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.

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.

    Apply Now!

Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists

  • Operation Wallacea had its inception in the central area of Indonesia known as the Wallacea Region. This biodiversity hotspot derives its name from the great Alfred Russel Wallace and the work he did in the region. 2013 marked the centennial year of the passing of this highly influential biologist and field naturalist (see 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 2017 UK grant, each receiving £1000, were as follows:

Abigail Clarke: University of Exeter

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

How you fundraised for your expedition:

I raised the money for this expedition in several ways:

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

Highlights of the expedition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skills developed on the trip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cara Bradley: Hull University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corinne Spiller: Durham University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen Paganini: University of Leeds

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

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

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

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

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

Isabelle Morgante: University of Bristol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martyn Jakins-Pollard: University of Essex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olivia Byrne: University of Leeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rajkumar Goulden: Durham University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sydney Henderson: Newcastle University

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

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

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

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

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

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