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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 2020!

    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 2020 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 murrayaward@opwall.com no later than 5pm on Monday 3rd February, and supporting documents sent via the file sharing website wetransfer.com. Good luck!

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

    Download your group application form here!

Murray Foundation 2018 Recipients

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

Allestree Woodlands School - Croatia 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston College - South Africa 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, the day was here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dulwich College - Ecuador & Galapagos 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyndland secondary School - Ecuador & Galapagos 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edward VI School - Madagascar 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murray Foundation University Award

  • The Murray Foundation is a UK registered Charity (No. 1162333) established to support young people participating in projects which advance education and develop an understanding of environmental processes. This is the second year the Murray Foundation have generously provided £5000 in funding to support UK and European students completing an undergraduate dissertation or masters thesis in 2020. Ten awards of £500 are available.

    To be eligible for this award you must be a resident of any European country (including UK and Ireland), enrolled in any UK or European university and booked on to an Operation Wallacea dissertation project in 2020. This award is not available for research assistants.

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

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

    Applications for the Murray Foundation University Award are now open. The deadline to submit the above documents is by midnight on Monday 16th March 2020.

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

Martin Suthers’ Grant

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

    The Martin Suthers’ grant is available to UK and Ireland University students who are embarking on any expedition in 2020. 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 2020 are now open. To apply, please complete our online application form by midnight on Wednesday 15th April 2020 via the link below, and send your supporting documents to fundraising@opwall.com via the file sharing website wetransfer.com.

    Please note that the information you provide us with may be used to advise future volunteers on their fundraising. This could be in the form of case study documents, presentations, and social media posts. In addition, successful applicants will be expected to provide a short blog outlining their expedition experience on return to the UK or Ireland.

Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists

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

    Wallace had none of the financial advantages that Darwin had, but was driven by a spirit of adventure, a thirst for knowledge, and a determination to act on those attributes. Operation Wallacea has been taking undergraduates from the 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 15 countries, and are entirely funded by the tuition fees paid by more than 2000 students each year.

Grant Types

  • The first is for UK university students, and is sponsored by Premier Oil – there are 10 grants of £1000 available to any students enrolled at a UK university and booked on to a 2020 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 2020 project.

How to Apply

  • Please email your completed application to wallacegrants@opwall.com. The text of your email should include your name, contact information, the name of your university and details of your Opwall expedition. Alongside your email, please include the 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 2020 are now open. The deadline to submit the above documents is by midnight on Monday 24th February 2020.

    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 2020 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 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report.

Wallace Grant 2019 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 2019 UK grant, each receiving £1000, were as follows:

Aishah Binti Muhammad Shafeeq Wilson: Oxford University

This summer, from 14 July to 10 August 2019, I participated in an expedition that I did not expect to make as much of an impact on my life as it actually did. This was Operation Wallacea’s Expedition 5 to Indonesia, comprising two weeks of camping in the tropical rainforest of Buton Island, and two weeks of swimming along the coral reefs of Hoga Island in the Wakatobi National Park. Being a Malaysian, I have grown up appreciating the beauty of rainforests, and in my lifetime have also watched their rapid decline, which is the main reason for my interest in tropical rainforest ecology and conservation. However, there is only so much one can gain from attending lectures and writing essays. I stumbled across this expedition by chance, and it was the golden opportunity not only to gain hands-on experience and learn skills in scientific field studies of this environment, but also to meet with experts in the field and explore the natural environment of a different tropical country.

Undeniably, participating on this expedition was expensive. I knew fundraising would be difficult, considering how packed my university life is, so I decided to try to raise at least half the funds and my parents were happy to cover the rest. I used resources such as Easyfundraising and GoFundMe to try to raise money online, using a Facebook page I created for my expedition to share the news. Despite the support from my friends and family in the UK on Easyfundraising, the donations fell short of the minimum amount to actually be awarded them. GoFundMe was comparably more successful, since my father shared it with his group of nature-lover friends, who gave generous contributions. The bulk of the funds were raised by playing to my own strengths, and dedicating my time to searching for and applying for grants. After asking a fair number of people for possible grants, I finally found two that I was eligible for: the Keble Association Study Grant from my college and the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists, which in total got me £1500. Overall, I managed to raise a total of £1706.76. With this and my parents’ contribution, I had enough to comfortably prepare for my expedition.

Four weeks sounds like a long time to be out in the wilderness, until you actually go out there and do it. Getting to the rainforest site was the most challenging and character-building part. Not only was I travelling with people I had just met, I also had no experience in long-distance trekking over slippery mud and steep uneven terrain whilst laden with heavy backpack, making the first trek the most difficult, tiring, yet memorable one. I arrived last at camp, and despite my exhaustion I felt my self-confidence growing with that achievement.

The work in the forest was quite tough, as each survey required trekking out at least some distance along one of the transects. What that meant was my trekking ability and agility improved throughout my stay to the point I was able to keep up a good rapid pace whilst avoiding falling into mud, or worse, spiky rattan. When I managed to complete Transect 5, deemed the most difficult of the lot, I was exceptionally proud of myself. I participated in as many different surveys as I could, including bird-call counts, habitat assessment, bat mist-netting, butterfly capture and megafauna detection. All of these required different knowledge and skills, which the scientists taught us patiently. After a few surveys I was able to recognise and correctly identify some bird calls, look for and identify megafauna footprints, set up mist-nets and measure bats, efficiently work in a team to set up 50m by 50m quadrats and measure various aspects of the vegetation and topography within it. It was hard work but a lot of fun, and it helped me bond well with the other participants and scientists. Being able to speak Malay, which is very similar to the Indonesian language, meant that I was very popular amongst the local staff and scientists, making my social experience so much more interesting and enjoyable.

The top highlight of the jungle was the opportunity to climb 45m into the canopy of a massive strangler fig and watching the first stages of sunset whilst sitting on a large branch above the forest. I never thought I would appreciate being at such a height, and the beauty and joy I felt being up there made the extra cost worth it.  An evening of bat surveying being cut short by an encounter with a disturbed anoa is a close second. This was quite a terrifying experience, but in hindsight one of the best as it was such a rare encounter, and it also formed the bond between myself and the best field partner I have ever met.

The great thing about this expedition is that it was an opportunity to experience studying both terrestrial and marine tropical ecology in the field, the latter of which I have very little exposure to in university. I found my time on Hoga Island a lot more structured, regular and busier compared to the forest, the first week comprising of lectures and practical lessons on studying the benthic community of the reefs, and the second spending most of the time assigned to a scientist, helping gather data for his research. I was meant to dive for this trip, however due to a medical concern I was limited to snorkelling. While disappointing at first, I quickly began to appreciate the challenge of conducting reef survey techniques while snorkelling, which turned out to be satisfyingly difficult. We learnt several types of survey techniques, including belt and line transects, and it took some skill to lay down the transect line in a way that did not damage the benthos, was flat, and followed the reef contour. Duck-diving was essential for this, and learning to duck-dive and maintain that depth while snorkelling took a few days to master. Once I did, I discovered a whole new freedom to marine study and exploration unlimited by an air tank. Pairing that skill with all the new knowledge I gained from the lectures on marine identification and ecology, I began to appreciate working in the shallow reef flats, experiencing an environment so vibrant in colour and diversity that I would not have had known if I were diving.

The week spent with the scientist involved studying sponges and surveying seagrass communities. The sponge study was conducted underwater in the shallows near the jetty. Using opaque and transparent plastic bags, we looked at how light availability may change the oxygen concentration of the surrounding seawater to give indication of sponge symbiosis with photosynthetic algae. By taking turns within the group, I had the opportunity to help both underwater and on land. Underwater work involved relaying materials between land and the scientist, while land work involved measuring the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration in seawater samples with a DO meter. Sponge samples were also taken ashore, dried in an oven and cleaned of debris to measure the dry weight, which turned out to be rather a tedious but satisfying task. Seagrass surveys took up most of the week, where in pairs we laid 50m transects across seagrass beds near the shore, and, using a 50cm by 50cm quadrat, pre-learned knowledge of seagrass ID and a measuring tape, recorded species types, estimated ground cover, estimated algal cover, and seagrass length at the corners of the quadrat and at the centre. This particular survey required good communication and teamwork to ensure that time was used efficiently and the data gathered was as accurate as possible. Duck-diving was a valuable skill to get close observations of the seagrass, and I was very happy to keep practicing it.

This expedition was such an amazing and educational experience that has helped me to both realise my own potential and develop a stronger determination to pursue tropical conservation as a career. I was a bit disappointed I did not get to try some new marine survey techniques such as 3D mapping and stereo-video surveys, but it was because we arrived at the end of the season, and people were already finished with the practical parts of their projects. Overall, with the experience I have gained through this expedition, be it the scientific study techniques, the skills from hiking through extreme terrain and snorkelling in the coral reefs, or the so many influential and inspirational people I had met, I am sure I will be able to apply for more projects, expeditions or internships in this field to progress further. I have plans to, at some point, use what I have learnt to arrange my own personal project assessing Odonata biodiversity and ecology in tropical habitats, because it is an area I am very interested in and has little literary coverage. Coming out from this I feel more enthusiastic about studying more on conservation and biology in general, and coming home to the news of the Amazon rain forest going up in flames, I am even more determined to try hard to protect these natural habitats.

Casey Moore: Bishop Burton College

Going to Indonesia with Operation Wallacea is one of the best if not the most amazing experience I have ever had. Despite a rocky start to my expedition I still managed to gain incomparable and hugely beneficial experiences to help my future career.

The start of my expedition was as I say a little rocky having my original flights cancelled and not re-booked until I was in Singapore after which my bags were not forwarded to me for 6 days meaning I spent 4 days in the tropical forest of North Buton with 1 set of clothes. Despite this it was not possible to be down about the situation. Where else in the world can you wake up to a chorus of tropical birds and insects every morning? Certainly not where I live.

Spending time with scientists who each specialised in their field was amazing being able to learn skills and gain knowledge in areas I likely wouldn’t be able to at home and know that you’re helping the habitats and animals while doing so is a feeling I cant quite describe.

The 2 weeks spent on Buton where amazing. Assisting the scientists with all their different research, from bats to butterflies and mega fauna. I couldn’t possible pick out 1 favourite from my time in Buton however a few that will stay with me forever is helping weight and take measurements for a whole variety of bat species, handling wild lizards and snakes that I had never seen before and the most amazing thing I had the honour of experiencing was on a mega fauna survey where we got very clear sightings of a whole family of macaques including a female carrying a baby.

After Buton I spent 2 weeks on Hoga island in the Wakatobi. This was by far my most favourite part of my expedition. On the journey over our ferry was followed by a pod of dolphins and once it was dark we were able to be the bio-luminescence on the surface of the water. We stayed in a hotel in Wanci that night and the next morning took the boat over to Hoga.

Upon arriving on the island it honestly looked like paradise. I had never seen anywhere so beautiful. The first week was spent gaining my PADI open water dive qualification which needless to say doing basic skills sat in a coral reef was a little distracting. After completing my PADI training the second week was made up of a series of lectures which taught us all about different ways to survey reefs and the animals in them as well as learning the scientific names of all the common fish invertebrates and other organisms living there.

It was an amazing experience to be able to not only dive but to help in the conversation of one of the most diverse reef systems in the world.

Overall my time as a research assistant will without a doubt be one of the best things I will ever do with my life and I would not have been able to do it if it went for the generosity of premier oil.

Ellie Ronen: Bristol University

A few months ago I was lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace on an expedition to South East Sulawesi in Indonesia in order to undertake self driven research for my dissertation with the help and support of Opwall, its academics and its research station.

My expedition was self funded via grants awarded form Opwall & Premier Oil, a part time job lifeguarding and coaching swimming lessons at a council run sports complex, as well as private donations. Being able to self fund has provided me with insights into the difficulties faced in order to undertake scientific work, but it has also presented me with a sense of personal achievement and success as well as presenting me with the exceptional opportunity of being able to present my work in an institution renowned for scientific hero’s and exploratory greats.

Working in the field on the isolated Wakatobi island of Hoga, a long way from modern day scientific facilities, literature and internet connections, meant I had to adapt and improvise in order to organise, collect, collate and interpret the required data for my research project. Living and working on this idyllic coral island surrounded by a spectacular reef system was a unique and invigorating experience. It was also a huge learning curve for me and it has taught me to manage with, and appreciate, some of the more basic aspects of day to day living; as well as the difficulties of working in the field in such an isolated setting. All in all, the expedition has taught me how to adapt and be resilient to my surroundings, especially when things went wrong, which will undoubtedly be a fundamental skill to have into the future.

My time on Hoga was spent diving to collect data from transects and water samples, as well as lab work analysis. This gave me the freedom to really experience the reef’s unique ecosystem from all aspects with its colourful diversity, its vibrant activity, and its symbiotic life forms all so important for our ocean’s health, our climate control/compensator, and our planets well being.  On a personal level, being given the opportunity to immerse myself in this unique environment has allowed me to meet people from all different backgrounds and learn from their specialities and experiences. As a geography student, the experience has allowed me to explore a new area and combine my geographical way of thinking to the more biological thinking among the researchers on Hoga. Finally, a highlight of the trip for me was having control of my own project for the first time. I found this experience invaluable as it taught me how to construct and then follow through with and improve my plans as I went along. It made me see science in a whole different way and I really felt like I made a personal connection with my project.

During this time I also experienced the human effects of an earthquake and the need to evacuate the island to higher ground due to tsunami risk. This insight has given me a glimpse into the vulnerability and susceptibilities of day-to-day life for the environment and the communities living in this tectonically active region.

My experiences in Sulawesi have given me great respect for the local communities who have had to adapt in order to survive and maintain their identity despite the adverse impacts of climatic and industrial changes looming over them. The local Indonesians I have met and worked with are some of the nicest, and most helpful people I have encountered; who on many occasions helped guide my research with their local knowledge and practical skills. I hope my research plays some small part in helping these vital guardians of their native ecosystem and environment.

My dissertation looks at the scientific implications of environmental stresses on coral reef health. This research is preliminary in finding where the intricate relationships lie between certain environmental parameters and coral reef health across different taxonomic groups and depths. A presentation of my research project with photographs illustrating my experiences will be delivered when I visit the Royal Geographic Society in November.

Undertaking this research expedition has widened my horizons beyond the knowledge and expectations of factual education and study, and has given me a participatory experience that is already affecting and shaping my future opportunities. The work of scientists is to explore, to record, to map, to problem solve and to educate, and I feel so lucky to have been able to develop my knowledge and research with this hands on experience. The experience has greatly increased my confidence to interact and work with academics aswell as helping me to greater understand the practicalities of the working environment while increasing my cultural awareness and having a great deal of fun. My next step will be consolidating my studies with an MSc in an environmental discipline, and my great hope for my future is to be part of a scientific movement whether academic, governmental or in industry that promotes and underpins changes in order to protect our environment and ecosystems while still allowing indigenous peoples to benefit, prosper and develop.

For all the help and support I have received from Opwall and Premier Oil, I would like to say a heartfelt big Thank You for making this adventure, this lifetime experience, and this research possible.

Jacob Wildfire: UCL

If you were to imagine the life of a distinguished naturalist, what would you conjure? An education focused on biology, geography and botany? Perhaps a childhood spent in the country, learning taxidermy and fascinating over every living creature. The life of Charlies Darwin, if you will. You may be less likely to imagine an interrupted education and an apprenticeship as a builder and land surveyor. This was the early life of the renowned Alfred Russel Wallace. As he demonstrates to me, to become an outstanding field ecologist one needs only curiosity and intrepidity – and perhaps an insect collection, a passion shared by Darwin and Wallace.

By education, I am not an ecologist. I have spent the past three years of my degree training as a cell biologist. I am far more familiar with the lab than the natural world, yet throughout my degree I have enjoyed the snippets of information regarding conservation and the observation of fauna. I found myself feeling a drive to learn/see/do more about ecological research, and eventually I approached Operation Wallacea. They offered an incredible opportunity to involve myself in an area of research and learning I’d previously considered unavailable to a microbiologist like me – and I snatched it. The base price was £2,350.00, with flights and internal travel to be added on top of it. All together it came to about £3,500.00. Fundraising was a challenge. I was able to raise one portion of the funds through my work as a Barista in UCL’s student union cafés, and another portion was generously provided by UCL’s Traver’s fund and Travel grant. As the deadline approached however, I was struggling to make the final payments. This is when I received the fantastic news that my application for the Alfred Russel Wallace grant had been successful. With this final payment of £1,000 generously donated by Premier Oil, it was confirmed that I would be heading out to the Operation Wallacea Bau Bau site on the 21st of June.

The expedition itself was incredible, unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I count myself an incredibly lucky person to have been able to undertake the project. The itinerary of every day was jam packed and kept me occupied which I very much appreciated. I spent the very first week obtaining my PADI open water and whilst on our final open water dive, we experienced my first highlight of the trip. There had been an algal bloom that week, and many of our dives were fogged by green. We were surfacing from our 18 meters when a sudden drop of temperature and shimmer of the water indicated an approaching thermocline. The visibility suddenly became crystal clear. We were revealed to be right on the precipice of a sea wall – an impressive sight on its own. What will stay with me forever however was my first view at the teeming coral forest. Rule number one of diving is “Keep Breathing”, however my breath caught in my throat at the shoals of tropical fish plunging down the seawall and mingling in the azure about me. This was the moment I knew I had a passion for marine conservation.

The following two weeks were spent with research divers learning the correct techniques to research dive. This week proved to be gruelling as learning to survey the reef without plummeting towards it takes a great deal of practise. We eventually improved and began our fish, invertebrate and reef surveys. It was during this portion of the trip that we were able to interact with sharks. Bau Bau has significantly higher shark populations that other areas of Indonesia due to strict and well implemented fishing laws, allowing more sharks to reach maturity and thrive. Despite this, they remain elusive and I did not expect to encounter any. Regardless, not only did we encounter a sleeping bamboo shark hidden in a crevice, we also witnessed black and white tipped reef sharks hunting on the reef. Even more incredibly, in between dives a juvenile whale shark swam directly up to the site’s main jetty. Everyone was dumbfounded as the endangered animal pottered around in the shallow water, seemingly unafraid of the onlookers, before gradually shifting off into the deep. The shark sightings I witnessed and the emotions they elicited in those around me give me a strong sense that attitudes are changing, and there is hope for shark species yet.

This leads me to the final week. We were introduced to the shark and ray researcher Samantha Sherman. She would take us on a boat to locations around Bau Bau where we would set up baited cameras (BRUVs) and film for shark and ray encounters in order to give local population estimates. This week was the most enjoyable for me. Sam is dedicated to her research, taught us all a great deal and became a friend. Furthermore, reviewing the footage gave us a closer look at the sharks than would ever have been possible. From this one week of research I made a close friend and got an intimate view into shark behaviour.

Leaving Bau Bau was difficult, however I have come away from the trip with countless memories and a very useful set of skills. I am now a proficient research diver, have a certificate in tropical fish identification and am knowledgeable in a shark monitoring research method. I fell in love with diving and am planning on completing instructor training as such a skill would allow to travel and work in similar research areas in the future. Furthermore, having discovered my interest in ecological and conservation research, I now have the skills to pursue such a career. I feel I have expanded my areas of interest in a way that may able me to combine my expertise in microbiology with my interest in conservation research. Not only that, but I now have marketable skills and potential contacts that would make pursuing a research project combining the two possible. Lastly, I feel it is important to mention that I and many others formed true connections with locals involved with the project. They taught us to dive and guided us around Bau Bau. I have been considering undertaking a PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently. To do so would involve travelling to areas of Africa with high prevalence of infectious disease to collect samples from local individuals. As violence against volunteers during the 2014 Ebola Crisis highlighted, communication and trust between researchers and the public is incredibly important. Having formed friendships and human connections in Bau Bau, I feel that I have had practise in showing respect for a culture foreign to my own and generating trust between me and local communities. I consider such experience invaluable for one planning to continue research in foreign countries, such as myself.

I would like to thank Project Wallacea and Premier Oil deeply for providing such a skill expanding opportunity to an individual with no prior field experience such as myself. You took a risk teaching a microbiologist ecological skills, but it was without a doubt one of the most important experiences for my professional career and personal development. Perhaps, like Alfred Russel Wallace, I may prove to be a fantastic naturalist despite unorthodox beginnings – I have begun an insect collection after all.

Jessica Bouron: Exeter University

As a very enthusiastic first year marine biology student, I quickly realised that I should make the most of my summers before graduating. I wanted to gain experience and explore what aspect of the field I might want to pursue my career in. So, when I discovered that Operation Wallacea offered expeditions diving and monitoring tropical reefs in the Coral Triangle, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

I was very anxious about the cost. Four previous years of fundraising as an outdoor leader had left a certain sponsorship fatigue among those around me. I knew I had to find another way. I was originally quite hesitant to apply for the Alfred Russel Wallace grant; it was something I had never done before! Luckily my friends and family had more confidence in me than I did, and their encouragements convinced me to put myself forward. My initial reaction on hearing that my application had been successful, was to jump around my room with excitement and call everyone I could think of who had supported me. The rest of the funds I needed were made up of a combination of savings I had kept for university opportunities and working at a bar during the holidays. The generous grant took away a huge amount of pressure as I was preparing for my expedition: I am so grateful for that.

I quickly became very excited as I booked my flight, then checked off my kit list and packed my bags. Before I knew it I was stepping onto my first train and starting one of the most incredible trips of my life. Just like almost everyone else who takes part in these expeditions, I find it very difficult to pick out just a few highlights, every day was more stimulating and wonderful than the last! However, I have managed to think of a selection of high points which I hope encapsulate the amazing time I had.

The sense of accomplishment I felt when finally arriving in Makassar motivated me even more for the two weeks ahead. If I could travel to the other side of the world on my own, I could take on any challenge! The first one of those challenges also turned out to be one of my favourite aspects of the expedition. In the space of a week the other research assistants and I had to learn the names of around 120 different species or groups of fish, coral and invertebrates in order to pass our reef survey techniques course. It was so exciting to be able to identify organisms on our dives which we had just learned about a couple of hours earlier! (It also didn’t hurt that I was able to revise for the exam sitting by the water, with a view of the sunset and a plate homemade pancakes to keep me going.) Being immersed in such a beautiful, diverse and rich ecosystem only increased my appreciation for the marine world. Being able to share that wonder with other students, locals and academics gives me hope that we can work together to understand and conserve it better.

Another highlight for me was being able to contribute to the research being carried out from the Bau Bau marine site. The variety of techniques used to collect data amazed me. I really enjoyed playing my small role as a research assistant in this large effort to survey the reefs of the Coral Triangle. Learning how to record data in these new ways was one of the most useful skills I developed during my time in Indonesia. Deploying BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems), writing on slates underwater, filming coral transects – these are all opportunities I wouldn’t have had through my degree alone, and they are techniques I will hopefully be able to use again in the future.

Diving was also a major part of my expedition and was the skill area where I made the most progress. Having only just obtained my BSAC Ocean Diver qualification a couple of weeks before my departure, I was worried that I wouldn’t have a good enough level to carry out research underwater. Luckily, diving twice a day in stunningly beautiful tropical waters soon changed that. In the space of a week I was confidently carrying out transects alongside my peers. I realised that diving scientifically is a very different experience to recreational diving. It is something I definitely hope to pursue further, either through volunteering or in my future career.

I have loved learning and working in the marine environment for a long time and being outdoors in general for even longer. My experience with Operation Wallacea has opened my eyes to the wide range of opportunities available for those marine biologists who feel more at home in nature than in a lab or at a desk. If the occasional hydroid sting or being up to my elbows mushing fish guts for bait is the price for becoming a field biologist, then it is one I will happily pay. I’m no longer simply working for my degree – I now know where I’m heading afterwards.

Jordan Payne: Royal Holloway University

I am Jordan Payne, and I am currently studying my third year of Zoology at Royal Holloway University of London. For my third year project, I ventured out to Hoga Island, Indonesia, in order to collect data. I was at Hoga for six weeks in total, researching how benthic composition effects fish biodiversity surrounding coral reef patches. My aim in life is to help conserve the coral reefs around the world, so I thought this would be a great starting point to aid that dream.

In order to go on this expedition, I needed to raise over £3,000. This seemed incredibly daunting until I received information from Operation Wallacea, providing ideas to help fundraise. First of all, I set up a Just giving page, so that family and friends could donate money for me to go on a trip of a lifetime.  This page raised £275, which was amazing and incredibly helpful. I also contacted my previous employer; Next. The company donated £250 to my expedition as I worked for them for over three years in total. A friend and I, conducted a glitter painting event in the Student’s Union at Royal Holloway, during a club night. This night proved successful as we managed to raise £60 for the both of us, as she was also taking part in an expedition with Operation Wallacea. The night was so fun, and proved to be a hit with the students. Newport Golf club donated two game vouchers for a pair to play golf on the course. These vouchers are worth £50 each. The biggest help I received was from Premier Oil. Without the grant I received from them, I would not have been able to commit to this expedition. The Alfred Russel Wallace grant, provided me with £1,000 due to creating a short document, expressing my feelings towards the trip and how it would really help in the future. This, along with references from my employer and my personal tutor, enabled me to take part in a trip that would change my life.

The trip was THE best thing I have ever done in my life. I was sceptical at first, as it was my first time going away by myself, let alone travelling for days to get to Hoga. It was definitely a nerve-racking experience. Once I had endured the long plane journeys and rat-infested boats, I finally felt like I was where I had always dreamed of going. The island was idyllic. The accommodation, the food, and the people were just as I imagine, and I felt at ease the whole time.

The highlight of my trip was seeing an octopus for the first time underwater. For the whole trip, all I wanted to see was an octopus. I heard from so many people seeing one, and I was so jealous. On the last day that we could dive, a large group of us planned to go to a site called PK. This site is deemed pristine. However, the boat unfortunately broke down and we ended up agreeing to dive at another site, Sampela. This site is a mysterious, degraded site, posing difficulties seeing other divers. This makes it all the more fun. The dive was intriguing and many macro-invertebrates were found, however, no octopus was to be seen. We turned around and headed to the boat for the end of the dive. As we swam along, I dropped behind and started looking deep within crevices. All of a sudden, something rapidly moved down into a crevice. I swam straight over and looked into the crevice between two rocks, and looking up at me, was two bulging eyes. Still, I had no idea what it was. Thinking I had possibly come across an octopus (as what else would be able to fit within a small crevice?), I quickly caught up with my dive master and tried my hardest to explain what I had seen. Like with most discussions underwater, he did not understand what I was trying to say. I got to the surface and screamed with excitement as I knew I had just spotted an octopus on my last ever dive at Hoga.

The trip really made me realise who I am, and that I am more confident than I originally thought. Being someone who has dealt with mental health disorders such as anorexia and depression, the trip made me forget about all this, and allowed for me to feel my real self again, the girl who didn’t need tablets to make her happy. This is something I will always be grateful for. I was able to put life into perspective due to how little the people of Hoga and Sampela had. They were always happy, no matter what. Over the course of the six weeks, I became a confident and bubbly Jordan, someone who I had always been but had recently lost. I became the karaoke queen and the life of the party. I could never forget how much I learned about myself from the experience.

On top of personal improvements, the trip allowed me to realise what I want to do with my life. After completing the PADI open water course and the PADI advanced open water course, I knew I belonged in the water. After getting my first experience with the marine life, I knew I wanted to save the coral reefs and the life that lives within. I want to be able to photograph the devastating effects of global warming on the coral. After my studies at university, I plan to complete a diving internship, in which, I can become a diving instructor. This means wherever I am in the world, I can be in the water. I would also like to take a course in underwater photography, allowing me to capture the most amazing marine invertebrates and vertebrates.

I would personally like to thank Premier Oil for their generous donation to my trip to Indonesia. Without this donation, the trip would not have been possible and I wouldn’t have been able to realise what I want to do with my life, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Kate Sharman: Nottingham Trent University

Wow … what a summer that was! I have had the privilege of spending two amazing months on an Operation Wallacea expedition in the coral triangle on a tiny island called Hoga in Indonesia. The main reason for embarking upon this expedition was to collect the data for my MSc research project which focused on investigating how the structure and spatial distribution of coral bommies in a coral reef patch impact upon fish and invertebrate diversity.

I recognised that this project had the potential to both show the conservation value of coral patch reefs and contribute recommendations for the structure and spatial distribution of future artificial reefs to increase their effectiveness. Therefore, I expected my project to require a lot of time, effort and planning however before I booked my flights, I already had a lot of work to do as I needed to fundraise approximately £5500 to be able to take part in this expedition. I managed to successfully fully fundraise the entirety of my expedition via grants, promoting Operation Wallacea, setting up an easyfundraising.co.uk page and by organising small-scale fundraising activities such as raffles. I was lucky enough to be awarded three grants and a scholarship award which included the significant financial contribution of the Alfred Russel Wallace Award for Outstanding Field Ecologists funded by Premier Oil.

I am tremendously appreciative to all friends, family, organisations and strangers who supported me throughout my fundraising efforts as now that I am back in the UK I can confidently say that though the main reason why I went to Hoga with Operation Wallacea was to collect research data, I ended up leaving Hoga with so much more.

I grew as a conservation biologist by learning new field data collection skills whilst collecting the data for my research project. I spent approximately 6 hours a day in-water utilising 3D modelling techniques and conducting habitat assessment scores and rugosity measurements alongside fish, invertebrate and coral ID surveys. Following that I spent approximately 8 hours a day extracting and processing data and completing the electronic 3D models. In total I surveyed over 200 coral bommies and identified 8719 fish and 4108 invertebrates which lead to my dataset being much larger than originally anticipated. The size of my dataset means that I feel more confident in the results of my findings and as I result, I am aiming to get them published in a scientific journal in the future to expand the current scientific understanding of the value of coral patch reefs and to contribute recommendations for the structure and spatial distribution of future artificial reefs.

On the day after my arrival on Hoga I started a week-long Reef Survey Techniques course, where I attended a series of enthusiastically delivered marine ecology and diving skill lectures which expended my marine-related knowledge. Part of this course included snorkelling within a nearby mangrove forest which absolutely amazed me as this was the first time that I have ever seen a mangrove ecosystem. During this course I also undertook training in scientific diving where I practised and built upon skills such as transect laying, belt transects, and species identification and I put these skills into practice by assisting with any scientific research dive that I could be a part of. Additionally, my communication skills were improved through delivering a presentation on my project rationale and research to approximately 50 people (of staff, volunteers and locals). This presentation was a massive personal achievement and I received some great questions and many compliments from the audience. The opportunity to give this presentation has given me so much more confidence in public speaking.

Furthermore, this expedition has gifted me with worldwide friendships. Though I was a long way from home (more than 8,770 miles to be precise) as soon as I stepped off the boat onto Hoga I knew that I had nothing to worry about. Everyone from site staff, to research students, to volunteers to local staff were so welcoming, loving and happy to share their culture with me. I soon settled into my beautiful traditional mandi-hut and life on Hoga. In Hoga I think that it’s safe to say that I found my home-away-from-home. I will always treasure the memories of fun, laughter and the feeling of awe when I saw both the marine and terrestrial animals of Hoga. However one particular highlight of this unique experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life and has already had an impact on my outlook of the world is when I had the opportunity to visit Sampela. Sampela is home to the Bajo people who are more commonly known as ‘sea gypsies’. The best way that I can describe the structure of Sampela is to imagine a floating island where are wooden houses and pathways are on stilts above the ocean.

Upon arriving to Sampela I was met by an extremely excited group of local children who, alongside two local staff members, shared their home with me and showed me around Sampela. Though I could not speak their language and they could not speak mine, Jasmina and Ratu who must have been around 6 years of age stayed with me during my time on Sampela. They loved dancing and posing for ‘selfies’ (which they asked for) in between guiding me over the sturdier of walkways (for which I will be ever so thankful as I would have definitely fallen into the ocean otherwise) of Sampela. From what I could tell, financially the Bajo people have so little (or at least compared to Western countries) yet they were so rich in love and happiness. Through the locals of Hoga of Sampela sharing their culture and ‘way-of-life’ with me, my eyes have been opened and I have adopted their outlook of appreciating what I have rather than wanting more.

This expedition has greatly influenced my life in a wide range of ways including progressing as a conservation biologist, developing new and advancing current skills, forming worldwide friendships and through enabling me to achieve a distinction classification for my MSc. My life has become so much richer with the many friends (both volunteers and local staff) that I now have.

Kitty Froggatt: Bristol University

Throughout my life I have consistently been made aware of the undeniable value, versatility, and wonder of the natural world. This has emanated from growing up on a rural farm in Staffordshire, wherein values of environmental stewardship and the vast natural capacity of even the smallest areas of land has been endlessly affirmed. My academic studies, not only at school but also as an Undergraduate at the University of Bristol has heightened my enthusiasm for Biology and the natural world further, and provided me with valuable skills, fieldwork experience and opportunities to review many aspects of the diverse and perplexingly complex world in which we live.

In my final year as an undergraduate I looked to the future; not only for my own aspirations but also to the uncertainty of what is to come for ecosystems, organisms and natural resources. The prevalence of the impacts of resource exploitation, climate change and irresponsible management at both a local and global scale is arguably the greatest threat to not only the vast number of species on the planet but also the natural world as we know it.

For this reason, I aimed to partake in an overseas conservation and research programme with Operation Wallacea. I undertook a two-week marine expedition from the 28th July – 10th August to Hoga Island. I was fascinated by the prospect of seeing first-hand the vast diversity present in the Coral Triangle and the Wakatobi Marine National Park, South-East Sulawesi. Exploration and cultural immersion in this diverse area of the world mirrored the work carried out by Alfred Russel Wallace on species identification through ecological observations in this area over a century ago and was a key element to the work I undertook on my two-week expedition.

Being awarded the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant for Outstanding Field Ecologists greatly assisted me in being able to partake in this expedition and achieve my fundraising target and for that reason I would personally like to thank Premier Oil for their generous contribution. Together with the grant, I worked for multiple organisations on a flexible basis alongside my studies as an undergraduate at University in order to fund my trip. This included working at the University of Bristol Student Union Bar, for UCUBE Events Ltd erecting marquees and inflatable structures for weddings and corporate events, Alrewas Hayes, an exclusive countryside wedding venue and for Just Crisps Ltd at trade shows, on the production line, in product testing and as a sales representative and administrative assistant.

On my expedition I undertook a specialised course on Indo-Pacific reef survey techniques, wherein we were granted a detailed insight into vast biodiversity, threats and ecosystem function of this astonishing area. Along with this, the course provided the opportunity to practice organism identification and data collection strategies in the field, as well as achieving a PADI open water qualification. The first-hand experience provided of fragile marine ecosystems and specialist knowledge of the marine organisms present in this unique environment has aided in diversifying my biological experiences and helped to further my aspirations for becoming an outstanding biologist in the field.

Delving daily into the underwater paradise amongst many deadly and mystifying exotic organisms was beyond comprehension. But nothing will be as eternally evocative as contemplating the vast expanse of the universe from the pristine white beaches, observing the fleeting colours of a lingering blood red sky, illuminating the calm shore at dusk, then replaced by the momentary flashes of firefly’s, aquatic organisms and shooting stars as dark falls over this Indo-Pacific haven. The isolation and beauty of Hoga brought a sense of tranquillity and calm to a 21st century world filled with hate and destruction and has truly left me awe-inspired.

Upon graduating from university, I found myself lost and lacking inspiration and direction for the next stage of my life. The unparalleled experience offered by operation Wallacea inspired me to continue my travels in Indonesia, wherein I completed my PADI advanced diving qualification. I now aspire to apply for a Masters to begin study in 2020. This is with the aim of specialising in the areas of Ecosystems and Environmental Challenges, Environmental consultancy, Conservation, or Environmental Technology. It is hoped that this will further my interdisciplinary outlook on how to tackle environmental and sustainability issues and how policies and resources can be developed and implemented to help limit further degradation and extinctions.

I believe that the incomparable opportunity offered on this expedition provided me with an invaluable insight into how to uphold and implement social and environmental responsibilities, while efficiently conducting ground-breaking research and for this reason I will be eternally grateful.

Shaun Sheng An: University of Cambridge

This summer, I had the distinct privilege to take part in Opwall’s two-week marine field research programme in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia.

To begin with, getting there proved to be quite the adventure. Making the first of four flights from metropolitan Singapore to Jakarta proved routine enough, but flying from the sleek, brightly-lit Indonesian capital to a substantially calmer Makassar was my first introduction to Sulawesi and it’s adjoining islands, a quieter, calmer part of the world. We then made our way on a further two flights (including one in a propeller-driven plane!) until we arrived in Wangi-wangi Island at an airfield with an empty building and pristine forest all around. The boat ride was yet another novel adventure, as we sat alongside a dozen unfazed Indonesians wondering why these tourists were so excited and what was for them, a daily commute accompanied by flying fish and spotless tropical islands in lieu of honking cars and traffic lights.

Arriving on Hoga, I realized soon enough that Opwall had created an outpost of professional scientific training hiding amidst the vegetation – my first impressions of the ‘islanders’ reminded me of a lab  – young students sat hunched over their data-sets and computers in groups excitedly discussing their findings, preparing their equipment. Only this time in lieu of labcoats and burettes, these students were clad in khaki tropical garb, tanned bronze and looking over the menacing 15kg diving sets with calm deliberation. I was soon introduced to Pippa (our Camp Manager and stand-in for all authority), then Rowan (Dive Operations Manager) and finally Michael (Reef Survey lecturer). All of them carried a certain assuredness amidst their light-hearted, comprehensive briefs and I immediately felt safe despite being far away from home and all its modern comforts. The local staff were also exceedingly friendly; most mornings would see us trodding through the Kampong waving good morning to our local neighbours young and old alike – extra points and smiles if you recognized who was ‘Ibu’ (term of respect for an older woman) and ‘Kak’ (roughly translated as older sister) and greeted them in order of local practice – elders first!

As a Naval Diver Officer, my previous experiences diving had largely been highly technical experiences in less-aesthetic settings as dictated by operational requirements. Therefore, I came into the marine programme excited to learn more about diving in support of a meaningful cause. Nothing, however, quite prepared me fully for the breathtaking sight of the Wakatobi’s coral reefs in full bloom. I clearly remember my first dive by the unassumingly named ‘Buoy 1’ – our Opwall teams from years before had set up a simple platform made of bamboo poles for novice divers to practice perfect buoyancy on. Descending from our dive boat, we quickly realized that the simple ‘platform’ from the dive brief lay amidst a thick, luscious coral reef teeming with life. Corals of every shape, form of colour provided the hundreds of fish that soon surrounded us with a comforting backdrop to which they could retire after curious peeks at the giant creatures that had settled on the platform to practice balancing on one finger, swimming through hoops, and writing on boards with only one hand. In a way, it was an ironic reversal of roles from all those years I had spent in aquariums back home.

Every subsequent dive proved equally challenging and eye-opening in its own way off Hoga; there were the transect dives of the Reef Survey Techniques Course, where we were treated to a rigorous daily regime of lectures and dive practicals in the morning and afternoon before an evening taxonomic identification session. As someone with zero background in marine biology (or science of any sort, for that matter), I found these sessions fully invigorating and a refreshing test of my wits and ability to absorb new knowledge fast! Laying transects were far from a simple mechanical task – as marine research divers in training, we were now also expected to identify the various types of coral, fish, Mollusca and sponges we encountered along the carefully-laid transect line. Transect surveys were especially hard work as they sometimes required acrobatic maneuvers through the undulating texture of coral reefs, requiring us to carefully tug the transect measuring tape through rocks and around crevices all while looking out for the odd moray eel or crustacean that might smack at your arm after you startle one another. But these were not simply technical tasks; as marine research divers, we were expected to also survey abundance by species and genus, even taking time to wade away from the reef to allow the fish to ‘settle back’ to their homes and neighbourhoods.

There was also no shortage of interesting creatures on land, either! Indonesian PhD student (also war journalist, filmmaker, photographer and businessman) Ramadian Bakhtiar was just one of many strikingly unique individuals that found themselves ashore at Hoga. I got the chance to work up close with Rama, helping him conduct experiments underwater on sponges and survey seagrass diversity in the shallows off Hoga. The other staff and students on Hoga came from all over the world – American, Irish, Malaysian and even Swiss students came together every breakfast united by a common experience.

Evenings capped off each day’s excitement with the ‘complete experience’ of island life – there were the weekly social nights where we could celebrate the week’s work with a well-deserved break (replete with karaoke music and a Bintang), and there were also enriching presentations on marine biology work by some exceptionally gifted students sharing about their summer’s work. Hoga’s remoteness also lent for some dazzling scenes out by the beach – bioluminescent sparkles in the water, and up above you could see a thousand stars and the Milky Way as clear as in the movies… Much of Hoga was indescribably magnificent and made you realise exactly how beautiful nature can be when we do our best to protect it.

My experience in Indonesia this summer has been everything I hoped for and more. I am very grateful to the Wallacea Trust and Premium Oil for their support through this award and highly recommend this experience for you if nature, science and diving is your thing! Beyond the aesthetic, this experience has also shown me what good can be done for local environments and communities when sustained passion, genuine understanding and informed methodologies are put into practice. Protecting the environment has real, visceral consequences for the sustainability of local ways of life, and the aesthetic pleasure we witness when diving also has intangible effects on the way we perceive the arduous work we undertake. While I leave Hoga and Opwall’s site with fond memories, I am also keenly aware none of this has been achieved by chance. In my future career as a leader of teams in my Navy and country, I hope that these same lessons can continue to inform the way I lead my teammates to create lasting ecosystems of professionalism, passion and productive effort that remembers always to anchor progress in the world around us that sustains it.

Tsvetoslav Georgiev: UCL

Operation Wallacea in Indonesia was an unprecedented experience. The conditions in which we lived and did work were the truest embodiment of the field. This was a unique and very direct way to experience the jungle and the coral reefs. We were truly away from civilisation, left with the basic housing and food we needed and that made it an experience infused with a lot of inner thought and immediate connection with the surrounding nature. The work we did in both locations (Central Buton and Hoga) was as real as I have been led to imagine by my biological education and was full not only of things we knew we would see but also with many out of script encounters and real field situations which required new thinking and personal energy.

My first days on Buton were filled with trying to analyse all the ways in which the nature and the rural village of Ereke differed from what I knew. Surprisingly, one of my first impressions was that apart from being on an island and there being lots of fish, the people, houses and everyday life of Indonesians are not that far from the rural Bulgaria of my childhood. I was delighted by how open and welcoming everyone was. As I was ill upon arrival to Ereke, I stayed an extra day before going to base camp. While I was casually walking on the street and looking at the village, I had a large amount of people simply approach me and ask to talk to me for a few minutes – even though they could barely speak English. Throughout my whole trip, this was the common theme of the local populace, guides and scientists – they were very genuine, warm and they always lived in the present. I still think about their culture and what I could learn from it for my own setting towards life.

While in the rainforest, the monolithic trees, the constant wall of green everywhere around and the drenching humidity put my mind in a new setting. Working and going through the forest aside, simply being amidst it was something that made me question my perspective of human size and form and our place in nature.

Each survey presented me with useful experience and put me in contact with interesting species – a lot of them endemics to Sulawesi or even just to Buton; as of yet undescribed species too. While I thoroughly enjoyed all surveys, something truly special was the nature of the bird and megafauna ones. In the dense forest, you have extremely little chance of spotting these animals. Therefore, the surveys are done via listening for sounds and looking for various traces. This added a whole new level of immersion and contact with the environment, an exploration of the soundscape (this is in no way akin to visual memorisation) and a type of visual pattern recognition I had not done before.

Before my expedition, I had looked at all the vertebrates of Buton. Our surveys let us come in contact with more of them than I ever expected. But what I truly never expected was to be locked in a patch of rainforest while on bat survey because of an anoa buffalo appearing while we were away from our mist nets. Finding ourselves such a distance from the animal that we knew its vocal warnings were directed at us was something that still makes me describe this expedition as being on a David Attenborough film set. It was the experiences like this, the findings that you never set out to find that made me appreciate just how genuine our operation was.

Besides our biological work, we had of course ample time to engage in social activities with our peers and Indonesian guides. I can truly say I made at least one friend for a lifetime and to know people in a setting far from society is eye-opening. Experiencing Indonesian culture was also something to remember. Learning the Indonesian and Buton languages was a favourite evening pastime. It was also on Buton that I realised how each island’s people had a different way of their own and just how diverse this country was. This was also my first prolonged stat in a Muslim country and it made me confirm that the differences between the average Muslim and the average Christian are miniscule. In the end, we are all just people and most of our interests are common. Being a UCL student, I strive to be a global citizen and I felt like this endeavour would help but I never expected to feel this connected. As I have been to Vietnam in the past, this expedition made me reaffirm that Southeast Asia is like a second home to me and I am always driven to return. I hope this connection helps me contribute more to our world.

Hoga was a different experience altogether. The larger number of people and the more organised schedule of lectures and dives removed the close social atmosphere we developed in the jungle, yet we soon saw the merits of this part of our trip as well. Our teaching schedule was intense and combined with personal effort made us capable of identifying a very wide range of reef inhabitants. Not having dived before, I feel privileged to have acquired those skills on the most diverse reefs on the planet. And shortly after, to have learnt to apply the methods with which researchers assess this diversity.

Hoga was not all reef though. The forest and reef holes on the island provided an opportunity to see fauna which we could not in the dense jungle of Buton. Sea kraits, chitons, kingfishers, herons, land crabs, water monitors are just part of my still vivid memories. There is a crown jewel among my observations as well – the orange-footed scrubfowl. There not being an ornithologist on the site, some staff believed it to be an undescribed species so me and my friend Aishah Wilson ventured around the forest each morning for days on end to document it. After we finally did, we realised it was a known species and upon returning to London, I also understood it had been documented for Wakatobi, something I was then unsure of. Nevertheless, this gave me a taste of excitement ahead of a new discovery and let me experience the patience and drive needed to work where not everything is known.

One of our days on Hoga we spent swimming through a nearby mangrove forest. This was probably the most magical sight I had ever seen. Not walking, but swimming among tress, looking through their roots and seeing fish; looking at the bottom to see a seagrass meadow with upside-down jellyfish… These sights are what drives me to strive in the area of biology and inspire others to discover our world, wilder than any fiction ever imagined.

The expedition also made me see with my own eyes the problems which we as environmentalists try to address each day. Illegal logging has not stopped in the North Buton rainforest. Most locals know little of the perils caused by plastic in the sea and simply throw it there after use carelessly, same as we do in the bin. Dynamite fishing has also not completely ceased. The sad reality is that these very people who depend on the sea and its resources so intimately fall victim to an ignorance that is set to lead to their demise within the next 50 years. I do not yet know the answer to these complex issues but I know it is dangerous to turn our backs on them and I will continue to think about them.

To take part in this has been one of my greatest achievements because it has shown me how much more I can work towards. I am happy that there are people who would fund the young generation on these quests of inner and outer exploration and I am confident that we will give this back to the world manyfold.

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