Murray Foundation School Award

  • The Murray Foundation is a UK registered Charity (No. 1162333) established to support young people participating in projects which advance education and develop an understanding of environmental processes. In line with this objective, the Murray Foundation has joined forces with Operation Wallacea to create the Murray Foundation School Award – five awards of £1000 are available for five UK schools heading out to any Opwall expedition site in the Summer of 2019!

    As with all grants, applicants must be able to meet certain criteria. In this case, we want you to tell us about your fundraising efforts – how have you worked together as a group to promote and raise money for your expedition? Your applications should be as creative and as colourful as possible, so please keep this in mind when holding any fundraising events; take lots of pictures and keep copies of any promotional materials to use in your application and make it stand out from the crowd! These are group awards – only one application per school can be successful and funds will be provided to the expedition leader.

    Applications for the 2019 Award are now open. Application forms can be downloaded via the link below, so be sure to print a copy, take it along to your next group fundraising meeting and get planning! Applications should be submitted to no later than 5pm on Friday 1st February, and supporting documents sent via the file sharing website Good luck!

    *Please note that all submitted materials may be used to advise future volunteers in the form of case study documents, presentations and social media posts. In addition, all successful groups will be expected to provide a short report upon their return from expedition.

    Download your group application form here!

Murray Foundation 2018 Recipients

  • 2018 was our second year working with the Murray Foundation and running this Award. It was hugely successful and enhanced the expedition experience of five of our wonderful UK school groups – Allestree Woodlands SchoolBoston College, Dulwich College, Hyndland Secondary School and King Edward VI School. Post-expedition, each group was asked to write a short report and share their experiences with us:

Allestree Woodlands School - Croatia 2018

The trip was made up of two separate sites; the first week was in the land-based National Park, Krka and the second week was at the marine National park on the island of Miljet. Both weeks had their challenges and were enjoyable in different ways! We were paired up with a second school who had brought five students and one of the enjoyable things about the second week was that we all had more simultaneous free time to get to know them all better.

During the first week we were split into five small groups and each group rotated between different activities. One day was spent doing fish surveys followed by fish dissections, one day doing bird and then bat surveys involving using mist nets, one day involved herpetology walks to find or replace reptiles and amphibians, one day was focussed on a cave survey and lab work to identify species and one day was focussed on large mammal surveys. Every day included morning, afternoon and evening activities with whole group lectures around lunch and dinner time. Timings for the different surveys were varied as it depended on the needs of that survey; because the data we were collecting was real data this had to be the same each day! When that meant being ready to go on survey at 4am and then staying up until midnight it involved lots of strategic naps! We all saw some field survey techniques that were new to us and the scientists were all very friendly and happy to talk about their work and the paths they had taken to get into those roles. Some group highlights include going on some very long walks to find a wolf den that involved using a machete to get through juniper bushes, finding wild tortoises, learning how to set nets for fish surveys, the mist-netting for bats and birds (a favourite for all groups as we saw a lot of creatures up close that we would never normally see) and going into the cave complexes, of which we learnt there were many in that area of Croatia. We also got to go on a long boat trip and walk to the beautiful waterfalls in the more touristic part of the park at the end of the week. We were still on duty and were trying to take as many pictures as possible; this led us to getting some great photos of a rare sub-species of snake in one of the crystal-clear pools in between finding ice-cream.

The social side was also a real highlight for many from the group, as a number of students had never really spent much time with those outside of their own year group before. We had various activities that were run to get staff and students to interact; the most enjoyable being the ‘ninja game’ which involved a challenge to pass a randomly selected item to a randomly selected person during the week (which meant they were then out of the game). The karaoke on the final night provided much laughter as well as the staff team outperformed the students by a long way (the videos are too blurry to send but it involved broomsticks for microphones).

In the second week the physical nature of the expedition changed a lot as hours of walking each day turned into hours of swimming and diving. There were no 4am starts (thankfully) and most groups had their free time all together, so students got to spend time polishing up their card games skills and getting to know those from the other school as well. Most students took the diving option but we had a few who chose to snorkel as they were not as confident underwater. This was added to by a few who struggled to pressurise and therefore could unfortunately not complete their PADI. They did really enjoy the free-diving in particular so no-one felt that they did not enjoy the week and everyone got to see a wide variety of wildlife. The students who had completed the referral course got to join in with the scientists on a number of days with measuring ‘Pina Noblis’ – giant Pen Shells – in the small marine lake nearby. This location may have the greatest density of the shells in the world so what we were doing was really vital. It was also really hard to do as it involved hovering underwater, upside down whilst having a ruler in one hand, a slate and pencil in the other and measuring the shells without kicking them or kicking up silt! We also learnt how to do Posidonia (sea-grass) surveys and did some beach and ocean clean-ups. The shocking thing was how much plastic litter there was in even this area!

During our time in Croatia, we all found out a lot more about what endemic species were and how endangered many of them were in the mainland and in the oceans. The number of invasive fish species in particular was astonishing and so easily preventable. The lectures and films in the marine week in particular really highlighted how bad the ‘plastic plight’ is as we had expected that a national part on a fairly remote island would be fine. We were very wrong. The issues with petrochemicals and the bioaccumulation was also something that we did not realise the scale of; even the teachers were surprised at how bad the reality was. Lots of discussions followed regarding what we buy and use; lots of us are making changes to reduce how much disposable plastic we use. Another animated discussion was what people chose to eat; the proportion of vegans and vegetarians was very high amongst research staff and we had a vegan and two vegetarians amongst the students too. When we had lectures about ethical issues regarding the rights of animals, the use of land and global warming levels so the ‘don’t eat as much meat’ was a really interesting debate that has made a number of us much more aware of the impact of what we are eating.

The primary intention of the grant was to cover the cost of transportation from the school to and from the London airports. All of the internal travel in Croatia was included but the initial part was not, since schools would all be coming from different parts of the UK at different times. We also had different initial and final destinations in Croatia and therefore different airports in the UK for our departure and arrival; we flew out of Heathrow and landed at Gatwick. Our school is in Derby so isn’t particularly close to either of these! Many students were working part time jobs to help with funding but with the majority of participants in Y13 and Y11 they needed to ease off this when it came to exam time; not having to worry about covering travel costs really helped them to be able to do this. The coach ended up costing £750 for the return journey leaving us £250 to put towards other expenses. These were namely the personal identification cards (PICs) for the divers; and to the remaining £90 was used to help complete the funding of three Y11 students who had each really struggled; they were all from families where the money was tight and this allowed them to purchase some of the necessary equipment as it went towards wetsuits or walking boots.

We would all like to thank the Murray Foundation for their generous donation which enabled many of our students to access the trip and eased the pressure off at exam time for many others, which was hugely beneficial considering that the majority of participants were in Y13 or Y11. The trip was a life-changing experience for many and this is not an exaggeration; career paths have been altered, personal lifestyle choices have changed, and we have learnt skills that will stay with us for life.

Boston College - South Africa 2018

Our group went to South Africa in July 2018 with the much-needed help and support provided from the Murray Foundation Award.

Our group self-named the South Africa ‘tribe’ are based around Lincolnshire and came together on the Level 3 Animal Management course offered at Boston College. The group comprises of five learners aged 18-26 and our fabulous Animal unit manager – Jackie.  Jackie’s philosophy for the animal unit when it comes to obtaining animals for us to study is to use animals that need rehoming from rescue centres or helping where she can – giving the animal another chance. The animal unit has expanded over the last three years from receiving animals in this way. In 2016, Jackie came to our class with the idea of helping on research projects in South Africa.  Many of us jumped at the chance and got stuck in to fundraising to make it possible.

We did various things to raise the money; we started off by doing Bags to schools – the collection of old clothes for cash.  The whole college got behind us. This was followed by a chocolate event which was also popular. We decided to use the resources we had an offer cubs and brownies to come in to the animal unit for an animal experience for a donation towards the funds to South Africa. This proved really popular. We also organised a raffle and received some lovely donations from local businesses which we raffled at a nearby pub on a karaoke night. Some of us did car boots sales, others took on additional part time work to help pay our way. Two of us used some inheritance money to get close to our goal.

We had a meeting with the college resource manager who looked into various grants and Jackie received information from Operation Wallacea for applying for the Murray Foundation Award. The five of us put together a presentation and forgot about it. We were really struggling to get the monies together in the last weeks. But we hadn’t even thought about our equipment that we would require. There was a very real possibility that we were not going to reach our target, not only would we be unable to go to South Africa but we would lose so much money that we already paid in. Some of our group did pull out with the worry and stress of getting the money on top of all our animal exams too. We were quite down beat when we received the news of being awarded the grant from the Murray Foundation. We were ecstatic! There was disbelief then the excitement kicked in, this is real it is going to happen. That grant was such a massive help! In the end with a lot of bumps on the way we reached our target and it was like a breath of fresh air, it was an amazing feeling that our little group had done it and we were going to South Africa in a couple of months.

In the few weeks leading up to us leaving for South Africa it was a race against time to get all our equipment ready and packed. Jackie called various frequent meetings and we sat and discussed equipment and who was going to bring what, what we needed, inoculations etc and had some fun learning bird song and bird identification… we all found that really hard but we did have a lot of fun being tested on it. We ordered all the same T shits, and broke in our walking boots…

Finally, the day was here!

We all met at the college with our suitcases so we could have some photos taken for marketing and for the college to show off what we had achieved. We got into the taxi and were off to Heathrow Airport. It was Chloe’s first time flying and she was overwhelmed with nerves, scared but so excited. After an 11 hour flight we landed in Johannesburg and I can’t tell you how amazing everything was, it was so colourful, vibrant and beautiful. At the airport we met the other two groups we would be living with for the next two weeks. One group was from Spain and the other was from Brazil and they were all very welcoming and just as excited as us. We all got on a coach and were on our way to the first camp. About an hour before we got to the first camp we changed vehicles to open top trucks and this is where we met our teachers for the week. We went through Kruger national park in the open top trucks and then into Balule nature reserve into the campsite, on our way we saw out first African animals! Impala, giraffes and zebras! We all had our cameras out and we couldn’t believe how lucky were to see these animals in their natural habitat. When we got to camp we were shown to our dorms and had a welcome dinner which was very nice, we were also given our schedule for the week which was comprised of many surveys on the animals and plants and also some lectures. Lastly, we were given a health and safety talk and we were finally allowed to go to bed!

Our first real day in South Africa was incredible, the sights we saw, the animals we encountered and the things we learnt was just crazy! Every day at Balule was different and interesting, we learnt so many skills and made so many memories it honestly was the best week of our lives. From day one at the Sturwig reserve we had early morning lectures and some bush action helping take part in bird counts and vegetation surveys. The best part of the whole trip was the surroundings, the people, the noises and the scenery. It was breath taking at times, hearing and seeing all the amazing animals you only got to see on TV. The best part was seeing our first animal, wild animal, in the bush and this was just amazing. Seeing zebras and giraffe was something we never thought we would see with our own eyes in the wild. The highlight was seeing our first sightings of elephants. From spotting a few in the bush to having a herd of 26 just the other side of the river from where we were staying.

We really didn’t want to leave but we had another fun packed week ahead of us.

So we left Balule at 4.30 in the morning to go to our new home for the remainder of the trip. Our travels to Sodwana Bay took 13 hours on the coach which was OK considering most of us slept almost the whole way. When we arrived, we had a welcome dinner again which was really nice and we were shown to our tents and had a welcome talk to put us into groups before we were allowed to bed.

The second week of the South Africa adventure took us to Sodwana bay. The first day was challenging to say the least, we were driven to a scuba diving centre where we had to learn and take a test as well as do five pool dives before we were allowed into the open ocean. This was spread over 3 days which made it easier, but for some of us the pool lessons were overwhelming, and we struggled at first breathing under the water and carrying out the vital skills. However, after overcoming our fears we flew through the rest and was in Open Ocean before we knew it! During the middle part of the week we got our first views of the beach and where we would be diving. It was an amazing sight. The long sandy beaches and the occasional tail splash from a whale out on the horizon, incredible! All our scuba gear was set out for us and we were on a rotation so one group went out and another came in, it was really well organised. While we waited to go for our first ocean dives we went to the cafe on the beach and officially got addicted to blueberry or vanilla milkshakes with calamari and chips! Joined with a view of the see, beautiful! We had to do five ocean dives in total where we had to repeat the skills we learnt in the pool. Highlights for the second week was falling backwards of the boat and starting our first sea dive. Seeing all the amazing wildlife at the bottom of the sea was stunning. Getting to see all different types of fish we didn’t even knew existed.

When it was time to leave we were so sad, and on the coach back we were all reminiscing about our amazing adventure and how we never wanted to leave. When we got back to England we were all so sad that the two weeks we had been looking forward to for two years was actually over. So, we made a deal that we would go back to South Africa again as a group and do it all again! We all thoroughly enjoyed South Africa and for all of us it was a life changing experience, we would absolutely go back again and if it wasn’t for the grant money from the Murray foundation that gave us that last final push we don’t think the trip would have even gone ahead. So, from the South Africa tribe of Boston College, thank you Murray foundation for our grant!

Dulwich College - Ecuador & Galapagos 2018

The Dulwich College team of 23 students and 4 staff were hugely excited to go to Ecuador and Galapagos this summer, especially having heard about the previous two Opwall trips that the school had done. As the Galapagos is any expensive destination we had worked hard with our fundraising – cake sales, Christmas Fairs, Pimms Tents and even face painting. We were hugely grateful for the Murray Foundation Award as we did struggle to meet our goals but luckily, we had a very successful final fundraising event which included selling plants at our Founders Day celebrations. The Murray Foundation Award was spent on T-shirts for all the members of the group and also a very welcome slap up meal for after we came out of the rainforest. When asking my peers about the trip, Will M voiced the common opinion that “the trip was an incredible experience, giving us a chance to see two of the most unique and diverse places on earth”. Huge thanks to the Murray Foundation to help make it possible for us all.

The 2018 trip began at Heathrow airport. The journey to Ecuador involved two flights overnight, and our arrival in Quito was met with much relief, however this was only the start of the journey. The following day we enjoyed a six-hour stunning bus journey over the mountains and through the cloud forest. This was the first indication of the natural beauty of the landscape we would be surrounding ourselves in for the following week. Having arrived in Coca, we boarded a speed boat that would take us for two hours down a major tributary to the Amazon, the Napo River. As the speedboats departed and I looked back at the rapidly-receding city I realised that this would be my last glance at civilisation for a week. During the last leg of the journey – a two-hour canoe ride – we experienced our first taste of jungle weather, with a Biblical downpour that quickly soaked everyone and everything. It was then we learned that the area had experienced it’s heaviest ever week of rainfall and our adventures began with a walk through the rainforest to the camp on a boardwalk that was at least a foot underwater. Luckily it was only one of our teachers, Dr Cue, who managed to get drenched by falling off the side of the underwater boardwalk.

When not working out how to dry our feet and clothes, the rest of our time in the Amazon was spent assisting various scientist with their data gathering. We split into four groups, each with a rotating daily routine, with some early starts for bird watching from a Ceiba tree tower 50 metres above the ground, or tracking mammals along trails lined with camera traps, as howler monkeys and rare woolly monkeys raced through the canopy above you. As Seb L said though it was “definitely worth getting up and going to the canopy tower to be surrounded by all those birds and monkeys”. A highlight for many of the students was watching some of the camera trap footage that was collected with Sean – seeing jaguar on the trails that we had just walked was incredible.

One of the group’s favourite activities was wielding makeshift butterfly nets made from mosquito netting to great effect, catching butterflies of dazzling colour, using various guides to ID them, and then pin them in an effort to create the first complete guide to the Butterfly populations of the area. There were also some fabulous herp collections…. One evening, having arrived back to camp after a tiring survey, Sophia, the camp leader, ran with two guides out of the camp with a snake pole and a large bucket returning with a 3 metre long giant bird snake in the bucket. For many of us this was our first encounter with an Amazon snake, and upon Ollie’s return from a survey we were able to see it properly. We were amazed with the composure with which Ollie handled the snake which repeatedly struck at him, it was the first of many encounters with the wildlife of the jungle. For many, including Harry M, “it was the opportunity to explore biodiverse and unique habitats with the help of knowledgeable and interested staff that made the Amazon so special.” Caiman ‘hunting’ as an evening herp activity was hugely popular and again the skill and knowledge of the guides and Ollie was awe-inspiring.

Some other encounters though were slightly less welcome; one of the biggest concerns shared by some in the group, (including one of our own teachers), were the notorious jungle spiders, including the tarantulas and the more dangerous wandering spiders. On the third night a group of us were returning to out platform that housed our tent underneath a thatched roof, when a stray headlight torch revealed a large, hairy tarantula above our tent, my own worst fear. In an effort to overcome some of my fear, he was affectionately entitled ‘Terry the Tarantula’. The Opwall staff were great at allaying our fears though and as Olly F says “not only did I find the guides resourceful, but I felt that they provided a homely warmth to each and every one of us. This allowed me to fully enjoy the environment that surrounded me as I felt so welcomed and prepared”. It was so reassuring having the lovely medic Clare with us in the camp to moan about any of our aches and pains. However, it was only our camp leader Sophia that actually had any unpleasant encounter during the week as she was bitten by a bullet ant, ow!

Our time in the Amazon was not only spent observing the incredibly vast array of wildlife, but learning about the local populations, particularly the Sani tribe, whose existence is a testament to the ability of local people and conservationists to push against oil companies who seek to ruin their lands. One day was spent by all students visiting the community and helping them by planting a medicine garden. It was an extremely enriching experience and for many it was an eye opener into our advantages. As James L comments, the trip was “an incredible opportunity to work with local people and scientists to help with their research in an effort to preserve the Amazon”. Our time in the Amazon grew to an end with a bittersweet mix of sadness, at leaving the scientists and jungle we’d grown to love, with excitement and apprehension for the next stop in our journey, the Galapagos.

The plane’s descent into the Galapagos airport offered an aerial view of the tiny islands that appeared seemingly from nowhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As we disembarked the plane we were greeted with an arid, rocky environment, quite the juxtaposition to the wet, humid and luscious rainforest we had just come from. But as we moved towards the first location for our time in the Galapagos we noticed how quickly the environment changes with a few hundred metres of elevation. We moved from the desert like conditions of the airport, exquisite beaches, through grasslands until we reached a more familiar wet highlands environment, which is where we would be camping again for the first half of the week. We were to hear more about his zonation as the week progressed.

For many the Galapagos offered the most exciting activity of the trip, snorkelling and scuba diving. For those of us who were qualified we were able to partake in two amazing dives. For myself, these dives were my first outside the UK and I was incredibly excited for the opportunity to see more than a cold Windsor quarry. We weren’t disappointed as on our first dive we were hit by the amount of fish, and other impressive marine life such as white and black tipped sharks, hammer head sharks and a school of spotted eagle rays. The second dive was an equally exciting prospect, we were told beforehand it was a frequently visited ‘cleaning station’ for green sea turtles and more white-tipped sharks, a place which they could have their bodies cleaned of parasites by smaller fish. The biodiversity of the reef was astounding, the graceful silhouettes of the turtles that swam around us, and we were lucky enough to experience several up-close encounters with them. James was just one of many that “particularly enjoyed the various dives we did in the Galapagos and the opportunity to explore pristine marine life” and this included the chance to snorkel with sea lions. We felt somewhat clumsy in the water as a multitude of sea lions nimbly played around us, but it really was an experience that none of us will ever forget. The lectures in the Galapagos gave us more insight into the history of the islands and an explanation into their astounding biodiversity and high levels of endemic species. These lectures were paired with group outings to places such as the Darwin centre and the lava tunnels of the island to further enrich our experience and learning. The amount we learnt during our two weeks is what makes an Opwall trip fairly unique and as Olly comments “what stood out for me about this trip was not only the unique areas we went to, but the knowledge I gained”.

Our journey home brought with it the prospects of a real bed, home food, and of course most importantly for 23 teenage boys, mobile reception. We arrived back in Heathrow, after 2 weeks away, tired and considerably dirtier but having had the most incredible experience.

Hyndland secondary School - Ecuador & Galapagos 2018

On Sunday 17th June 2018, 19 young people and 4 staff set off from Hyndland Secondary School in Glasgow to Ecuador & Galapagos. Two days later, after 3 flights, several hours on a bus over the Andes, a speed boat along the Napo River and canoeing deep into the Amazon Rainforest, the Hyndland Expedition Team arrived in camp.

This was however only the final 2 days of what had been a journey of almost 2 years preparation and fundraising to get the team to South America. On top of individual fundraising efforts which included some members of the team climbing Ben Nevis, fashion sales and online crowdfunding, our overall group fundraising efforts took place as part of our Spero Meliora Campaign which we ran within our school to raise funds for our trip and also to purchase a school minibus amongst other things. We ran events such as a Quiz Night including a special ‘Beat the Pundit’ round with Scottish Football Pundit Hugh Keevins, as well as bag packing at Sainsburys and a series of inspirational evening lectures. We ran 3 lectures in the run up to the expedition with guest speakers including Eilidh Doyle (Scotland’s most decorated athlete and captain of the British Athletics Team), Mark Beaumont (World Record Cyclist who had just finished cycling around the world in 78 days!) and Doug Allan (Sir David Attenborough’s principal cameraman). These lectures not only helped raise funds, but they allowed us the opportunity to inspire our school community and promote our school motto which stands for ‘I hope for better things’. Each speaker shared stories of success, endurance, ambition and determination and how they hoped for better things. These messages tied in well with our expedition in terms of the skills we would need to cope while away and also with the important research that the OPWALL scientists carry out to help conserve the special places we would be visiting. We also produced a school calendar and had a number of bake sales within school as well as hosting an Easter Fair where we were joined by Bonnie the Seal, the mascot for the 2018 European Championships!

Our application for the Murray Foundation Grant, took the shape of a 15 minute video presentation which included members of our team interviewing some of the guest speakers from our evening lectures. We were absolutely delighted when we heard that the Murray Foundation had awarded us £1000 wish that we had had the chance to thank them in person for the generous assistance. Our fundraising and the Murray Foundation Grant allowed us to not only cover our expedition and travel costs but also allowed us to get long sleeved expedition shirts and hats, as well as arrange an additional day trip to visit Mitad Del Mundo so we could stand on the Equator!

After this 2 year journey, we had already learned a huge amount about ourselves, what we were capable of and bonded as a team and on Tuesday 19th June 2018 as we paddled into the Sani Reserve, listening to the roars of Howler monkeys and catching our first glance of a Capuchan monkey we realised that it had all been worth it. Walking into the idylic camp which we would call home for the first week was incredibly exciting, and although some of us were initially a little anxious about sharing our platforms with spiders we immediately began to feel more relaxed as we met the team of scientists and local Sani guides over a delicious meal of soup followed by beef stew and rice. That first night, although exhausted from the journey, many of us lay in our tents mesmerised by the sound of the jungle orchestra all around us. We had made it!

We split into 4 groups and rotated around a variety of activities, working with scientists to collect data over the course of our expedition. The passion of the scientists was infectious and as we were on different groups, we would spend the evenings playing cards and sharing stories about what we had seen during the day. On Wednesday 20th June, Sean McHugh, one of the OPWALL scientists who was using camera traps to study mammals took one group out to collect data cards and in the afternoon as the group were looking at what the cameras had seen there was a sudden shriek of excitement from Sean. One of the camera traps had captured footage of a group of Bushdogs, a species which he was desperate to study and one which there is very limited footage. It was an incredible honour for us all to share this experience with him and to gain such an understanding as to the importance of such discoveries for both Sean as a scientist and for the general field.

The birding groups got the opportunity to see a number of tropical bird species up close by using mist nets and also had the opportunity to go up the Sani Tower to the top of the canopy. The tower is 35m high and accessed by a metal stair case which as you climb higher starts to sway slightly! The wooden platform at the top offers some incredible views over the forest and each group who had the chance to go up either at day or at night had different stories to share. One group met some local Ecuadorian students who shared stories and even ended up sharing a rather surreal experience of singing Taylor Swift and Amy Winehouse as they discussed the similarities and differences of their own cultures! Another group witnessed the distressing sight of a large oil fire in the distance from another part of the forest where the local indigenous people had sold out to oil companies. This just further highlighted the importance of the work being done by both OPWALL and the Sani Community to protect this incredible habitat.

Ollie Thomas, the herpetologist took groups out by both day and night collecting data. One evening a group had the excitement of capturing a little baby spectacled caiman (Caiman Crocodilus) and taking various measurements before releasing it back into the lagoon. Searching for caiman at night by headtorch was quite exhilarating, especially when their eyes reflected the light when you spotted one! We also saw a variety of snakes and frogs! Eodin O’Mahony, was a conservation biologist who took us out doing vegetation surveys and was really nice. She helped teach us how to use the equipment and allowed us to survey various plots as she collected data. She gave a really interesting lecture, as did the other scientists, and was always happy to answer questions and just chat.

On the final day we trekked to the community where we met the local Sani people who live in the rainforest and learned about the struggles they face with modern day issues such as oil drilling as well as preparing and eating the local cuisine. We met family of Bill and Horhay who had been with us throughout the week and took part in a football match against the locals. It was sad to say goodbye to the team, and we made our way back to Quito with our new friend Freddy, the OPWALL country manager, with an essential stop for Empanadas at the top of the Andes. Freddy was a constant source of fun and reassurance throughout our first week in the jungle and we were sorry that he wasn’t able to join us for the second half of our expedition.

The second week of the expedition was spent in the magnificent Galápagos Islands where the majority of the week was spent in the highlands which turned out to have very similar weather to Scotland which was unexpected. However, when we returned to sea level it was sunny and hot which made snorkelling that much better as we saw many schools of fish, Galapagos sharks and even turtles just beneath us which was extraordinary. One of the first highlights in the Galapagos was visiting the Charles Darwin Research Centre where we were able to see a variety of different tortoise species and get an immediate understanding of various aspects of life in the Galapagos. That evening we all got together with our sleeping bags and some snacks and watched David Attenborough’s Galapagos Documentary on a projector sitting on the roof of the building where we ate our meals.

Some of our group had the incredible opportunity to go diving while others had an extra snorkelling session. As this was the first time anyone in the group had tried diving it was really quite special and everyone agreed that they would want to do it again. Both divers and snorkelers got very close to the corral getting extremely close to the sharks and even swam with Sea Lions and turtles!! Over the week we were able to explore the island and learned a lot about the flora, fauna and geology of Galapagos. We trekked through the Bellavista Lava Tunnel (the second largest in South America) and spent time on the most beautiful and secluded beaches which were swarming with iguanas who called this extraordinary place their home.

This was our schools’ first OPWALL experience, and we all feel immensely lucky and proud to have had this chance. Without the help of our teachers, our families, the Murray Foundation and all who helped us throughout our journey before and during the expedition itself, none of this would have been possible. We will always be extremely grateful and hope that other young people have the same opportunity to learn in such amazing places. Thank you.

King Edward VI School - Madagascar 2018

Our school, King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, took part in an expedition to Madagascar in the summer of July 2018. Having originally signed up in the summer of 2017, Manon, Lottie and I all knew that we’d have to do very strategic planning in order to raise the funds to enable us to take part in such an adventure of a lifetime. The expedition group was made up of 19 students who were sixth form students so either 17 or 18 years old and 2 teachers.

Our fundraising was very successful and due to the much-needed generosity of others we were able to take part in the expedition. Our fundraising wasn’t plentiful due to our desire to make the events we did put on to be as much of a unique experience as we could and therefore attract the most attention. We began with a bake sale within school, we found that to hold an event such as this within school gave us the greatest opportunity to sell enough to raise as many funds as we could. The bake sale raised a very good figure and encouraged us to hold a larger seasonal event at Christmas. This event was a quiz night and this, even though required lots of hard work and planning to organise the quiz itself, hold another bake sale simultaneously to the quiz night and to visit local shops and organisations to gather prizes for the raffle also, was a success once again and made another impressive total for us to be able to put towards our expedition. Our fundraising efforts allowed us to believe that we could hold a strong application to receive an additional grant from the Murray Foundation.

Preparing for the expedition required quite a lot of time to be able to purchase everything that we needed. The kit list was used a lot! The money gathered from the Murray Foundations’ grant was used, personally, just to buy the kit as I had never been on a trip such as this from Operation Wallacea and I knew that getting the right kit was as important as raising the money. We met with our expedition group frequently in order to bond more as a group as we were aware of how close we’d become over the 19 days of being in Madagascar as many of us didn’t know each other beforehand. We would like to thank the Murray Foundation especially as the £1000 grant which they very kindly gave to us enabled us to take part in the expedition and create memories from such a beautiful country which we can cherish and look back on as an experience of a lifetime. The trip in itself taught us to be more independent as we travelled, for most of us, for the first time without our families.

Once we arrived at our base camp in Mariarano our group made the trek to one of the two satellite camps in Matsedroy. Staying for three nights we shared in tents of two. Here we got our first taste of working with research scientists, helping them collect well needed data. Our first survey was spiders! We were given little tubes and told simply – catch them! It was pitch black and around 9pm so searching for the eye glare of spiders with a head torch was hard at first but we all got the hand of it by the end. Of course, it was also nerve-racking at first, especially when we saw size of the spiders the local guides were catching. However, knowing that we had a 50% chance of catching a new species of spider was mind-blowing. To be able to know that you could be the discoverer of new species made all of the travelling and sleeping in a tent worth it. Also, we were told about a highly endangered specifies of spider called the Ghost spider. One of the researchers was even staying behind after Wallacea had pack up because it was believed that on one side of a nearby lake in Matsedroy was the last place in the world they existed – we saw two. It is experiences like this that you cannot get anywhere else.

More surveys in Matsedroy followed, that included counting and identifying animals such as, frogs, birds (many native to only Madagascar), herps, butterflies and my favourite, lemurs. We were really lucky to see 15 lemurs in total on just a three-hour trek. We saw 4 brown lemurs and 11 Sifaka lemurs. We were privileged to be able to walk underneath and around their territories getting unimaginably close to them. After spotting our first lemur I realised how fortuitous it was being able to watch live animals in their wild habitats. This feeling is not something that can be replicated in a zoo. This was not the only time we saw them as well. When arriving back at base camp in Mariarano, we were greeted by lemurs jumping around the tree above our tents. An almost surreal experience to see wild lemurs meters away from us.

Now back at base camp we were also able to visit the local school. A humbling morning where we were able to play and sing with the local children. Our school had brought books and schools equipment that would be handed out my Wallacea at the end of the six weeks to ensure it was split evenly amongst the local schools. Playing duck, duck, goose with the children was a highlight of the whole trip for me and something I will remember for a lifetime.

At the beginning of our second week, we travelled to the port of Ankify in the north of Madagascar and boarded the ferry to Nosy Be. Only a short drive from Hell-ville, we reached our destination. The marine site was so welcoming, for the first time in a week, we had flushing toilets and running water! It was a really social environment and the location was beautiful. We decided to snorkel on our second week of the expedition and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. On our first day we spent the morning learning how to free dive amongst the islands of Nosy Komba. We came back to food (that wasn’t rice and beans!!) and a lunch time lecture with marine expert Masha. We learnt loads of facts about our environment and ways in which we can help it in the future. Following this, we went on our second snorkel of the day to sexy sixty (named due to its diversity of marine life and amazing coral). We learnt how to document the effects of coral bleaching on different forms of coral. For anyone who isn’t too sure about diving, I couldn’t recommend snorkelling enough, we saw so much on each snorkel. In the evening, we had more lectures followed by movies and quizzes. Our second day, we spent snorkelling within the mangroves. It was really interesting to put what we had learnt in our lectures into practice. During our breaks, we spent time sunbathing and walking along the beach in the sun. On our third day we went out in the morning to Nosy Sakatia – a hotspot for green sea turtles. Following a first unsuccessful dive, our snorkel instructor was determined to find some. After a few minutes of swimming we were fortunate enough to see around 20 different green sea turtles! This was definitely a highlight of our trip. Our last day was even better, we took the boat to the nature reserve of Nosy Tanihely. After an hour of identifying fish we swam into shore and explored the island. We walked up amongst the trees to the lighthouse – the views were amazing. After a while on the island we got back on the boat and snorkelled round the island on our last fun dive. We saw so many hawksbill turtles and so many beautiful species of fish. On our way back, we were fortunate enough to see a pod of dolphins jumping by the boat and saw the most amazing sunset. Our last day couldn’t have been better!

Once again, all three of us would like to thank the Murray Foundation for their generous grant of which allowed us to take part in such an incredible expedition and to experiences things out of our comfort zone alongside working with exceptional scientists to uncover data of which is useful in preserving the biodiversity of such a wonderful country.

Murray Foundation University Award

  • The Murray Foundation is a UK registered Charity (No. 1162333) established to support young people participating in projects which advance education and develop an understanding of environmental processes. After two consecutive years working alongside Operation Wallacea and supporting school groups on Opwall expeditions, the Murray Foundation have generously provided a further £5000 in funding to support UK and European students completing an undergraduate dissertation or masters thesis in 2019. Ten awards of £500 are available.

    To be eligible for this award you must be a resident of any European country (including UK and Ireland), enrolled in any UK or European university and booked on to an Operation Wallacea dissertation project in 2019. This award is not available for research assistants.

    Please email your completed application to The text of your email should include your name, contact information and the name of your university. Alongside this email, please include the following 3 attachments:

    • Full CV outlining academic achievements to date, employment history and future aspirations
    • An academic reference, preferably from your university dissertation supervisor
    • A short article outlining the details of your proposed dissertation project, why you have chosen this area of research and how it will advance the field of science (max 600 words)

    Applications for the Murray Foundation University Award are now open. The deadline to submit the above documents is by midnight on Sunday 10th March 2019.

    Please note that applications will only be considered where students have submitted a full research proposal, on time, to their Operation Wallacea supervisor. Candidates will be shortlisted based on their applications, and full research proposals submitted to the Murray Foundation for their final decision. Successful applicants will then be asked to submit their completed dissertations to the Murray Foundation after they have been accredited, and provide a blog and photographs highlighting their research to Operation Wallacea.

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 2019. 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; you must demonstrate that you have made the effort to fundraise a significant proportion of your expedition costs already.

    After raising a minimum of £500, 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 2019 are now open. To apply, please complete our online application form by midnight on Monday 15th April 2019 via the link below, and send your supporting documents to via the file sharing website

    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. In addition, successful applicants will be expected to provide a short blog outlining their expedition experience on return to the UK or Ireland.

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 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 UK 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 more than 20 research sites across 13 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 any students enrolled at a UK university and booked on to a 2019 expedition to Indonesia as a research assistant or dissertation student.

  • 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 2019 project.

How to Apply

  • Please email your completed application to 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 4 following attachments:

    1. Full CV showing academic achievements to date, outdoor activities undertaken and future aspirations
    2. Reference letter 1 – From a current or previous teacher who can attest to your academic abilities
    3. 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
    4. A short essay examining the following two, distinct questions:
      • 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 (max 200 words)
      • How taking part in this expedition will help you to progress in your chosen field (max 400 words)

    Applications for the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant 2019 are now open. The deadline to submit the above documents is by midnight on Monday 25th February 2019.

    Please note that both successful US and UK applicants are required to write a short ‘post-expedition’ article, accompanied by 20 high quality pictures from your expedition. This piece should be no more than two pages, more details will be given upon receiving the grant.

    In addition, all UK winners will be asked to attend an Operation Wallacea Trust meeting in November 2019 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 2019 Corporate Responsibility Report.

Wallace Grant 2018 Recipients

The successful applicants for the 2018 US grant were as follows:

1st place ($1500): Kathryn Vasquez

I first learned about Operation Wallacea through a friend who had gone on an expedition with them to Honduras and had a ton of awesome things to say about her experience. As a result, I was excited when I learned that OpWall was doing a presentation on my school’s campus, so I decided to attend and learn more about their programs. Within a couple of weeks, I decided I wanted to help with surveys in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

To get myself to Peru I spent a lot of time fundraising primarily by selling T-shirts and homemade dog biscuits as well as setting up a GoFundMe page. One of the biggest means by which I fundraised involved designing and selling T-shirts that said “We’re here for the creatures” on the back of them with various animal paw prints around the quote. “We’re here for the creatures” is a saying my coworkers and I have at the emergency veterinary clinic I work at, so I figured I could probably get some of my coworkers and animal-loving friends to buy shirts. I honestly did not expect much from the shirts but was shocked when I relatively quickly sold nearly $500 worth primarily to coworkers of mine. A handful of the shirts were also sold at my veterinary clinic’s annual Pet Fair.

My four weeks spent living in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve were a once in a lifetime experience. Most mornings I woke up at dawn and had the privilege of listening to the roar of the howler monkeys and squawks of the macaws while watching the sunrise over the river as I headed out on morning surveys. Throughout my four week stay I participated in wading bird, macaw, caiman, frog, mammal, butterfly, fishing bat, habitat, mist net, fish, and dolphin surveys.

I truly enjoyed every survey that I got to participate in while in the reserve, but my favorite was probably mist netting. I have always had an interest in birds and to get to see some of Peru’s incredible birds up close was an unforgettable experience. My group even had the luck one morning of catching three lettered aracari, and while we were doing our measurements one of our guides also came across a jaguar who was feeding on a river turtle!

Fishing was also a favorite survey of mine because you never knew what you were going to pull out of the water! One day my group made the unexpected discovery of a stingray in our net as well as a yellow-spotted river turtle! I also couldn’t believe how large and strong some of the piranhas were. On several occasions I either personally had or witnessed a piranha bite through one of our metal hooks while trying to catch them. The armored catfish were among my favorite fish to catch mainly due to their prehistoric appearance.

The transects were also interesting surveys as they allowed us to walk through and experience the rain forest while looking for mammals and game birds. On almost every transect we saw monkeys of some kind, typically Squirrel Monkeys, and on one occasion we saw the highly venomous snake, the Fer-de-lance!

Having the opportunity to explore the Amazon rainforest and assist in so many different surveys is an experience I will never forget. My time with Operation Wallacea has helped instill an already burning passion for wildlife conservation in me and I can’t wait to continue helping with wildlife conservation however I can in my future as a zoo and wildlife veterinarian.

2nd place ($750): Olivia Merritt

Ah, where to begin?  How do I encapsulate a perfect month of wonder, discovery, and science into several hundred words?

I got onto the plane hesitantly, feeling nervous about being thrown in a new place with people I didn’t know and yet who I was bound to make meaningful friendships.  I made it to Cancún and stayed in a beautiful hotel with the rest of the OpWall students.  The next morning, we went to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve on the Yucatán peninsula.  What awaited me was a fairly luxurious camp: platform tents, showers with lights, toilets, and a screened-in building where we all ate.  Granted, the showers were bucket showers, and the toilets were dry compost toilets, but in the middle of a Mexican jungle, I took what I could get.

Every day during the first week we were assigned two or three surveys to go on with a staff member who specializes in the survey type.  There were surveys done on four 2-kilometer transects, and they included mammal tracks, herpetofauna, vegetation sampling, bird and bat mist netting, and butterfly trapping.  I got a taste of each survey that week, and discovered my love for mammal tracking.

Mammal tracking is like detective work: it consists of looking for clues of animal presence.  We would walk the dirt trail carefully, looking at the ground for scuffs, pawprints, or digs.  If there were leaves pressed into the ground, I checked for other indented places around it.  Imagine, this simple survey method is used to determine the roamings of endangered animals like the jaguar and Baird’s tapir!

Catching bats was another survey I especially enjoyed.  I saw in detail many species of bats, from the tiny long-tongued bat who drinks nectar, to the giant false vampire spectral bat who looks like it came straight out of the dinosaur age.  I loved looking at the soft, leathery wings of the bats, the leaf noses that many species have in order to transmit echolocations, the large ears they wiggle discordantly when receiving echolocation.

The first week consisted of lectures that included data OpWall has collected over the years.  They have noticed some disturbing events.  Droughts that have occurred the past three years have resulted in the dramatic decline of herpetofauna, and the movement southward by large mammals.  These mammals have moved from the core area of the reserve to the edges, where they are at high risk of hunting.  These lectures proved interesting and thought-provoking, and put into perspective the critical work that I was able to help with.  My career goal is simple: to have as much of a positive impact as I can on the environment and biodiversity.  I felt I was greatly contributing to my goal with Operation Wallacea in Mexico, especially in terms of conservation.

The final week in Mexico was at Akumal Bay.  I spent five days learning to scuba dive, and was time and time again astounded at the complexity and beauty of the coral reefs.  I saw sea turtles every day, gracefully gliding over the coral, nibbling at algae and sea grasses.  I gazed at a tiny jellyfish, lobsters, brightly colored parrot fish, a stoic pufferfish surveying its domain.  Looking up at the blue ripples of ocean, watching my breaths materialize into myriad bubbles, was the most wonderful part of my trip.

Overall, I believe I grew into a more well-rounded biologist on this trip.  I met wonderful people who I remain friends with, and several who I hope to work with in the future.  I left for home with a renewed sense of purpose, a newfound love for scuba diving and mammal tracking, and unforgettable memories of OpWall Mexico.

3rd place ($500): Kayleigh Svensson

Far from the familiar shores of Sweden or Palo Alto, California, I spent a month of my summer in the Nirwana Buton Villa in Bau-Bau, Indonesia. While there, I got my advanced (PADI) scuba license and worked with three others as a research assistant for Alejandro Usobiaga (Uso) and Samantha Sherman (Samm), both research students from James Cook University, Australia.

Uso is in his fifth year of monitoring several marine sites around Bau-Bau. Along with my dive certification, to be eligible to collect data for Uso, the other RAs and I memorized the binomial names of every coral, invertebrate, fish species in and around Southwest Sulawesi. Once we passed the identification exam, we learned the appropriate Reef Surveying Techniques (RST), such as eye-calibration for estimating fish sizes underwater. Once we were RST qualified we made two monitoring dives a day, collecting data along a 50 meter transect. Species, size and abundance were recorded on slates strapped to underwater cameras. At times, this was an overwhelming task (fish tend to move around quite a bit). During our decompression hours, we compiled and analyzed the collected data.

Samm is a research assistant for the Global Finprint project. With Samm, we learned proper Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) techniques. Six BRUVs (with a bait bag of chopped pilchards) were deployed from our boat at varying depths for about an hour. On land, each video was watched in real time: when an elasmobranch was caught on camera, or fed from the bait bag, its species and sex was identified.

The way I felt upon leaving Indonesia is difficult to describe, but I will try to do my feelings justice. First and foremost, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Several aspects of my life that just a month ago were so commonplace to me now feel like luxuries. It sounds cliché, but I really do see the world with new eyes after living so simply. When I came home to Palo Alto, I looked around my room at the arrant amount of things I have, simply because I had, at one point in my life, convinced myself that I could not live without them. But, do I really need four pairs of Converse sneakers, or a drawer filled with jewelry, when I’ve worn the same earrings for the past two years? After having lived in inner city New York for elementary school — with over half the student body “at risk” — I became aware early in my life that I had been raised in a “Palo Alto Bubble.” I thought that this bubble-realization made me exempt from its effects; yet, if that was true, why did I never realize how ridiculous it is that my neighbor next door has nine sports cars?

Though leaving the bubble was hard, it allowed me to learn from the locals of Bau-Bau that I should be grateful, not only for the things I have, but for how fortunate I am to be able to pursue my love for marine biology — what might become my life-long purpose.

I am forever thankful to have received this grant. Through Opwall, I’ve gained so much field experience, and have met and worked with so many lovely, passionate, and skilled people. I’d like to give special thanks to Mo, the site manager, her husband Iman, the diving coordinator, as well as the fundraising officer, Katie Bell, for their kindness and hard work. I would also like to thank Uso and Samm, who were so inspirational to me.

Before working for them in Bau-Bau, I was unsure of my path as a biology major. It was about halfway through a monitoring dive off Nirwana beach when I felt this insecurity fade away, and this was why: for the first time in my life, I found somewhere I belonged.

3rd place ($500): Madyson Miller

When I first discovered Operation Wallacea, I got together with my travel partner, Alli, and we spent days figuring out how we could produce enough money to one of the most biologically complex and culturally beautiful part of the world, Indonesia. We opened up GoFund Me accounts explaining to the world how this expedition would open a ton of opportunities into our future careers as Marine Biologist. We wrote letters to our families and applied to grant after grant. Thankfully with much help from my University, family, friends, and Operation Wallacea who generously granted me $500, I was able to purchase a two-way plane ticket to the best summer of my life.

Hoga Island is one of the most special places on the planet and holds a very special place in my heart. This was a place where mistakes turn into the best learning curves, where locals welcome you with big hearts and warm smiles, and where you are constantly learning new things about yourself, your future career options, the ocean and how to best conserve the limited resources we have left.

My first week was spent snorkeling and diving the beautiful coral triangle learning different reef survey techniques (RST) and becoming quite skilled in my fish, coral, and invertebrate species identification. After completing my training, my expedition group was ready to take on life as Research Assistants and Dissertation Researchers. My first project was working on the Seagrass Beds and Mangrove Monitoring program. I fell in love with the Mangrove forests during my RST training and wanted to get to see more of them. This project was special to Hoga because it tracks back to a long database so we can observe the health of the seagrasses and mangroves over the years. This was the project that I saw my first ever live Portuguese Man-O-War. This is hands down my favorite memory from Hoga Island. These have quickly became one of my favorite marine organisms even if they can pack a potent sting.

After I was done helping with the seagrass project, I quickly moved onto different types of projects. I worked with coral bommies using fish and coral species identification, looked at how noise pollution affected different species of anemone fish, helped with a project looking at the thermal tolerance of corals living in harsh environments, did collections of clams to feed the butterfly fish in the lab and helped show off the beautiful nightcrawlers (eels, sea cucumbers, sea kraits, polychaete worms, and starfish) during the schools night walks.

While all of my research experiences were great, this trip definitely wouldn’t have been the same without the people on my expedition. Being surrounded by people from all across the world who are all there to learn about what they can do to change and leave a mark on this world has definitely been a once in a lifetime experience. Thank-you Operation Wallacea for giving me the best summer ever.

3rd place ($500): Stavi Tennenbaum

At our survey transect sites located in Kistanje, a small rural village nearby to the national park entrance, our research group, comprised of English, Portuguese, Scottish, Finnish and American uni students conducted daily surveys of birds, fish, mammals, bats, reptiles, amphibians and cave invertebrates! This project partnered amazingly with both the national park itself and BIOTA, a Croatian biodiversity initiative company based out of Zagreb.

We were fortunate enough to be working and learning under the guidance of knowledge Opwall staff and BIOTA employees for the week that we were there. The beautiful freshwater and Karst ecosystems of Dalmatia are home to an extremely diverse variety of endemic organisms, and the yearly surveying project we took part in aims to monitor and describe the biodiversity and local abundances of endemic and invasive species within the park.

For our second week in the field with Opwall, we traveled by ferry to the island of Mljet, the southernmost island in the Adriatic to work on a variety of projects that the national park is in the early stages of making into annual monitoring efforts. Here Opwall partners with Mljet and the Croatian non-profit, non-governmental organization, Marine Explorers Society 20.000 Leagues. Working alongside staff scientists and divemasters on Mljet, we conducted scientific scuba diving surveys of Posidonia oceanica, a threatened seagrass endemic to the Mediterranean that forms a critical habitat for over a third of marine life found in the sea. We used transect and quadrat surveying methods to monitor and record the health of the seagrass, as well as sea urchin species populations.

We built Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS) in the hopes of recording populations of larger pelagic marine life, as well as conducted marine litter monitoring on a beach known as “plastic beach” on the islands. Many conservation issues facing Mljet Island are related top the foreign plastic being washed ashore from other countries bordering the Adriatic, choking marine life and damaging fragile marine and freshwater ecosystems found on the island.

The successful applicants for the 2018 UK grant, each receiving £1000, were as follows:

Adelaide Wickham: University of Newcastle

Three words that spring to mind when describing my expedition: inspiring, stimulating and eye-opening.   The opportunity to spend 6 weeks in an intriguing country, amongst a community of scientists of all ages, with access to scuba diving and a beautiful beach is surely every budding marine biologist’s dream.

Sitting at Heathrow airport alone, with 5 flights ahead of me, I did feel slightly apprehensive. I was keen to meet others and see who I would be living with for 6 weeks. The apprehension soon evaporated as the group came together and with all our shared interests conversation flowed easily.  Being constantly surrounded by people interested in my field of marine biology gave me a chance to think about new academic and employment paths that I had not explored before. I was able to hear about the work of PhD students, listen to Doctors and Professors discuss a variety of issues, and best of all have this vast fund of knowledge and experience available to me at any time.  The access to this huge pool of knowledge and experience was an unexpected bonus of the trip, and I felt extremely privileged to be able to be working alongside such talented scientists.  It was also reassuring to hear their funny stories about what went wrong when they planned projects! You realise that no one’s project runs smoothly all the way through but it always works out in the end!

Planning my own project and collecting data in the field is not something I was hugely familiar with before starting this expedition. Now, I feel much more confident in undertaking this process – an essential skill in many career paths. The ability to think about potential problems, how to combat these and the use of a contingency plan are all things I now know are vital and will carry forward with me from my time on Hoga. Having the experience to work scientifically underwater was not something you often get the opportunity to do.  The diving experience gained at Hoga has opened my eyes to a wealth of possibilities for me, whether in further study or a career as a scientific diver.

Certainly, scuba diving has got to be the highlight of the trip and a skill that I improved on dramatically whilst in Indonesia. Being able to dive twice a day off a stunning tropical island was a unique and magical experience.  Theoretically I was ‘working’ but it certainly didn’t feel like it! It highlighted that in the future you don’t have to be stuck behind a desk if that’s not for you.

At the end of the trip, we had to present our work to the other scientists on the island.   This was nerve racking at first but we were taught lots of good tips on how to make a presentation stand out.  I learned new ways to present a PowerPoint and received invaluable tips in public speaking to keep listeners engaged. I am so grateful to not only have been taught these vital skills but to have had the chance to put them to practical use.   In the immediate future this will be most useful during my university degree, where I need perform oral presentations, but will also be of enormous benefit once I graduate.

I think one of the best things you get from doing a project overseas is learning about the physical, cultural and social differences of another country. The differences in religion, in cuisine and way of life are all fascinating.   It was so special to be able to live in huts amongst the Hogan locals and to get a feel of what life is like for them.  On the surface of it, this was a trip predominantly about marine biology, but it was also so much more than that.  My time living in amongst the Hogan community gave me a greater awareness of different cultures and ways of life, which I feel is an important aspect of working in a field such as marine biology, where so many communities live in close contact with the marine environment and are in many ways reliant on it for their day to day existence.  I began to appreciate even more keenly and at first hand that the preservation of these environments is vital.

Living on Hoga, away from the Western world where society in constantly ‘online’ be it sending emails, posting on social media or internet shopping, was an eye-opener. Having no WiFi and limited telephone usage, it made me think that possibly people really can be happier without.   Having said that, the first thing I did when back in the airport was turn on my phone!  You can take the student out of the Western world, but you can’t entirely take the Western world out of the student!  Still, it was food for thought.  The lives of the Hogan people were definitely less driven by media, and not necessarily the poorer for it.

Raising the money for the expedition at first was a daunting thought. Yet, I knew what a worthwhile experience it would be for me so that spurred me on.   When I heard about the grant from Premier Oil I was absolutely delighted, and I really cannot be more grateful for the enormous opportunity which it opened up for me.  I raised the remainder of the funds I needed working at a cookery school during the holidays and I can safely say that spending it has never been more worthwhile!

I would like to close by expressing my enormous gratitude to both Operation Wallacea for all that they taught me and for their unstinting support and help with my project, and to Premier Oil for their hugely generous contribution to the funding of my trip.   Without the support of both these organisations I would not have had the benefit of a life altering experience, with both personal and academic benefits which will stay with me for life.


Sebastian Viljoen: University of Nottingham

The journey of going to Indonesia to assist Operation Wallacea was a long one and it didn’t start by jumping on a plane, it started long before when I started my first fundraising event. At the time I was living in catered university accommodation halls of residence and hungry students at 8-11pm was a fantastic opportunity. I started my first bake sale that very evening and brownies were a huge success, and so the ‘Brownie Bake Sale’ was born. Every weekend I would bake between 80-200 brownies of every verity you can imagine: Triple Chocolate, Nutella, White Chocolate Blondies, Marshmallow Fluff, and the famous Oreo Brownie. I would sell these every evening, every day from the months of September all the way into May. It was probably the greatest brownie operation ever to hit campus, but it was totally worth it as I generated ~£990 profit and even had a website. As amazing as that is, it is still a mere dent into the total cost of the trip to Indonesia. With Operation Wallacea charging over £2000, flights costing almost £1000 and my eventual equipment bill of almost £2000, there was still a long way to go.

Realising this early on, I stemmed into other avenues of fundraising. I spread the word and received donations from large corporations by using the Easy Fundraising donation site, held raffles selling raffle tickets and gave presentations in local churches selling brownies. Everywhere I went, I was constantly surprised by kind people willing to donate to my cause. All these avenues helped significantly, especially the kind donations from friends and strangers.

In the end, my saving grace was the grant from Premier Oil. The significance of a £1000 grant cannot be put into words, it was one of the best moments of my fundraising adventure receiving this donation and I deeply thank Premier Oil for making this possible.


There is little to compare with the experience of a trip with Operation Wallacea, picking but 20 of the best moments is unjust, if not impossible. For me, though this trip was particularly significant as it not only was an incredible journey in Indonesia but also marked my relocation to Australia permanently leaving all my friends and family behind as I flew directly from Indonesia to Melbourne. I mention this as I think this is probably my first trip highlight -saying goodbye to all my friends at University who have supported me and help me fundraise my adventure. Saying goodbye to my family and friends were sad but amazing moments I can perfectly recall.

I have been quite the traveller, but I have never undertaken a trip quite so crazy and remote or completely alone. I can still remember the anxiety and excitement when I first landed especially when my luggage was lost! -I know this doesn’t sound like a highlight, but it definitely is a memorable moment and makes a highlight in all my stories… And the way Operation Wallacea staff and my new expedition buddies helped me out without blinking really touched my heart.

Living with my host family in the rural Indonesian Village of Labundo was an amazing and eye-opening experience. Eye-wateringly so. Witnessing firsthand how rural Indonesians live in Labundo and other villages we drove or walked through is both shocking and incredible. It was quite clear and amazing to see the good work Operation Wallacea has done for its host town Labundo and the generosity of the people there and my host family.

I can still remember my first night sleeping in the jungle. It was in a shelter four of us had constructed from trees and rattan branches alone. It was an amazing achievement and pretty amazing that it lasted the night! It was just a shame that we only got to use it once as the next morning we were up and trekking to our next location of jungle training.

Due to a knee injury coming back from jungle training I was forced to abandon going to Mobile Camp and went to the more easily accessible North Camp. It was sad leaving my friends as they journeyed into the jungle further but one of my fondest memories was joining the team at ‘Camp Anoa’ and assisting with the school groups. The Operation Wallacea staff were very welcoming and it was an invaluable experience.

Here I was lucky to see many amazing creatures from vine snakes to incredible butterflies, but by far the most amazing wildlife I had never before seen up-close were the bats. It is astonishing how much variation exists in the species and just how unique they look up-close. My experience catching and processing bats are definitely my fondest memory of jungle fauna.

After two weeks in the jungle I was re-united with my research assistant friends and we made the trip to Hoga Island for dive training and research. Living on Hoga, learning to dive, and seeing an unreal and new world deep under the ocean for the first time was truly mind blowing. I wish I could of taken pictures but for now the sheer insanity of seeing a Barracuda will have to remain in memory.


Does surviving class as a skill? I should think so. The skills we all learned (and found within) as research assistants to keep moving forward in injury and real tough conditions will walk with us for life. Forever I will appreciate running water and a bathroom but forever I will also see a river as a shower, a steel knife as a poison test, and vines as drinking water. More directly, I learned how to turn rattan into rope, bedding, rain cover, drinking water and food. How to build a shelter with nothing but a knife, how to lay traps, what to eat in the jungle, how to set a pitfall trap and lay a 50m/50m quadrat, judge jungle distances and more amazingly, how to dive. The list goes on… I also learned how not only to work well in my team of research assistants (our jungle family) but depend completely on each other for emotional and physical support. We were all there looking out for each other and with it together, this is perhaps the greatest skill, comfort, and memory.


I have always been passionate about conservation and research. I know now more than ever that I want to go into research but not simply behind a microscope, also in the field where I now know I can survive and excel. I have always been interested in the worlds most absurd creatures that live in the harshest environments, learning and loving to dive is also a huge step forward and will help me explore areas that see no sunlight or oxygen – this skill and experience will greatly assist me in my future research. I am currently in my second year and I have every intention to return to Operation Wallacea next year for my dissertation or perhaps again as a volunteer staff member. Being with Operation Wallacea for a month has opened my eyes to these opportunities I am excited to take and equipped me with the skills to peruse them. I am very thankful for my time with Operation Wallacea, the staff and the support form my friends, family, patrons, and Premier Oil for making this all possible.

Danai Antonaki: Royal Holloway University London

As a first year Biology student, you are constantly bombarded with new scientific concepts and methodologies, the sheer amount of which can sometimes get overwhelming. This challenge sometimes leads to you being absorbed by the workload and stress of studying and you suddenly find yourself realising you have forgotten to actually enjoy the subject you are being taught. It is therefore necessary to seek out opportunities to remind you of what the reason was for you to choose to study what you did and provide you with direct contact with your subject matter. To me, the natural world had always been fascinating, and the picture of me being out in the wild conducting research had been one of the dreams most worth fighting for. In my first year of studying Biology in Royal Holloway University of London, I got extremely interested in Marine Biology and started getting involved with this area more and more. It was around this time that Operation Wallacea came to visit us on campus and I first thought I could try joining them in Indonesia the same summer.

Of course the biggest issue was money, as it always is. I decided not to get discouraged and started seeking financial help. I was informed by Operation Wallacea’s representatives that for the Indonesia expeditions there was a grant, called the Alfred Russel Wallace grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists, so I decided to let go of my fear of failure and I apply to that. In the meantime, I had a meeting with my personal tutor to discuss the ways the School of Biological Sciences of Royal Holloway University of London could help me with the financial costs of the expedition. During the meeting I was informed that there was an award called the ‘Peter Marsh prize’, which was intended to undergraduate students wishing to undertake fieldwork in ecology. So ,along with the application process for the Wallace grant, I also started to prepare my application for this grant as well. Furthermore, I became aware of the fact that Royal Holloway offered what they call ‘hardship grants’ to students for various reasons, ranging from inability to pay your rent to inability to cover travel costs related to your studies. I thus decided to arrange a meeting with the people in charge and go through the interview. I ended up receiving all three of the forementioned grants, which covered all the expedition costs and half of the travelling costs. The other half was covered by savings and money I was earning while working part-time on campus as a caterig assistant at the main dining hall.

Once all the costs were covered I was ready to leave for what turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life and one I am still struggling to realise that it is over. After six long flights and a boat trip, we finally reached Hoga island, a place that will forever be deeply within my heart. It may sound too dramatic but it actually hurts thinking about it now that I am not there anymore. First of all, the place itself; there are no words to describe the beauty of the Wakatobi region and Hoga island in particular. I remember that everytime I was waking up I had difficulty believing where I was and realising how lucky I was to be there. The sunrise and the sunsets after the dives were definitely the most beautiful I have ever experienced and ones that were bringing tears to my eyes. What is more, I could not have wished for a better company to this adventure than my fellow students and staff. The atmosphere that was created between us all was just incredible and the fun we had together was honestly beyond my greatest expectations. It was also quite moving to see how weirdly but beautifully we bonded with the local people as well, with whom we barely ever spoke a word because of the language barrier, but we were sharing the warmest smiles and the most adorable sign language attempts for communication.

Nothing however, and I mean nothing in the entire world, can be compared to the feeling I and I am sure all of the other students got when we were diving in the coral reef. Quite sincerely, I believe it is futile trying to describe it to someone, although definitely worth the effort. I have never experienced more true and deep joy and awe than when I first saw the reef with my own eyes. It felt like I had been dead for all my life and I only started living at that moment. It was just as if I was reborn in a more humble and grateful version of me. I could not believe what I was seeing, I could not believe how lucky I was and I just wished that the whole world could see what I was looking at. I felt that the beauty of the spectacle brought me down to my kness and left me powerless. It was a deeply moving sensation of feeling so little and weak but so strong and huge at the same time. This, compared with the kindness of the instructors and the people on the boats,as well as the company of my friends made the whole experience extremely powerful and painfully unique.

However, we were there not only to have fun but to do science as well ! And this aspect of the expedition was no less enjoyable than the fun part. The quality of lessons we had was extremely high and the techniques we learned to practice while diving were just invaluable. Apart from getting the diving qualification (PADI Open Water) and learning all the skills associated with it we also practiced a lot of reef surveying techniques ,mainly related to the fish and coral species. To do this, we needed to practice our equipment-use as well as our identification skills. For me, this whole process was quite challenging but extremely rewarding and has now left me feeling more confident and knowledgeable.

The whole experience in Indonesia has also influenced my academic and career goals. I now feel certain I want to follow a carrer in research either in universities or independent research institutes. And of course, the discipline I want to conduct reasearch in is Marine Biology and Ecology ,while I have not ruled out the area of conservation and management as potential career paths. These are all long term goals,but as far as the near future is concerned, I will be choosing ecology and marine biology modules for my degree and I would like to try to specialise in marine biology on the postgraduate level.

All in all, I feel deeply grateful to all the funding bodies that supported me in making this expedition a reality, since without them I could never have had what turned out to be the most fascinating experience of my life and one that put me in deep thoughts about what I want my future to look like. My expedition with Operation Wallacea this summer in Hoga island, Indonesia has changed me more than I thought. I am not me anymore. At least I am not the same me I was.

Elizabeth Archer: University of Essex

As I entered the world of University as a first year Marine Biology student, I was filled with information and ideas about the ocean that I had collated over the years during my spare time by reading books and searching the internet. I had no idea how much more complex and fascinating this wonderous environment could be until I fully immersed myself in the research and teaching of our University lecturers. Not long into my first term I attended an Operation Wallacea talk with details of the current expeditions and became transfixed with the idea of pursuing the opportunity to undertake my undergraduate dissertation research project with the organisation, and so began saving immediately.

The spark that ignited my interest in Marine Biology was the book “The World is Blue” by Dr. Sylvia Earle. The unhindered care and concern Dr. Earle has demonstrated towards the ocean throughout her life has both inspired and motivated me in my aim to significantly contribute to the conservation of the marine environment.

Coral reef ecosystems form an integral component of a healthy, functioning, global ocean. The need to conserve such key organisms cannot be stressed enough in a world facing tumultuous predictions of future climate. Learning of the stressors and impacts inflicted on corals, mainly due to human activity, has driven my need to research ‘The Spatial Ecology of Coral Disease in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia’.

I began my dissertation research expedition with little SCUBA diving experience. Although this skill is not essential for all aspects of Marine Biology, I knew that in order to progress within my preferred field of study, coral biology, I needed to have confidence in my abilities both in and out of the water. Unlike some skills, diving takes a large amount of time and practice to develop proficiency. When arriving on Hoga Island, I had a low dive time due to fast air consumption. Over the following six weeks this improved dramatically and by the end of the expedition, I could easily complete the maximum dive time with nearly half a tank of air remaining and had passed my PADI Advanced Open Water course. To further this, I became accustomed to underwater scientific methods such as the belt transects, timed swims and sedimentation sampling that underpinned my research. This accomplishment has provided me with the confidence to move forward and continue progressing my expertise in SCUBA alongside my academic knowledge.

Fieldwork is predictable in its unpredictability. Relying on so many independent factors to stay true to the expedition you planned is impossible, however, with unexpected challenges comes the ability to problem-solve and to work towards solutions. Within our coral disease team, due to illness, I became responsible for collecting the majority of data. We had to reorganise our strategy to complete as many replicates as possible whilst working as a team to quantify the data and collate this in an organised fashion. This may reflect a real future situation therefore I have gained true expedition experience and the associated skills that can’t be emulated in a lecture hall.

Despite being packed with amazing memories, there are some unique moments that will stay with me indefinitely. During a belt transect survey, after placing a quadrat over a section of reef, I saw the flicker of a tentacle dart across the entrance of a small crevice. After a minute of hovering patiently, a curious little octopus shuffled out across the surface, changing colour as it moved over an encrusting sponge. My dive buddy and I were mesmerized by the small yet captivating creature for a few minutes until it decided its brief exploration was over and scuttled away back into a hole.

Although not a specific moment, I thoroughly enjoyed the variety and contrast of the marine life and environments. Every site we had the privilege to dive upon offered different challenges and invoked its own range of feelings and sensations. One of the sites, Buoy 3, was a sharp cliff-like wall, plentiful in overhangs and mysterious crevices, whereas Pak Kasims felt colourful and exuberant. This contrasts to the shallow Sampela site, a lagoonal reef. It was fascinating to observe the differences in the composition of organisms between such closely located yet contrasting sites, a benefit of working on Hoga. Furthermore, as Hoga lies within the Coral Triangle, the great diversity of coral I was exposed to ensured that I learnt how to identify a range of different genera.

Throughout the expedition, I found being in the presence of other like-minded, environmentally-focused individuals extremely energising and engaging as we could discuss relevant topics at length and bounce off each other’s ideas. Consequently, I was provided with reassurance that there are many passionate students and staff dedicated to making a difference in the world of conservation. This reassurance now motivates me forward, during the completion of my degree as well as when making more sustainable daily choices. I also hope to transmit this optimistic energy into the current Marine Conservation Society I have formed at the University of Essex in order to involve a diverse range of students in environmental awareness and protection of the ocean.

The ocean is the life support system of our planet, without immediate action to mitigate further damage and protect its invaluable ecosystems, life as we know on Earth will collapse. By experiencing first-hand the complexity and importance of the coral reefs surrounding Hoga, I have gained even more determination to enter an academic research career during which I hope to further understand and protect these ecosystems.


Grace England: University of Reading

After a university trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos in 2017 I instantly knew that for my third year summer placement module I wanted to explore more of the world and its rainforests.  I am a student at the University of Reading going into the third year of my zoology degree.  Zoology not only gives me a deeper understanding of animals but also of conservation, ecosystems, biodiversity and evolution.  The one thing I wanted more experience in however was practical field work.  Operation Wallacea seemed the perfect opportunity to experience working with real scientists in the field in a unique location.  Having been to the Amazon I knew I wanted to go somewhere completely different and so Indonesia seemed to be an ideal option.  I had never been to Asia and soon became very excited.  I chose a four week expedition that consisted of two weeks in South Sulawesi’s rainforests in Buton and two weeks at the marine research site on Hoga.

I was lucky to receive one of ten very generous Alfred Russel Wallace grants for UK students from Premier Oil which helped with raising money for my trip.  I also worked two jobs in order to fund the rest of the expedition fee.  One of the jobs was a guide at an ecological centre called The Living Rainforest.  I am a tour guide to school children aged between 5 and 16 and teach them about the plants and animals we have at the centre. I also explain to them some of the many threats that the rainforests are facing and how they can make small every day, as well as big changes to their lives to help preserve this habitat.  Working at the living rainforest not only helped pay for my expedition but also allows me to pass on my new knowledge and understanding of the rainforests of Indonesia to others.  My second job was a hospitality assistant at the home of Reading Football Club.  Regular guests love to hear how I am progressing at university and were particularly eager to hear about my travels with Operation Wallacea upon my return.

The first two weeks of my expedition on the island of Buton consisted of many new experiences and was a definite learning curve for me.  Although I love being outdoors in nature I had never done anything on this scale before so setting up hammocks in the rainforest really threw me in at the deep-end!  However, it was amazing and such an exciting way of experiencing jungle living.  One or two nights proved tricky with the leaky tarp above my head but by the end of my time in mobile camp I felt like a pro!  Mobile camp ventured further into the rainforest this year than they ever had in previous years and knowing that I had been where no foreigners had been before was truly special.  It made every mammal track, leaf frog and knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix) even more exciting.  Buton macaques (Macaca ochreata brunnescens) and the Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) were a familiar sight around the village of Labundo but at mobile camp we were more regularly visited by the endemic Sulawesi horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus celebensis), many leaches and butterflies of every size and colour.  Mobile camp, despite the torrential rain was a truly magical place and I will never forget showering in the river with a large praying mantis on my shoulder!

I thoroughly enjoyed undertaking the habitat survey at mobile camp because I felt I was making a vital difference by contributing data to real-world problems.  The REDD+ scheme aims to tackle climate change by motivating developing countries to reduce their deforestation rates and subsequent emissions.  The research we carried out on the habitat surveys will help to calculate the carbon biomass in Indonesia’s rainforests and hopefully then, preserve it.  I absolutely loved my time at mobile camp, no matter how difficult the conditions.  The scientists we worked with were so knowledgeable and bonding with the other students was wonderful, giving me friends for life.  Other important field work skills I gained whilst in the rainforest included mist netting for bats, identifying bird calls, recognising animal tracks and ground disturbance and learning how to set up pitfall traps to survey herpetofauna.  A few of us also took part in a canopy access course where we learnt to set up climbing equipment and ascend into the rainforest canopy.  The view from the tree tops was incredible and getting a bird’s eye view of jungle around and below was breath-taking.

The second two weeks of the expedition was situated on the paradisal island of Hoga.  I spent the first week at Hoga attaining my PADI open water qualification which I am thrilled to have.  Exploring the underwater world is something I had always yearned for but never actually experienced until now.  The Wakatobi is in the centre of the coral triangle so I couldn’t have chosen a better place to start my underwater adventure.  The coral reefs were beautiful, teaming with life and once qualified, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in with the second week’s activities which included a Reef Survey Techniques course.  This was a series of lectures on reef ecosystems and marine life identification as well as underwater practicals.  We covered various techniques for surveying coral, fish and marine invertebrates.  I learned so much about the marine environment and swam with banded sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina), rays, nudibranchs, barracudas and so much more.  If I could have spent the whole day underwater I would have! My time on Hoga was a real highlight and I never wanted to leave.

One of the standout realisations after the expedition for me was how much I enjoyed meeting new people across the four weeks.  Not just the outstanding field scientists and other students but the local guides and staff as well.  It was a pleasure to spend time with them, understand more about their culture and learn from them.  Everyone we spent time with was so friendly and knowledgeable about one thing or another.  It was so satisfying to ask “apa nama pohon ini?”, which translates to ‘what is the name of this tree?’ to our local guides and them be able to correctly identify hundreds of different tree species.  Without them we could never have carried out all the surveys and survived in the jungle.

This insight has helped me further decide what I would like to do following on from my degree.  As much as I enjoyed the practical field work, I have realised my passion is working with people and I do not want to spend weeks in a remote area followed by lab time and writing up research.  I would prefer to help preserve the planet’s biodiversity through communicating with people.  Whether that be working for the Civil Service to assist ministers on environmental laws, an environmental NGO or as part of a broadcasting communications team, I don’t yet know.  However, I do believe my future lies in communication.  I feel I have grown intellectually throughout my expedition by learning so much about the species, ecosystems and natural history of the places I visited.  I also think I made some professional development in the form of increased confidence, better team working and new-found independence.

All the above was made possible by the incredible expedition provided by Operation Wallacea and the people who helped me along the way.  It has inspired me to see as much of the world as possible and continue my diving qualifications when I am able.

Harriet Tyley: University of Essex

After several months of studying my Msc in Tropical Marine Biology at the University of Essex, I realised that I wanted to conduct my research in the field, opposed to the lab. I collected data for my undergraduate thesis in the laboratory and wanted to push myself by doing the unfamiliar. However, to conduct my field research abroad, I needed to work out how to raise a lot of money in not a long time (approximately £3,995, and that’s not including flights or gear!) Fundraising wasn’t new to me, as I had previously fundraised to work in Thailand and Laos but fundraising for such a large sum of money was considerably harder than doing the odd sponsored abseil or bake sale at my school.

As a marine biologist I’ve always been enchanted by what lies beneath the waves, whether it be a creepy invertebrate that most people flinch away from, or a universally adored, charismatic megafauna. I wanted to fundraise in a way that would raise awareness to my cause and inform people of where their money was going and what it was being used for. I decided to fundraise, rather bravely, by sketching some of my favourite marine organisms (bravely, because I am not an artist!). Before deciding to publicly fundraise I spent weeks doodling in my university bedroom, determining whether my sketches were worthy of peoples hard earned money, and after a while I decided that I potentially may be onto something…I’m not an artist by any means, but I think there is something nice about art with meaning, and a lot of time had gone into each sketch. I started a fundraising page with the help of my university, and over the duration of a month I had raised £3,350, with people pledging money in return for a sketch. I was totally blown away by people’s curiosity towards my research and their faith in me to be able to thank them with a drawing. This fundraising was enough to cover the cost of my flights and my scuba-diving gear, as well as part of the project costs.

In addition to my own fundraising, I applied for the ‘Alfred Russel Wallace Grant’, which if successful would provide me with an addition £1,000, which would be enough to finish paying my Operation Wallacea volunteer fees.  I did my research, and applied for the grant, and honestly I didn’t really think I had much of a chance. Only 10 candidates were successful, and I knew at least 10 people in my own cohort applying, but I thought I’d be stupid not to apply. It’s a funny story how I found out that I had won the grant, because I didn’t know I had won it for a while. I’d been so busy with my master’s course that I had totally forgotten to look out for a reply, and it was only when I asked a fellow grant receiver when we were meant to here back from Operation Wallacea, that she told me “we’ve already been told?”. At this point I was disheartened as I hadn’t received the email, but I thought I should probably check through my inbox just to make sure. To my absolute astonishment, I found a congratulatory email in my junk mail?! My happiness was matched with relief. I could cover all the costs to travel and live in Hoga for 8 weeks, meaning I could now concentrate on my master’s course fully without worrying about covering the financial gap, and look forward to summer so much more!

Hoga island is a place that I will never forget for a multitude of reasons. It’s the first place that I felt comfortable diving and no longer afraid. It’s the first place that I dined with 60+ people every night, with each meal bringing a different face and new conversation. It’s the place where I learnt to dive scientifically, improve my diving techniques and become a conscious diver, aware of my environment. It’s the place where I become friends with people that I would never crossed paths with if not for Operation Wallacea, and it’s the place that has allowed my professional network to grow. Highlighting a favourite memory from this trop is impossible, but these are a few that stick in my head.



  • A VISA run to Wanci that I will never forgot. We were on a boat in a really sever storm, and we were all sat inside the boat laughing and joking around whilst waves and rain slammed through the windows and drenched us. We arrived back on Hoga feeling like total heroes, as everyone else was left at Wanci because the storm was too dangerous, but somehow we had managed to make it back one piece!


  • Sitting in with the Reef Ecology Course in my free time because I literally couldn’t absorb enough information. Even in my down time I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I found these classes so informative and amazing. Learning about coral reefs in a classroom in England is cool, but when you learn about them on Hoga, you can leave the class and see everything that has been said for yourself. It’s the most interactive way of learning.


  • When my research started coming together, and I realised that coral bommies do have a function, and that they’re important! It’s easy to become disheartened when you’re conducting scientific research in the field, and you could have 4 weeks of diving and hardly any data.

Conducting my masters research with Operation Wallacea on Hoga island has hugely influenced my career prospects as a marine biologist. Firstly, I have met so many scientists at the top of their field and have made connections with like-minded biologists that I have learnt so much simply through conversations at dinner. I know from this experience that I would like to pursue a PhD in this field in the future, and this trip has provided me with people to turn to for advice during this process. I would also love to return to Operation Wallacea as a staff member in the future and feel that this trip will help me achieve this.

This trip has equipped me with a plethora of skills, too many to fit on this page. The skills gained are not exclusively scientific either, and I feel as if I am all around a more confident marine biologist because of this experience. One of the biggest skills for me that I have gained on this trip is diving. Although I arrived as a qualified diver, I didn’t feel comfortable or safe underwater and it was pretty scared when I dived. After spending 8 weeks diving with both scientific divers and dive masters, I feel like I belong underwater. I can happily collect data underwater and take photographs, and in January I am going to Mozambique to do a marine biology dive master internship, which I would never have applied for if it weren’t for Hoga. I believe that my organisation skills have also improved, as the structure of meetings and guidance provided on Hoga for master’s students meant that I had to have my research prepared for weekly stage meetings.

Conducting my masters research on Hoga island with Operation Wallacea was an unforgettable experience. Looking back on the experience is emotional, as I learnt so many of the skills that make me the marine biologist that I am today, and that I hope to continue towards my PhD. I’d like to thank Operation Wallacea and Premier Oil for their support throughout this experience, as well as all the staff and volunteers. Each and every one of you made my master’s degree unforgettable in the best ways.


Huizhang Qi: University of York

Indonesia, as a tropical marine country, consists of approximately 18,000 islands and embraces the highest diversity of hard corals and the most beautiful reef systems in the world. In the centre of the famous Coral Triangle, my eight-week expedition to Hoga Island in the Wakatobi Marine National Park was undoubtably one of the most extraordinary and memorable experiences I have ever had. It gave me an invaluable opportunity to participate in various research programmes being run by scientists and PhD students. It also armed me with knowledge of Indo-pacific marine biology supplemented with underwater survey skills, and further made me an experienced scientific diver.


  • Week 1: After a short orientation I started my PADI Open Water course. It turned into a one-to-one course when people noticed I was the only research assistant (RA) who knew few things about diving that week. So, Luckily, quite a solid basis for diving has been built.


  • Week 2: Before conducting any field work, I spent a week in learning relevant knowledge and the Reef Survey Techniques course. The toughest part was the identification of fish, corals, macroinvertebrates and algae, since I had to not only memorise hundreds of names in Latin but also match them with correct creatures on the reef. In practical dives I put varied skills I learned earlier, such as Line Point Intercept transect and U-shape searching pattern, into practice. Meanwhile, I finished PADI Advanced Open Water course this week.


  • Week 3: In the first RA week, I assisted Amelia with her master dissertation on the non-consumptive effects of predators on reef fish feeding behaviours. We set up and filmed feeding stations made by different baits, so that prey preferences, bite rates and feeding events can be analysed with or without the presence of predators. Additionally, we evaluated compositions of fish communities on the reef within several 5x2m quadrats made by transect tapes. We also carried out time-budget method to investigate fish behavioural modes.


  • Week 4: I joined the nudibranch project this week. For every dive, we photographed nudibranchs and identified them down to the species level. Furthermore, we did benthic assessments by recording videos along two 10m transects at different depths, and then analysing footages to record indicator benthos nearby.


  • Week 5: I spent the majority of this week with Beth, a PhD student from Essex, who is studying adaptation of corals to extreme environments. We collected, identified, fragmented and translocated dozens of corals between the mangroves and the reef crest, so that after altering the subjects’ living environments substantially, things like survival rates and thermal performance can be evaluated. Following this, we carried out water sampling using filtration methods to test carbon loading and coral-associated microbes at different spots. She also taught me how to take DNA samples from corals for further tests.


  • Week 6: Over the last decade, a programme on Hoga has monitored a series of constant sites for fish communities, macroinvertebrates and coral community structure. As one of the two benthic surveyors, I must work out the abundance of 13 key species within a 2.5m range on one side of a 50m transect for each dive, and then worked on videography to analyse benthic compositions. In addition to invertebrates, the team also introduced me stereo-video surveys for assessing fish abundance and biomass, and how to measure the coral structural complexity (Rugosity).


  • Week 7: I spent the final RA week in one of my favourite projects on site, coral nursery, where we did lots of fragment collection, attachment as well as nursery maintenance. Since this project was set up in 2017 it has been aiming to create robust low-light Acropora refugia, which can generate crucial benefits for research and habitat restoration. I admire this project because it organically combines direct conservation efforts with academic aspects, which considerably enlightened me on what style of research I may develop in my postgraduate studies.


  • Week 8: My expedition ended with learning PADI rescue diver course and First Emergency Response, in which I practiced many rescue skills, for instance, treatment of a nonbreathing diver on the water surface. Besides skills I think the most incomparable experience I acquired was, these courses greatly raised my awareness to perform as a rescuer instead of just being a recreational diver.


‘This will be a life-changing experience.’ I felt slightly doubtful of what the site manager said on the welcome presentation, while in the following two months, time proved her words.


I was certainly amazed by various research conducted on site as they greatly broadened my horizon and help update my skill set. My role as a RA allows me to observe and participate in a variety of projects currently being run by different PhD students, and luckily, I was able to gain an insight into some of the novel studies and develop relevant skills. Before the expedition I barely had any ideas about which field in ecology I may concentrate on, while now I am more aware of where my future research may anchor to and how to be better prepared for it. Actually, I am already planning my dissertation trip to the Caribbean Sea with Opwall next year.


In addition to the science, I would also claim mastering diving as one of my greatest achievements in this trip, as I would still be surprised and delighted when I recall how rapidly I turned from a mere beginner into a qualified rescue diver. As a result, I am now capable of exploring the wonderful underwater paradises not only for entertainment but also for science.


As an international student, I once thought English would be my principal obstacle through the expedition, but later I realised I just overthought. Most people treated me very well regardless of their nationalities or ages, and I also made many awesome friends with them who come from different backgrounds but all share the same interests with me. What more important is, after getting alone with them for two months my speaking skill has been improved and I realised I am not afraid of talking or expressing my ideas with native speakers as much as before.


Speaking of fundraising, I would like to thank Opwall’s fundraising team very much as they gave me many helpful ideas on this topic during the talk in my university. By considering my personal situations, I decided to put most of my efforts into applying grants from organisations and my university. As a result, I thankfully received £1000 from the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant sponsored by Premier Oil and a travel bursary from the Centre for Global Programmes in my university. I was also given a small amount of donation through gofundme.


I extremely appreciate the generous support from Premier Oil for helping cover my voluntary expenses which definitely helped reduce my financial burdens coming from the high university tuition fee and other aspects of my journey. Without it, neither this once in a lifetime opportunity nor my great personal development would have been possible. Thank you very much again for making this memorable adventure become true to me.

Madeline O'Connor: University of Oxford

As a first year biologist moving into second year, I really wanted to make the most of my long summer holiday and do something productive. After seeing posters around my University, I was intrigued by the work of Operation Wallacea and attended a meeting that left me eager to sign up straight away. I knew this was exactly the kind of trip that would take me out of my comfort zone and I would overcome obstacles I never expected to encounter. As a result, I decided very early on that I was going on an expedition but spent quite a while deciding where. I had set my heart on Indonesia but after hearing how understandably expensive the flights and expeditions costs were, I had to take into account potential funding opportunities. Learning about Premier Oil’s Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists made me feel more at ease and allowed me to apply for the expedition I truly wanted to: a four week trip to Indonesia, with two weeks spent in the rainforest and two weeks at the marine site.

Before I could even begin planning my trip, I had to fundraise. This seemed a daunting task as I had never done so before and had such a large cost to cover. To start, I used a few methods such as the website “Easyfundraising” and tried to save money from my student loan. This contributed a little but by no means enough. The Alfred Russel Wallace Grant, however, was the first grant I applied for and receiving it not only took a large weight off my shoulders but made my dream of travelling and helping conserve international wildlife a reality. Discovering I had been awarded the grant was the first time I truly felt excited for the expedition. With a new-found confidence that I could successfully fundraise more than I originally thought, I went on and raised a further £1,150 in grants from different areas of my university and I am very grateful for the experience applying for this grant gave me.

No sooner than I had finished my exams, I was packing and triple-checking I had all the right documents with me. I had done quite a bit of travelling around the UK alone, often for concerts or to see distant friends, but I had never been on a long haul flight, let alone two of them followed immediately by two internal flights. One unexpected highlight of my expedition, therefore, is the amount of travel experience I have gained: for the first time I feel comfortable navigating an airport and I am confident in doing it alone. For someone who very rarely flies abroad, this is quite an achievement in my eyes and I’m very proud to have made a total of nine flights with no problems.

While landing in Makassar and wearily gazing through the window, I smiled to myself as I got my first glimpse of Indonesia in the daylight. It was, surprisingly, everything I expected it to be. The grass was a certain colour of dusky green that I had never encountered before and I could almost see the humidity. The deeper I got into Buton, where my first two weeks in the rainforest were spent, the more immersed I felt in this all-consuming green. Some of the best moments from these two weeks were independently identifying an anoa track despite having never seen one before, starting to automatically recognise bird calls such as those from the bay coucal and persevering to catch a Euploea butterfly after many failed attempts. I also made an active contribution to new scientific advances when collecting data on tree trunk diameter and canopy coverage to be used by NASA in the new international carbon credits scheme. I felt extremely lucky to be part of such instrumental work that will hopefully change multiple governments’ approaches to conservation.

The second two weeks of my expedition, learning about and engaging with marine wildlife on Hoga Island, were starkly different from the first two. Taking my first breath underwater felt strangely familiar, something I can only put down to the fact that I have so often envisaged myself exploring the marine environment up close that I was already accustomed to the idea. Despite this, I still don’t think I have fully processed seeing an octopus merely feet away from me, the feeling of crescent wrasse dancing between my legs or swimming directly through the path of a shoal of redtooth triggerfish. Looking up from 30m deep to not see the ocean’s surface was also wonderfully surreal. As well as the natural beauty, I enjoyed learning about and practicing setting up diving equipment quickly and efficiently. Watching myself go from diving in knee-deep water to safely swimming alongside ocean shelves is my proudest sporting achievement to date.

The main purpose of my trip wasn’t just to have a brilliant time, but rather to be involved with conservation and ecology first hand. It is one thing sitting in a lecture, learning about ecological models, conservation case studies and species monitoring schemes; it is another to go out and be part of them. Before Operation Wallacea, I was not able to confidently invest all my time in these areas without having a part of my mind wonder whether I’d later discover that my expectations of working in those fields were inaccurate. My expedition really helped me on this front. I enjoyed many of the monitoring programmes and learnt about many more in lectures, such as the studies of cuttlefish and trumpetfish behaviour on Hoga Island and volunteering with black-footed albatrosses in Hawaii, something I may participate in after my degree. Having real training in the field made me realise that while I love ecology, in practise I prefer the monitoring side of it and would like to explore behavioural ecology more than I previously expected. I also got many email addresses and contact details from scientists who worked in these fields and I intend to contact some of them regarding future opportunities. All of this has got me extremely excited for what’s to come in my career.

Another important lesson I learnt from this expedition is the type of organisms I would like to work with. In biology, scientists usually research quite a few different species, especially if they are working within a particular ecosystem. It is less common, however, for them to be often working with very different types of organism (e.g. birds, sponges, whales and flies) all at once. As a result, I was eager to start making some decisions regarding which groups of organisms I am interested in the most. I found that my childhood passion for ornithology (the study of birds) was still very present in my life as I was constantly asking “what’s that bird call?” and “what bird has that flight pattern?”, even at the marine site. The megafauna surveys we did in the second week in the rainforest reawakened a particular interest that I had somehow forgotten as I grew up and became immersed in exams: ungulates. I had always been fascinated by deer as a child but never really continued to learn about them as I grew. While looking for anoa tracks for 6 hours in the pouring rain on the most distant transect up a steep hill, with our path becoming a river as leeches fell from the canopy, I suddenly vividly remembered this passion. Since then, I’ve been considering the protection of endangered antelope as a career path. Without participating in the expedition, I doubt I’d be exploring this option.

It is quite clear to see how much working with Operation Wallacea has not only helped with my practical and field skills, but has also given me so much direction. I will now be able to confidently choose my second and third year modules in my university course and have plenty of ideas to focus on in my dissertation. I feel so much more at ease knowing I am truly doing what I love and that there are many jobs in biology that I would enjoy, such as environmental consultancy, suggested to me by a researcher working with Operation Wallacea. None of this would have been possible without the extremely generous grant from Premier Oil and for that I am so grateful. Opportunities like this seem like dreams to those students who are in difficult financial situations and Premier Oil made this particular dream a reality. I live only with my dad so expeditions like Operation Wallacea are usually out of the question. Schemes such as the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant, however, mean that students like me can experience new cultures, consider new professions and make new contacts that we otherwise wouldn’t have. Many PhDs that I have been reading into require prior experience in an
isolated area with people I have never met and these are now open to me thanks to Premier Oil’s generosity. I’d like to thank you very much for the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists and I hope that you can continue to provide it to other students in the future. It really makes a big change to an individual and, maybe one day, to the endangered species they help protect

Rhiannon Tambini-McGee: University of Edinburgh


I was very grateful to receive two funding awards towards my expedition: a donation from the University of Edinburgh GoAbroad Fund and, most substantially, the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists provided by Premier Oil. I took part in this expedition on completion of my final year of University; this year was crucially important as it amounted to one hundred percent of my overall degree grade. Consequently, I had little time between studies to fundraise and I chose to pay the remainder of the trip cost with money I had previously earnt in my part time job as a lifeguard. As a student, my savings were limited and Premier Oil’s financial aid alleviated a large amount of stress, allowing me to fully commit to my final year of study and graduate with First Class Honours, top of my subject cohort. This may not have been the case if I had had to juggle fundraising with academics during this intense and important time.


Reef Survey Techniques

Upon arrival in Bau Bau, after approximately thirty-six hours of travelling, myself and nine other university volunteers were welcomed and quickly assimilated into the onsite community. During the first week, we were given an intensive course in reef survey techniques in preparation for our involvement in data gathering. A typical day consisted of a post-breakfast lecture and then a dive to put what we had learnt into action. After a well-deserved lunch, we attended another lecture which was also followed by a practical dive session. Dinner would then be served and, once finished, we had one final evening lecture before bed. At the end of this week we were assessed by a one hour long exam; we had to pass this, along with a few in-water proficiency tests, before proceeding to data collection.


Coral Reef Surveying

For the second week, the volunteer group was split between the two onsite research projects: The Global FinPrint Project and local reef monitoring. I was involved initially with local reef surveying; this project is now in its fifth year and, excitingly, crossing the threshold into long-term research. The data we were collecting was being used to substantiate appeals to local Government officials to ban harmful local fishing methods (e.g. dynamite fishing – we heard a few of these blasts go off around us during dives) which are causing a statistically significant decline in the diversity of local marine ecosystems.

A day of coral reef surveying typically involved an early dive followed by a debrief and data analysis session. We then went out on another research dive in the afternoon and would analyse the data from this upon our return, often working late into the evening. During dives, survey techniques involved laying a fifty metre transect at a random spot on a site – we surveyed a total of seven sites, with three assessments of each the flat, crest and slope for each site (the terms ‘flat, crest and slope’ denote the three structurally distinct zones which constitute a coral reef). Once the transect was laid we would wait for five minutes to allow for the disturbance and, once any loose sediment had settled and the fish had returned, we would swim along the transect. The first pair would carry slates with GoPro cameras attached; they would record the size, abundance and species of the fish within a metre of the transect and record on camera any species which they could not identify. Behind them the next two divers would inspect the sea floor for a pre-specified list of invertebrates and keep a tally of their slate of those they saw. Finally, the transect would be recorded closely for later analysis of the benthic.  Upon return to the lab, the fish team would watch their videos with their slates in front of them. They would derive from their observations, videos and books which fish they had seen and record them in an excel spreadsheet. Those who had been observing invertebrates would upload their data on the computer and then analyse the benthic by noting the conditions every 25cm, paying particular attention to hard corals. As we were located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, a triangular marine region in South-East Asia which is home to unparalleled ecological reef diversity and 75% of known corals, this could be a very time consuming and arduous task.


Global FinPrint Project

During my third week, I was allocated to assist with the Global FinPrint Project. The data we were analysing and gathering, using Baited Remote Underwater Video system (BRUVs), were contributing to the world’s largest reef, shark and ray survey.

There were four roles on board the Finprint boat: ‘deploying’, ‘data’, ‘runner’ and ‘fish musher’ (yes, unfortunately this was exactly what it sounds like). The fisher musher would don gloves and perch out at the front of the boat pulping defrosted pilchards into bait, a key part of the BRUV systems design. This was then stuffed into a metal mesh bag which was attached to the end of a metal pole approximately the length of a broom handle. The pole was then attached to the BRUV and would jut out from the weighted frame just underneath the camera. This way the bait bag was right in the middle of the frame shot by the GoPro and all wildlife attracted to the bait would be caught on film. The runner gauges the depth with a depth meter and liaises with the data recorder about the correct depth to go to (there is a preset quota of desired depth approximations which are constant across the FinPrint trips). Once the depth is correct, the runner and deployer safely attach the correct length of rope – using a combination of bowline and double sheet bend knots – and then attach a float to the end of the rope so that the buoy can be easily spotted later. Once this is done, the camera is switched on and the deployer must deploy the BRUV as quickly and smoothly as possible, in order that the depth remains desirable and the camera lands smoothly upright. After an hour, we would collect the BRUVs back in – repeat this process once more – then take them back to Bau Bau to analyse the footage. In the fourth and final week, I alternated between reef surveying and FinPrint monitoring.


Looking Ahead

As sea lover and a qualified PADI Divemaster, I began to worry in my last year of studying Philosophy and Psychology that I was maybe heading down the wrong path. I signed up to Operation Wallacea’s marine research expedition in order to explore and realise my priorities, passion and potential in this field and to experience marine research first hand as I figured out whether to redirect my postgraduate studies in this direction.

The trip was exhilarating and challenging, exhausting and incredible; all that I could have hoped for it to be and more. After a year cooped up at a desk I savoured the physical exhaustion of a long day of diving and I felt myself becoming a better diver as I began to understand the reefs more intricately. But outside of the data collection dives and lectures, it was the people around me – academics, research assistants and local staff – who taught me the lesson which I have held most closely to me; as Albert Einstein famously stated, ‘education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school’. My true moments of insight and wisdom came from quiet moments with teachers outside of the classroom, catching the sunset, waiting for supper or cleaning our dive equipment. I learnt that the scale of the oceans’ problems is so vast and my perspective of how I could contribute was before so narrow. There are inspiring and incredible people passionately driving human understanding forward and competing globally for a small amount of marine research positions. Change starts with understanding and the job of marine biologists is fundamentally crucial to the way we address this global problem. But the scale of this problem is now so monumental that we need to see change happening in so many different ways and on so many different levels. I came away from this expedition less set on becoming a marine biologist, but more determined than before to contribute to this cause. I learned whilst on the expedition that I had received an award for my dissertation on empathy and I realised that my skillset, my understanding of the human mind and the way we experience the suffering of another being, could be my greatest asset in this battle. We must not just seek to understand how to repair the damage being done, but we must strive to understand the perpetrators in order to reduce the damage before it is done. The problem starts with humans and we must not conveniently overlook this reality. We need engineers, we need teachers, we need businessmen, we need influencers, we need psychologists – we need wider groups of society to understand that this is their problem too. Marine researchers can no longer fight this battle alone. For this reason, I have decided not to redirect my career towards marine biology but to study further in psychology in my pursuit of sustainable solutions; I have already started applying for PhDs on the neuroscience of empathy. I seek to understand how to help people to understand; understanding is the first step to change.

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