would actually enjoy diving this intensively as I had never been in the field before. I was please to find that the mystery of the ocean didn’t elude me at any point. I was always captured, watching something different and new that I hadn’t seen before. I would definitely recommend this experience as it was a great way to gain practical experience and knowledge that I didn’t have before going and also a great way to meet a diverse range of people with different backgrounds and cultures. It certainly takes commitment as working in the field is demanding and can be stressful at times, however waking up to the sea everyday alongside all the wildlife in such a close vicinity is a great experience to have. Overall, I would say you get what you put in and I feel I came away from this experience with a whole lot, including new knowledge, new experiences and a new appreciation for this incredible region.

Olivia Byrne: University of Leeds

It has been highlighted in the 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report that there are a number of projects worldwide that premier oil support in an effort to combat the negative externalities associated with oil drilling. This includes infrastructure development all the way through to supporting the kinds of environmental research this award has allowed me to undertake, with US$247,700 invested in Indonesia alone. My study looks specifically at how weather anomalies impact the coral reefs in the Wakatobi, Indonesia, which can shed light on how to manage and conserve these fragile ecosystems.

In order to afford the expenses of the expedition to Hoga, I combined a variety of fundraising techniques. Fortunately, I was a charity representative for 5 years during school which meant I was equipped with unique fundraising ideas as well as experience in organising events such as cake sales. Creating an Easyfundraising link meant I could share my cause on social media to encourage people to sign up. Selling clothes online, using apps such as Depop and Ebay, allowed me to buy the scuba equipment that was vital in allowing me to carry out my dissertation fieldwork. Finally, the most effective and useful technique was the Alfred Russel Wallace Award. This significantly helped cover the Operation Wallacea fee, which allowed me to learn as I conducted my own research. I now have an entire new skillset – such as scientific diving – as well as new knowledge on marine ecosystems.

Although it is hard to choose my top highlight, I would have to say the overall uniqueness of the trip was what made my experience so worthwhile. Few people have the privilege to say they have collected their dissertation research on a remote Indonesian island, alongside experts in their field of interest – but I can. Investigating my research questions in Indonesia meant I could explore new cultures and meet new people. This expedition has meant I have made friends for life as well as experiencing what it means to be a true scientist, conducting my own biogeographical study. Mixing lectures with scuba diving gave a new meaning mixing business with pleasure and aided the knowledge I gained in the classroom by cementing it with practical, in-the-field work.

The expedition has largely broadened my skillset. Firstly, my organisational skills and time management has improved as I applied for grants, wrote draft dissertation proposals and organised travel all alongside my university assignments. It was also vital I stayed on top of work whilst I was on Hoga by using free time to type up data and to meet with my Operation Wallacea supervisor. Communication and presenting skills were also developed not only via making new friends, but because I presented my findings to the scientists and my peers the last week I was there. This meant I needed to explain my study to people who may not have much knowledge in my area of expertise. Furthermore, my problem-solving skills under time pressure have strengthened since my trip. An example of this was that my original dissertation proposal could not be investigated due to environmental conditions outside of my control. I needed to adjust my methods accordingly so that I could still investigate my general aim in a different way.

Having been given the chance to work alongside professors and PHD students in the field on Hoga, I am now even more enthused to continue with research as part of my future career. Engaging with other academics has motivated me to take a research placement with my university lecturer alongside my 3rd year studies. In this project, I will be cooperating with my lecturer, investigating how climate change punctuates peatland state shifts through time and gaining experience in how a scientific paper is produced. Hoga has equipped me with strong connections from other universities of whom I hope to work with again in the future.

Without this grant, I would not have been able to achieve the independent study I have now, providing me with the opportunity of graduating from university with a high-class degree. Not only this, but my research may be of use to other environmental scientists as I attempt to uncover the severity of damage that weather anomalies, such as the 2016 El Nino event, had on the Wakatobi corals. Therefore, I wish to say a final thank you as I genuinely really appreciate what the award has offered me as the expedition was an experience of a lifetime doing what I love – environmental conservation.

Rajkumar Goulden: Durham University

Surveys, sodden walking boots and stingray injuries, my trip to Indonesia was quite the experience. When signing up for the four-week terrestrial expedition I didn’t quite no what to expect, would it be tough and physically gruelling or perhaps tame and limited due to constant health and safety risks imposed by insurance guidelines. Either way I was extremely curious about what the summer would entail. As it just so happens, the trip turned out to be the perfect happy medium, providing me with enough structure to get the important things done and learn scientific processes, but still enough freedom to fully explore the forests of north Buton in my own way.

After arriving in the south of the island and eating the first meal of many with the people I hadn’t yet realised would soon become some of my closest friends, we hopped in the back of 4×4’s and headed north towards the picturesque village of Labundo. After an hour or two of traversing the winding mud slides generously called roads in Sulawesi we dropped off our bags in our designated homestays and headed to the village hall to have the first of many lectures on the area. The following few days of covered everything from the poisonous animals we may encounter, to when and why sir Alfred Russell Wallace was first interested in the region. Needless to say, despite not taking notes at any point, I soaked up the information like a sponge, captivated by the range of biological curiosities that lay just beyond the surrounding treeline.

Eventually the time came where short Cuscus walks and birding trips were no longer deemed appropriate, instead we were taken under the wing of an Indonesian member of the Opwall team who had the “eventful” task of leading our two-night jungle-training course. We were thrown into the back of a cattle truck and spent the next few days in the forest, learning how to make our own shelters, source safe drinking water and even cook a little. 3 days later, a little scratched up from the barbed wire like rattan, we emerged, beaming ear to ear, our stomachs full of rice cooked in bamboo and the thick soy sauce we soon became so dependant on.

However only now was the real adventure able to begin, a quarter of the way into our trip and already running out of clean clothes, we set off for the mobile team. Again piling into 4×4’s in the pouring rain and heading north, sometimes under our own steam, sometimes with the aid of a towrope, the roads somehow worse despite our lowered expectations. Eventually we arrived in Lamoahi, a small fishing village on the northern coast and were introduced to the team of scientists we were to be working with. Be it the ultramarathoning couple heading up the camp management and medical side of things or the enthusiastic bunch of scientists that accompanied them, it immediately became apparent this team was going to be some fun. The group knitted quickly and the next morning we headed up into the hills to the makeshift camp we were to call home for the coming week.

It was in this damp, slippery, mud covered assortment of wooden frames and Hennessey hammocks that I had the most fun.  This camp was far superior to our makeshift survival shelters we’d been hauled up in the previous week, this was a mud slicken paradise complete with generator and pub quizzes. This tarpaulin and moss covered wooden construct was the scientific hub of the area, offering opportunities to learn just about anything you wanted from the forest and that’s exactly what we did.

Each morning the following week, after being assigned a specific scientist and accompanying field we grabbed our backpacks and headed out for our 5km transects; the birders waking at 4:30am for sunrise point counts whilst the chiropterologists, blessed with a leisurely lie-ins, only having to venture out at around 6pm. Completing these transect surveys was where I learnt the most during the trip, the shear love of the subject displayed by the scientist in their respective fields was all but contagious and it wasn’t long before I found myself intently listening out for bird calls in the camp, scrambling down to the river at night to hunt bird eating spiders or charging around camp with a butterfly net. I quickly picked up the intricacies of the methods used, finally being able to understand their benefits and limitations first hand, something only true fieldwork can alert you to.

Eventually however, after seven days of tracking anoa footprints, acquiring tree frog travelling companions and enduring the never ending call of the resident hawk cuccoo it was finally time for us to leave the jungle and return to Lamoahi. It was here that one of my most interesting highlights of the trip took place, something I will not forget or in fact fail to let others forget whenever I have the chance!

It was around a five-hour hike back down to the village and the sun was hotter than ever. Sweaty and caked in mud we arrived, the rickety wooden pier begging us to sit at its edge and watch the midday sun beat down into the empty bay. Eventually the temptation became too strong and a few of us jumped in, the water only being waist deep and crystal clear. However this quickly endeavor proved a mistake, after only being in the water a minute or two, I felt a sharp pinch on my left ankle. I jerked upright assuming it was a crab and jokingly swam back to the pier with my feet in the air, much to the amusement of both myself and those still perched on its wooden beams. I grabbed the nearest slit and began to climb; quickly discovering my left leg was near useless in the act. A pair of hands reached down and pulled me swiftly up so we could have a closer look at my ankle. It was a little bloody but still not too bad so I grabbed a pair of sandals and headed back to the main house to find the medic.

It was on this short walk back that the pain started to spread from the wound itself to most of my leg, slowly creeping its way up my shin towards my thigh, still it was bearable and I continued on my way. Eventually upon reaching the hut, I called out to the medic and she rushed over, quickly cleaning and assessing the wound up until the point I announced my ears were ringing and I felt as if I was going to throw up. I’d turned a ghostly white and looked thoroughly unwell, immediately the villagers started to gather round, quickly explaining in the sand that this was in fact not a crab but a sting ray wound. Almost instantly the woman of the house emerged from upstairs, a determined look on her face as she pushed her way through the crowd towards me, it was with this defiant manner that she promptly knelt down before me and, to the surprise of both myself and the medic, clasped my foot firmly in both hands and began sucking the venom out of my still bleeding ankle. This strange scene only lasted a few seconds, ending as quickly as it had started but still more than memorable, the medic quickly re-cleaning the wound and adding a stitch just in case.

The following days became a bit of a blur, spending all of my waking hours on ceiling tours of Indonesian houses. However this did give me the chance to make friends with the families hosting me in a way that I would have never otherwise got to experience, due to the need to depend on them almost entirely. I however did suffer a bad case of cellulitis that spread up my leg to just below the knee, ending with me in a hotel room somewhere in Babau. A room with seemingly no real windows and only one power outlet, into which the TV was plugged, of course showing only Indonesian soaps and outdated American action films. This eventually passed and to my delight I was shipped off to the Hoga marine site, something I was never previously going to be able to experience but coincidently where over half of my original team had left for just the day after my stingray incident.

I arrived in style, carried ashore by a dive instructor due to the still very much open wound, only to be greeted by much of the original group. With much enthusiasm I was shown around the dive site, my name quickly being changed to Ray on the dive board and all before I was thrown into yet more lectures, this time on the marine species of the area. Once again I absorbed as much as I could, only pausing to lie on the ground in the open-air lecture hall to elevate my leg and avoid more swelling. Unable to experience the species first hand, I instead wrangled my way into helping out where I could in the wet labs, counting zooxanthellae down a microscope for a PhD student and analyzing dive videos for nudibranch behavior. It was for this latter endeavor that I was granted the honorary title of shore technician in nudibranch gathering, or S.T.I.N.G for short, allowing those unfamiliar to my story to be introduced to me with the phrase “this is our S.T.I.N.G, Ray”. Once again I’d managed to somehow get even more than I’d bargained for, stung by a stingray on a four week terrestrial based expedition, only to find myself taking the PADI theory exam whilst learning about marine surveying techniques and lion fish invasions on a paradise island.

Sadly the trip did eventually have to come to an end, but the insights, knowledge and friends I gained along the way have impacted both my day-to-day life as well as my academic studies immensely. This trip gave me an opportunity to challenge myself physically, mentally and more importantly just try something new. I now have a large repertoire of skills and experiences I find myself constantly drawing from, be it studying ecological surveying techniques during lectures or even just travelling south east Asia in the weeks following the expedition. This trip, although at some points largely proving more a test of resilience, was undoubtedly the best and even arguably the most important time of my life to date. It has provided me with friends and experiences I will keep for the rest of my life and I am extremely grateful that the opportunity was given to me, as well as the fact that I was in the right place to seize and make the most of it.

Sydney Henderson: Newcastle University

I did not think that my trip to Indonesia this summer would have as much of an impact on my life as it did. I understood that I would be collecting data for my dissertation research project, but this was only the tip of the iceberg of what I was to gain from Opwall. Yes, I collected data for my dissertation, but I also was given expert one-on-one support from Wayne Bennet, my personal supervisor, on what to do with my data and the wider implications and history of my chosen topics. I was given support and encouragement in the management and adaptations of my self-led project.

Not only did I collect data in a much more contextual manner than I had expected, but I was also able to make a good start on my dissertation write up, which was incredibly beneficial.  Having to present my findings at the end of my trip in the style of a scientific conference, gave me practice in public speaking, and I found that talking through my research, allowed me to see it in a new way and notice things I hadn’t before.  Furthermore, getting the chance to talk in a relaxed environment, to scientists at the top of their field, and see first hand their own research, was so inspiring and gave me so many ideas of future careers and the life of a research scientist.

Something I did not expect to gain from my trip was the connections and friendships I built with both the staff and other students.  Spending time on the magical island of Hoga was incredible in itself, but being surrounded by like-minded people was the cherry on top. I made some friends for life, and have already been to visit some of them at university. We shared an amazing experience together and that will bond us all for many years to come.  A further unexpected experience of my expedition was the chance to assist fellow students with their dissertation research collection, meaning I also was able to gain key experience in data collection whilst diving, and the proper use of transects and quadrats underwater.

I feel especially grateful to Opwall right now, with the beginning of third year being filled with the stress of dissertation prep and planning, I could not be more grateful to the staff at Opwall who helped me make an early start to my research project.

My time in Indonesia was intense to say the least; intense work, but also intensely magical. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to go on this expedition, something that will shape my future career. I would like to thank the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for allowing me to have the best possible summer imaginable, with not only amazing memories to show for it, but also a top quality dissertation and an amazing start to my career as a marine biologist.

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