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 – each year, five awards of £1000 are available for five UK schools heading out to any Opwall expedition site in the Summer!

    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/individually to promote and raise money for your expedition? We are fully aware that group fundraising will have been a challenge over the past year so are happy for individuals within the school group to talk about what they have done personally for their fundraising rather then specific team fundraising.

    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 2021 Award are now closed. 

    *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 2019 School Recipients

  • 2019 was our third 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 –  Alcester Grammar School, Callywith College, King Henry VIII High School, Kingsmead School and Stratford-upon-Avon School. Post-expedition, each group was asked to write a short report and share their experiences with us:

Alcester Grammar School - Fiji 2019

Our group came from Alcester Grammar School in the West Midlands. Our expedition group consisted of four year 12 students and 14 year 13 students and our supervisors were our teachers, Mr. Gill and Ms McLean. Everyone in our group who came onto the expedition were very eager about the study of ecology and biology as a whole and so we were all passionate about the trip and had an enjoyable time whilst out in Fiji.

Fundraising for the trip was done in many different ways. as a group we had no group fundraising pot but rather did so individually. Many people such as myself got jobs to help fundraise for the trip for example I (Harry Benton) got a job working at McDonalds to help fund the trip, taking me 6 months of working. Another of our group setup a quiz night and raffle helping them to raise somewhere in the region of a brilliant £800 for the trip.

Everyone on the group prepared separately, but we had a few meetings on the lead up to the trip to help us prepare, as well as some extra activities that were needed. We were given a list to help us pack what we would need, to ensure the expedition went smoothly and was enjoyable including medical supplies and rainforest friendly clothes. We were also informed on the importance of biodegradable wash products so we had to locate some for the trip, which was kindly donated by green people. This company was a good call, as their products were made from 100% biodegradable products which we would be able to safely use in the rainforest without damaging the delicate ecosystem that is found in the area. We also managed to get these products for free, in exchange for publicity for their products which allowed use to easily acquire biodegradable products whilst raising awareness for a brand. We were also taught the customs to use for when we stayed with the locals for 1 day and 2 nights so we could create a welcoming environment for the locals that were hosting us.  In preparation for the marine week on the Fiji expedition, we were recommended to acquire a PADI diving license which would allow us to start helping the onsite researchers a lot quicker as we were already qualified to dive. Most of the group went on to do this, with some deciding to learn at the site. Some of us had already earnt a diving license so we arranged a day after school, in which we met up at the local leisure centre to have a refresher on diving in a pool, in which we were shown hand signals and procedures for assembling and disassembling the gear. We also managed to get a sponsorship from the company Gul which allowed us to have wetsuits for the diving sections of the trip. Without these suits we would have been less prepared for the trip when we arrived, having to borrow the wetsuits that were already there.

The trip began at Alcester Grammar School on the 12th of July 2019. We had a brief meeting with the trip leader Mr. Gill before loading the minibus for Heathrow. From there we had a 13hour flight to Singapore where we spent an hour or so making our way to the connecting flight to Nadi, Fiji which was another 10 hours. After our arrival we had another small flight to Savusavu where we had a nice meal in the harbour before getting the bus to the homestay village of Vusaratu where we were greeted with a warm welcome and fed some traditional Fijian food before going to bed with our homestay families. The house was very nice and welcoming especially after having travelled such a long way to get there. Me and one other student were staying with one of the older residents of the village and was keen to take care of us and make us feel as if we were part of a family. We each had our own room that was fully prepared for

us with mosquito nets being hung over both our beds to protect us from the mosquitoes. In the mornings we were treated to many delicious foods for breakfast, the highlight being the scrambled eggs and bread that we were provided with which had a very unique taste compared to their counterparts in England. Our homestay was very curious about our lives and so we were happy to talk about our experiences in England and how we were enjoying Fiji. The first day in the village of Vusaratu we were given a village tour where the locals showed us their way of life and things that people would do on a normal day in the village such as mat-weaving and collecting certain plants for medicine or for earning money. Later that day the locals treated us to a lovo dinner on the beach before we went to bed ready for the big hike up the hills to the forest camp the following morning. The hike up to the forest camp was long, slow and difficult in the heat of the day however we did all eventually make it before lunch and our afternoon activities. We had planned to take a coach up to the start of the trail, but it never arrived so we had to start our walk from the village, letting us take in more of the surroundings than we would have.

The 1st week in the forest camp was worked on a rota of spiders, habitats, butterflies and birds. Every day each group did something different until they had completed all of the tasks. My personal favourite was the butterflies as we managed to catch a butterfly that has never been found in the Natewa peninsula before. Although the butterfly was not a new species it had never been recorded in this particular area, so it was a very exciting moment for our group. Once all was done we had to leave the beauty of the rainforest behind for the marine camp. The views there were breath taking over the bay which is the largest bay in the south pacific. during the second week we carried out underwater surveys or some people got their PADI certification or like me, went snorkelling. On the Wednesday morning I stepped outside the tent to see everyone on the beach looking out into the bay during what was meant to be breakfast. To everyone’s surprise, there was a whale out in the middle of the bay where everyone was staring in awe. The rest of the time in the water camp we played various card games when we were not out in the water. After an amazing time in rural Natewa bay we sadly headed to Nadi for 2 nights in Bamboo-backpackers where we went to the garden if the sleeping giant and the Sabeto hot springs. before embarking on the long journey home.

What did we gain and learn from taking part?  We gained knowledge on how the job of ecology works in a real life setting and the types of conditions people work in for the type of job they do. We also gained an appreciation for different cultures from the other side of the world and how different their way of life is to ours, whilst learning about their way of life and how it differs from ours in a more developed country and discovering their viewpoints. Every night once we reached the forest camp and then the marine camp, we were provided with a very engaging lecture on the ecology of the islands of Fiji, some examples of the types of lectures we were given were about the different types of coral and fish in Natewa bay and how to identify and categorize these. Another lecture we were given, that was in the forest camp, was about the different types of islands in Fiji and how the positioning of these islands affected the migration of different species, such as birds and of course humans. We also learnt of the endemic species that were only found on the island that we stayed on Vanua Levu and more specifically the Natewa peninsula, for example the Natewa silktail and Papilio natewa (a swallowtail butterfly). We left with an overall greater understanding of the subject of ecology and more so the ecology of Fiji which will be very useful for the future for all of us if we go into the field of Biology, and a perfect way to get into ecology as a fulltime job. Even for those that do not want to go into ecology, the experience is an invaluable source of information and experiences that will make all of our group stand out from the rest of the crowd, showing our high interest in amazing projects such as this one. It may in the future even lead to some of us being the pioneer of a new discovery in the field, thanks to this expedition.

Callywith College – Honduras 2019

On our first day in the Cloud Forest of the Cusuco National Park we hiked from the base camp up the mountain to a smaller and more remote satellite camp called Cantillos. Our time at Cantilllos was spent carrying out herpetofauna surveys where we learnt about how to capture, classify and safely handle snakes and how to collect and swab frogs. The surveying was necessary in order to determine whether the frogs had chytrid fungus, a pathogenic fungus which affects the keratinous tissues of amphibians and is feared may lead to the next global mass extinction. We learnt how to set up a light trap which enabled us to attract and capture a wide variety of moths and jewel scarab beetles which are endemic to the Cusuco National Park. We visited the Dwarf Forest where the high altitude causes the trees to be very short; the dwarf forest was full of delicate red flowers and we were also able to see views over the whole park from the top. We also spent time with the bird team: we captured two slate coloured solitaires and a hummingbird in our mist nets! After spending 3 nights in a hammock at the satellite camp we then hiked back down to the base camp.

We spent a further 4 nights at base camp and we participated in a lecture series which included lectures on chytrid fungus, the animals and insects of Cusuco, rainforest conservation and rainforest services. Also while at base camp we went on more herpetofauna surveys. It was interesting to be able see how the snakes and amphibians differed between the camps due to their different altitudes. Additionally we went out with the bat team where we learnt how to assemble a mist net to capture bats, and how to process and release bats. Furthermore, we spent time with the bird team again, this time we went on a point count and attempted to learn the bird calls. We found it difficult to remember and differentiate between the different bird calls but the point count was very enjoyable!

After spending a week in the rainforest, we travelled by 4×4 followed by an old American school bus, coach, ferry then another coach across Honduras to Roatan, the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. Over the week on Roatan we successfully completed our PADI open water dive qualification, with 5 confined water dives and 5 open water dives. We learnt specific skills such as how to empty a fully flooded mask, how to remove all your equipment underwater, how to share air with a buddy in an emergency, CESA (Controlled emergency swimming ascent), how to drop weights in an emergency, BCD oral inflation above and below the surface, five point descent, five point ascent, how to control buoyancy, how to safely enter the water with a backwards entry and how to plan a dive using dive tables. While on our dives we saw a wide variety of corals such as stag horn coral, yellow tube sponge, brain coral, giant barrel sponge, sea fans and lettuce coral. We also saw a wide variety of marine life including a green turtle, spotted eagle rays, green moray eel, midnight parrot fish, spotlight parrotfish, sea urchins, angelfish, damselfish, wrasse, snappers and sergeant major.

 

King Henry VIII High School - Dominica 2019

We are 16 students from King Henry VIII School in Abergavenny, South Wales. In the summer of 2019, we went to Dominica, the “nature island” of the Caribbean. Dominica is the most mountainous and biologically-diverse island in the Lesser Antilles, home to 9 dormant volcanoes and hundreds of different species of endemic flora and fauna. The expedition involved a week in the jungle followed by a week by the sea. We helped collect data for Operation Wallacea and the collaborative world-renowned scientists and university students. In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, devastating the island. Consequently, the research we collected is some of the first evidence of the effects of the hurricane on the island. Our school group was comprised of 15-19 year olds, who saw this expedition as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As a group, we used several fundraising methods in order to raise money for this expedition. Firstly, we decided to write sponsorship letters to send to various companies. From these letters we were able to gain sponsorships from six companies, raising a total of £634.20.We decided to set up stalls at some events, including a school fete, in which we raised money from games such as throwing/kicking a ball through a hole and guessing the sweets in a jar. From these events we raised £149.16. The biggest fundraising event that we carried out was a quiz which we held at a local pub that kindly allowed us to use the pub for the evening. During this we hosted around eight rounds of questions with an interval in-between. We raised money from tickets that we sold to people who wanted to attend the quiz, from food that was made by the owners of the pub and sold during the interval, and from raffle tickets that we also sold during the interval – the prizes from which were announced at the end. The total amount of money we raised from this event was £400.66.

Another fundraising method that we used was taking sponsorship forms around and asking for small donations from people. One time we used these sponsorship forms was at a rugby presentation day, where we took a form to people who had attended the presentation and generally gained donations of 50p to a £1 from everyone there. We also set up Easy Fundraising and Just Giving accounts, using the Easy Fundraising account to raise smaller amounts of money throughout the year, raising over £200, and the Just Giving account to gain donations for our sponsored event, whereby a group of us counted our steps every day (via our phones) and aimed to walk the distance from Abergavenny to Dominica in steps, updating the amount of steps we had done every week or fortnight on a website we had set up. We raised over £150 from this. The website we set up was not only created to show a record of our steps, but also to show information regarding the fundraising activities we had done and were going to be doing, information about why we were fundraising and what the expedition was about, and a sponsorship page to show the companies that had sponsored us. The total amount that we raised as a group, not including any individual fundraising via part-time jobs and other activities, was £1716.72. Also, as a school, we raised money in order to reduce transport costs through buying and selling Krispy Kreme donuts during break times or lunch times in our school. Most of the individuals in our group also raised a lot of money through their own part-time jobs.

When applying for the Murray Foundation Award, we compiled information from the various fundraising activities we had done into a power point. Similar to the paragraph above, this power point showed the process we went through in our fundraising efforts and the amounts of money we raised from each activity. The power point also provided images from some of the fundraising activities, highlighting what we did in our fundraising efforts.

There were several aspects that we had to consider when preparing for the expedition. Firstly, we had to have a basic understanding of the types of wildlife we were likely to encounter when completing the various surveys on the expedition. To do this we used materials provided by OpWall and our school regarding the different types of wildlife. Secondly, we had to ensure that we were fully prepared in terms of the kit we needed to take, and to do this we used kit lists provided by OpWall an our school. We had to buy certain items that were needed for the expedition, some of which were more expensive due to being environmentally friendly and biodegradable, which therefore added to the overall cost, and so we needed to carry out further fundraising in an attempt to cover some of these costs. We also needed to have necessary vaccinations to prevent from certain diseases that could have been caught in Dominica, which meant making doctor’s appointments before the expedition. Furthermore, we had to ensure that our travel documents were in date to allow us to travel to Dominica, meaning that some of us had to update our passports, and this had to be done at least six months before we left. Our PADI documents needed to be completed in order to allow us to snorkel or dive when in Dominica, particularly for people with asthma who wanted to dive as this needed to be checked by doctors or specialists first. Additionally, we needed to attend several school meetings over the course of two years in order to keep up to date with all the necessary information for the expedition. We also needed to take certain amounts of US dollars and Eastern Caribbean dollars, therefore meaning that we needed to exchange some money at a travel agency or post office. Finally, we had to ensure that everything we needed to take to Dominica fitted in our bags, and was organised in a way that would be simple to unpack when we were in Dominica in order to find necessary items for each day.

On the 6th of July, we woke up at 01:00 in the morning to take minibuses to Gatwick airport. Armed with at least 2 rucksacks each, we boarded a plane to Antigua, the flight taking more than 8 hours. Our last two days of luxury before we arrived at camp consisted of experiencing exciting Caribbean cuisine, swimming in bath-temperature seas and staying in a hotel. By the 8th, we were sleeping in tents in the middle of the Dominican jungle.

In the first week, we stayed in an eco-lodge which is designed for tourists but is taken over by Operation Wallacea for 2 months of the year.  We bathed in a pool formed by a nearby river and were fed by local cooks. We had to cross 3 rivers to reach our camp, with one coming up to our waists. We took an active part in many different research projects including:

  • Mist netting – We woke up at 05:00 to catch birds and stayed out till midnight catching bats. However, Hurricane Maria has meant that the majority of the canopy has been destroyed, therefore increasing the amount of light reaching the forest floor. Subsequently, shrubbery has dramatically increased, including the invasive razor grass. This has meant space for birds towards the forest floor has decreased. Consequently. We caught a limited amount of birds and bats. Despite this, feeling a bats fur and identifying different species was an amazing experience and many of us were astounded by the size and speed of the Dominican bats. One group saw a pair of imperial parrots, which was extraordinary considering that it is believed that there are only about 20 of these birds left on the island.
  • Insect surveys – Led by Dr Erica McAlister, a world-renowned scientist from the London Natural History Museum, we caught flies and other flying insects with sweep nets and pooters, which involved us sticking our faces in nets and sucking up flies through a tube! Apparently some of the species we caught are now being displayed in the Natural History Museum!
  • Volcanology Day – Robert Watts, a volcanologist monitoring Dominica’s 9 dormant volcanoes took us on a tour around the island, explaining the structure and formation of the island due to historical volcanic eruptions and also the potential dangers posed to the current Dominican population. He then took us to Trafalgar Falls, an amazing 100m waterfall and plunge pool where we could swim. To reach the pool, we had to walk up 200-300m of boulders and were therefore led by a local guide.
  • Snorkelling- We travelled to Champagne Reef, which was on the Western side of the island. It is called this due to the Carbon Dioxide vents in the coral reef. There are only five countries in the world that have these vents, caused by volcanic activity below the sea bed. pH levels at the reef are around 7, contrasting with the usual ocean pH  level of 8.1. This is extremely useful, because ocean pH levels are predicted to reach 7.7 in the next 100 years due to climate change. Therefore Champagne Reef can be used as a sort of trial to see how ocean acidification will affect marine life and biodiversity.
  • Catching anoles- We caught anoles with a noose on the end of a stick. There are two types of anole (lizard) on Dominica, the native anole and the invasive anole. It is feared that the invasive anole is slowly pushing the native anole to higher altitudes, with potentially the prospect of extinction for the native anole. However, as we went up to Freshwater Lake to catch anoles, located at around 650m above sea level, we only caught the native species of anole.

On the 13th, Dominica was hit by a storm, which had previously been classed as a hurricane. Sudden downpours of rain covered the island all night and into the morning, meaning we were unable to leave the camp as the rivers blocking the entrance had risen by a metre in the matter of hours! Luckily enough the rivers had returned to their usual levels by the next day, so we were able to leave the camp to travel to Fort Shirley, the old French and British fort situated in the North of Dominica, where we stayed during the second week of our expedition. We travelled to the fort via boat, hoping to see some whales, however we only saw flying fish (which were still pretty spectacular!).

During the second week, students had a choice; we could either complete our PADI Diving Course or we could snorkel, collecting data and attempting to spot different marine life. Two students completed their PADI Diving Course whilst the other fourteen took part in the coral and fish surveys for Operation Wallacea. As part of these surveys, we learnt how to identify different species of fish (e.g. clown fish, scorpion fish, lizard fish, angel fish and damsel fish), sponge, corals and invertebrates. We also calculated the percentage composition of the coral reef on a 50m transect by identifying what was under the tape measure every 25cm (coral, invertebrate, rock , sand, algae). Given most of us had never dived or snorkelled before, it was a pretty surreal experience doing it for the first time in the Caribbean Sea!

By taking part, we all gained a significant experience of what travelling could be like if we chose to take a gap year or wanted to see the world. We saw first-hand the magnificent lives of scientists, and therefore realized how the work we study in school links to that. We learnt that living in a different country (even in a tent) is well worth it, even if some people find it challenging at first. This experience has inspired many of us to focus on pursuing biology or geography-related occupations and has made us realise that the variety of jobs available to us is wider than you can imagine. Furthermore, we were able to explore new cultures in the Caribbean, and met new people from Canada, U.S.A and scientists from around the world.

We spent the £1000 award by putting it towards the travel to Gatwick airport for all the students. This meant the cost of the trip dropped for each student, meaning we had a little more money to spend on buying equipment to prepare us for our expedition. We also bought matching turquoise hoodies so we were easy to spot! This meant the teachers were less stressed and more confident when we were travelling.

To conclude, we would like to say an enormous thank you to the Murray Foundation. You had a massive contribution in sending us on the most amazing experience of our lives!

Kingsmead School - Borneo 2019

It’s impossible to figure out where to start with this, we had the best two weeks of our lives so far, learnt more than we thought was possible (and we’d just sat through GCSEs and A Levels) and met some wonderful people as well.

This is us.

15 students from Kingsmead School in Hednesford. Jacob, Sam H, Sam C, Alex, Lily, and Oli had just sat their GCSEs, Charlie was heading into her final year at Kingsmead and Bryon, Kyle, Quin, Rianne, Jasmine, Meg, Jay and Kieran had just finished their A Levels and were hoping to be setting off to University a few weeks after we got back home. For every single one of us it was the trip of a life time, it turns out for Rianne and Oli if was even more life changing. As soon as we got back she changed her University course from Psychology to Biology and Oli signed up to take A Level Biology.

Fundraising 

We had to fundraise pretty much all of the money for our trip. Some of us had jobs, and our parents helped where they could but the two years leading up to the trip were full of fundraising antics. Car washes, bake sales (every Friday), bag packs, school concerts, shows, and our biggest money maker and own invention (probably) – The Zombie Run. When we entered the competition for the Murray Award we sent in a video showing exactly what we meant but let us jog your memories. Over 30 members of the sixth form dressed up like Zombies – their makeup professionally done by the drama department. Students from 11 to 17 had to run around the school grounds, collecting clues about who started the zombie apocalypse and ultimately finding a cure, the whole time avoiding the zombies that were waiting around every corner. The level of fundraising we had to do was hard, but we got to know each other really well and it made the whole thing so much more important for us.

Preparing for the Expedition  

Some of us (Rianne and Jasmine) are super organised. They had walking boots the second they found out about the trip and were shopping for environmentally friendly sunscreen before the first meeting. Some of us…we won’t name names, needed a group shopping trip 8 weeks before we set off. There was a lot of walking involved for all of us, worn in walking boots make feet happy – and the extra exercise helped us all get in shape, we can’t all be competitive swimmers like Meg!

Our Expedition

We set off from school at 2am to make it to London Heathrow on time, 4 flights later we arrived in Borneo and were met at the airport by Bryony and a few other members of the team. In an effort to stay awake for as long as possible we headed out into the town for waffles after our dinner.

The expedition really started the next day when we visited the COP centre and learnt a little bit more about why we were going to the rainforest. The staff there taught us about palm oil plantations and what they meant for the biodiversity of the rainforest, but more specifically what happened to the orang-utans that used to populate the forest that had been replaced. We were all prepared to hear about the burning of the forest, about how orang-utans are harmed if they venture on to the plantations, but none of us really understood how serious it was when the baby orang-utans are orphaned. We hadn’t even considered the impact it would have on their mental health, and the people at COP really showed us exactly how much work goes into rehabilitating the younger orang-utans before they can be released. As soon as we got back to school we started thinking about how we could fundraise for this charity because it became clear that it’s a very important cause that isn’t getting the attention that it needs. While we were at the COP centre we also met the students from the British School in Tokyo – our camp mates for the next two weeks.

Lesan Dyak was the next stop on the way to the rainforest. We met the villagers, learnt about how their village had been moved (again this was linked to the palm oil plantations). Everybody’s homestays were welcoming and we learnt a lot from the people that we met, including the music that they like and what their children were studying. After dinner we also got to take part in some local dances and learnt even more about the local culture.

Early the next morning we set off on boat down the river and got our first real glimpses of what it meant to be camping in the rainforest. Macaques were taking leisurely strolls along the edge of the water, gibbons could be heard howling and colourful birds took flight from trees when the boats got close enough. Upon arriving at the forest site we got a tour from Bryony, assigned tents, and then immediately got thrown into some practice. The year 11s and Charlie got to go on a butterfly walk with Roy, whilst the year 13s got to trek along the highway on a mission to spot mammals. That first day the highway seemed like the steepest hill, but after the first couple of days of jungle skills (what can we eat? How can we carry an injured person? What is Rattan and why shouldn’t you pull it straight out of your skin?), bat surveys, and habitats (our favourite activity) the highway seemed like nothing, and we were all a comfortable ‘jungle dry’ at all times. The Red Langurs causally hanging out by the river were our first ‘best sighting’ but nothing compared to being the first group to spot an orang-utan. The sight of all 15 of us (and Miss Reid) sprinting up the highway and towards transect A to see the baby orang-utan that had been spotted must have been hilarious to all of the local guides (although they were right there with us). The Herp night time walk was another highlight of our trip, trekking through a river in the middle of the jungle at night with nothing but our head torches and Scott’s ability to spot frogs and snakes, and not forgetting the occasional set of eyes floating at you down the river only to find out that they are water spiders. By the end of the first week none of us wanted to leave the jungle, we were all completely at home, we’d had some great sightings, set up camera traps, trekked through jungle storms, worked on mist nets, transects and learnt a lot about conservation in the rainforest. Needless to say leaving the jungle was a bitter sweet morning, on the one hand we had to say good bye to the jungle staff, on the other hand we were on our way to our new adventure on Derawan Island.

From the second we saw the jetty at Derawan we knew we were in for an excellent second week. Alan and Alfie were waiting to meet us on the jetty and after we were assigned to our rooms we had our welcome talk and our first PADI lecture. From this point we were split from our teachers completely, they’d already got their PADI open water and were working on projects and a lecture series with some of the students from the Tokyo school. At this point we’d like to mention how proud we are of Kyle, who didn’t think he’d be able to swim well enough to get in the sea let alone dive, and actually turned out to be one of the best divers in the group (next to Meg the Mermaid.) At first we didn’t believe Miss Reid and Mr Higho, we couldn’t understand why they were coming back from dives with goofy smiles on their faces making random fish signals at each other, but as soon as we had our first open water dive we got it. Drifting along in the current, spotting sea turtles, an octopus, angelfish, clownfish, and one tiny shark, the sheer biodiversity of the dives was amazing. We also got to see sites of blast fishing and Emily explained to us why it’s important not to judge the local people for relying on this method of fishing for so long in the past. At the end of the day, they didn’t understand the damage it was causing, had very few other sources of food and income. In the middle of the week Barbara arrived (the name we gave a sea turtle which would make up most of night time entertainment.) Two nights she made her way all the way up from the sea and spent hours digging a nest trying to lay her eggs. The first night the nesting didn’t go to plan and she made her way back down to the ocean while we were eating our noodles. The second night was a success! This has to be one of the top moments of the entire trip, seeing a sea turtle build a nest and lay eggs. We also got to go into the local village and visit the turtle hatchery, and it really made us realise that even the smallest group of people, in the most low tech situations can make a difference to conservation. One of the hardest things about watching Barbara lay her eggs was the fact that as soon as she started back towards the sea it became obvious that she was moving towards the electric lights attached the nearby hotels. The staff from the turtle hatchery were there to help her, and it gave us a real insight into how important the work they do is. Towards the end of the week we worked in small groups to research and create a presentation about an aspect of marine ecology, an we’ll be honest Charlie, Oli and Lily were the best with their shark impersonations and in depth knowledge of shark behaviour. None of us wanted to leave Borneo, we’ve only been back at school a few weeks and we’re already missing it as a collective. It really was a life changing experience.

What did we gain?

Most importantly we got to work with local people and scientists on real projects to make a difference in way that we just couldn’t have managed on our own. We also learnt some valuable scientific techniques – like working out the carbon storage in a tree, which we’re going to apply to looking at our own school site and then try to make it more eco-friendly, again using knowledge that we’ve gathered on the trip. We’re also looking forward to working with Emily again and setting up some conservation trips in the UK, maybe on the nearby Cannock Chase, maybe slightly further afield. Rianne and Oli learnt what they really wanted to do in the future and the rest of us fell even more in love with Biology and the paths that we’ve already chosen to take. We’ve made friends that we’ll never forget, from different countries and different schools.

How did we spend the £1000 award?

The money went straight into the pot with the rest of our fundraising money and helped us to pay for the trip and it was a complete life saver with exams edging closer and closer.

We’d like to finish by thanking you for your help, the extra £1000 towards our trip really helped us. Without the help of people like the Murray Foundation we would never have been able to go on this trip. Visiting Borneo isn’t the kind of opportunity that comes around very often in Hednesford, and it’s changed all of our lives completely, it’s something that we’ll never forget and it’s given us a huge amount of determination to help charities like COP and look closer to home to find ways that we can help maintain biodiversity.

Thank you so much!

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 third year the Murray Foundation have generously provided £5000 in funding to support UK and European students completing an undergraduate dissertation or masters thesis in the summer. Ten awards of £500 are available each year.

    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 field-based dissertation project. 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 15th March 2021.

    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.

Murray Foundation 2019 University Recipients

  • 2019 was our first year running the Murray Foundation University Award. It was hugely successful and enhanced the expedition experience for ten of our wonderful volunteers. Post-expedition, each volunteer was asked to write a short report and share their experiences with us:

Adam Kiani: Oxford University

Mexico was never a country on my travel bucket list; I had no real idea of what any of it was like and had never really considered the nature it might contain. Tropical dry forests were not a habitat type that would have entered my mind when I was daydreaming about the natural wonders I might like to see, and they had never been presented to me as a habitat under immense threat from climate change (this might instead be replaced by tropical rainforest, in both situations). So I was going in rather blind, driven by some gorgeous photos and an enticing description of the bird diversity project, when I chose my project in the Calakmul biosphere reserve in southern Mexico.

After a soul-destroying 4:30am start, followed by a 10 hour plane journey I was greeted unawares by the best burrito ever to grace my mouth on arrival to Cancun. Another agonising 4:30m start for the 8-hour coach journey into the forest was sweetened by the excitement of my imminent arrival into the mysterious jungle.

Arrival to the Mancolona camp, despite my stiff back from the journey and discovering that I was due for ANOTHER 4:30 start the next morning, did not disappoint. I was surrounded by sunlight seeping through a gorgeous green canopy, with the sounds of unknown creatures, tantalisingly close, tempting me already

And then came the animals. Even before I began the week’s survey, I had noticed the fascinating trails of the leaf-cutter ants, cutting across the paths between the tent and the hub of science and food. Once the week had got up and running and provided me with a collared forest falcon outside my tent, a sheep frog on the way to a midnight bathroom trip and a scorpion in the shower, along with countless more species of all groups outside camp, I was enthralled I the forest and ready to begin my dissertation research

The next 5 weeks were spent at various different camps, going on bird surveys; both point counting and mist netting. Stupidly early starts were more than made up for by the grand total of 116 species of birds that I had never seen before in my life. Some highlights include spending two weeks sleeping in a hammock in the heart of the southern forest (Dos Naciones camp), being charged by a howler monkey and seeing my life flash before my eyes (!!) and discovering the most colourful and beautiful beautiful bird species’ I have ever seen (e.g. the green honeycreeper and the collared aracari). I was able to get hands-on experience taking measurements of birds caught in mist nets, and learn more than I could have imagined from a birding genius named Ezequiel.

This really was the experience of a lifetime, and I am so grateful to the Murray foundation for the financial support they gave.

Alice Thwaites: Birmingham University

My experience in Honduras was the best 6 weeks of my life. I worked on the Stereo Video Survey project collecting data on fish and benthic diversity to form my undergraduate dissertation: looking at the role of herbivorous species on a coral reef. The research provided me with countless skills, such as scientific scuba diving techniques, knowledge of Event Measure software and teamwork – to name a few. I worked with an amazing team of people on our project, everyone was kind and helpful, I love diving with them every day.

Every morning I was so excited to get on the boat to go out and dive with some great friends. I fell even more in love with scuba diving whilst I was there, and I was lucky enough to see so many exciting things – my favourites being dolphins and a shark!

The beaches in Honduras were so beautiful and I felt so lucky to be at the beach every single day. One of my favourite memories from my expedition was our trip to Punta Sal. Scuba diving there was a completely unique experience as the coral reef was so close to shore and it was so diverse. The rest of the day we were able to explore the beaches and forest and it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

In my unforgettable experience I found my love for research. Tela had such a beautiful coral reef and it was so exciting being able to work first-hand on a project which supports the conservation and protection of these valuable ecosystems. Despite the data forming the basis of my dissertation, it was amazing knowing that the data we collected is part of something much bigger – raising awareness for the critical function of coral reefs and ensures its future protection. Tela Bay was recently designated a Marine Protected Area, thanks to data collected by Operation Wallacea this fundamental ecosystem (with over 70% coral coverage) is protected. It was also amazing to carry out research in Tela Bay, to support Antal, who discovered this reef system. Antal’s vision is to transition the income of the local community from the reef, from fishing to education and recreation. Antal has built the largest aquarium in Honduras and offers this free for schools to bring local children to educate them and inspire them with science. So – being able to carry out research, not only for myself, but for a wider agenda felt meaningful and exciting.

I’d like to thank Operation Wallacea for providing this amazing experience and for teaching me so many amazing skills. I never could have had such an amazing 6 weeks without Opwall. Also huge thanks to the Murray Foundation award which made this possible through funding for my project.

Callum Hudson: Oxford University

Shelter competition between Lionfish and Caribbean spiny lobster

The invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans, is native to the SE Asian Pacific. Following it’s hypothesised release off the coast of Florida in the 1930s however, the species has spread throughout the Mesoamerican reef system. Lionfish now pose a large threat to many crucial reef species, such as herbivorous (algal grazing) fish, which are essential for maintaining coral dominated reefs. Such fish can effectively mediate reef resistance to phase-shifting to algal dominance in the stead of Lionfish.

P. volitans however, eat many juvenile fish, produce up to 20,000 eggs at once, and have few, if any, natural predators in their invasive range. Reports from fisherman also suggest they may be negatively affecting the charismatic Caribbean spiny lobster; the effects of which are two-fold. Ecologically, lobster are a keystone species on Caribbean reefs (acting as important scavengers and predators), helping to support a healthy reef system. Economically, they represent a major source of income for many coastal dwelling Hondurans, with exports yielding over $100 million annually.

My experiments whilst working with Opwall in Honduras this summer aimed to examine how lionfish may be affecting lobster in terms of sheltering (critical to their lives, as they spend much of the day hiding from predators). I performed my tests by collecting specimens from the local reef of Ensenada and conducting lab behavioural experiments in tanks containing a single shelter, for which the species must compete. Individuals were first acclimatized for 24 hours in holding tanks, before they were transplanted to trial tanks. Here, over a second 24-hour period, the interactions and shelter use of each species was recorded for each trial utilizing an IR camera (lionfish + lobster, lionfish alone or lobster alone) with hope to demonstrate whether the lionfish is indeed having an effect on lobster sheltering.

The video data analysis consisted of measuring the relative times each individual spent either active or inactive whilst near or within the shelter. These measurements, we predict, will accurately yield an indication of how natural sheltering behaviours may be altered by heterospecifics. Other behaviours of interest were also noted, including lionfish fin flares and lobster antennae whips. Following the lab trials, the lionfish were dissected, and morphological measurements were recorded. This data will also be included in our analyses to examine whether physical characteristics explain the observed interactions and behaviours.

On the reef, we also performed coral habitat assessments on shelters and in areas that both lionfish and lobster use naturally, to observe what distinguishing features they prefer in their refugia. Using this data I will be determining a ‘background’ reef assessment, to characterise the reef’s ‘average’ structural characters, before performing specific Lionfish/Lobster shelter assessments (on refugia in which they have been found). From here I will compare the assessments to determine how the shelters used by each species may differ from the reef average, and in what ways (ie. more or less rugose…). An overlap in shelter structure characters between the two species would provide one explanation for any shelter conflict, however we are yet to reach such conclusions.

My time in Honduras did not solely consist of work however! Over the 7-week trip I would dive twice per day on beautiful and incredibly healthy Caribbean coral reef. I was lucky enough to spot a massive range of great finds, from a 8-9ft nurse shark to 2mm Sea Goddess Nudibranchs! Between diving and data analysis, with the large group of other Opwall students, I would fill my time by snorkelling just offshore in search of rays and barracuda, kayak on the lagoon, play beach volleyball, swim in the house pool and run my own mini beach cleans.

Conor Anderson: Leeds University

I am Conor Anderson; I am doing a BSc in Environmental Science at the University of Leeds. I choice to do my dissertation through Operation Wallacea as it allowed me to get experience of doing research in the field for a prolonged period, an experience I would not get during my undergraduate degree. My expedition was at Hoga Island, within the Wakatobi Park in Indonesia, where I was investigating the recruitment, growth (or lack of), and death of corals which had been set up the previous year.

Week 1: As this was my first time SCUBA diving, I had to spend my first week on Hoga undertaking PADI open water course, this was extremely fun and eye opening. The first time I descended was slightly daunting as I was unsure if I was equalising my ears correctly, but after my dive instructor reassured me, I then descended again. The under-water world was beautiful and awe inspiring, filled with brightly coloured fish going about their lives. The rest of the week was spent learning essential diving skills in the water and doing dive theory on land.

Week 2: The second week I was learning Reef Survey Techniques (RST), this was a course that both taught me how to do science dives, and learn theory on coral reefs, including the identification of corals, sort corals, invertebrates and fish. The diving was a big step up from open water, but a crucial one, I learnt how to lay transects under water, do under-water visual counts, line point intercepts and continuous point intercept. Learning these increased my ability diving ability phenomenally, which was extremely useful during my own research. The theory of RST was also very useful, as I needed to be able to identify corals under water for my own research.

Week 3: I helped the monitoring team for the third week, seeing them in action was another big step up. The comparison between new divers laying a transect and dive masters laying a transect was inspiring. During RST it took us 20 minutes to lay a 20m transect, it took monitoring 5 minutes to lay a 50m transect. This set the standard of how I should be conducting my work. The analysis of their data also helped me plan how I would approach the analysis of my own data the following week.

Week 4: As my data collection was quite complex the management staff at Hoga gave me a dive master as my Research Assistant (RA). My RA helped me plan out the methodology of my research, and then helped me with any back up plans if my primary plan were to fall through. Essentially, he helped me prepare for all possible outcomes in the water, I kept this approach up for the rest of my research.

Week 5: New week, new RA. This RA had a comprehensive knowledge on corals and was an accomplished diver to was able to help me improve my planning before I entered the water. Before every dive we would spend 2 hours analysing the corals present at a plot, where they are on the site, and repeating this process for a backup plot. Unsurprisingly, ability to identify coral reefs during this week skyrocketed.

Week 6: My RA this week was not as proficient as my previous two RA’s, but this was a bless in disguise. I was able to use what I had learnt the previous 3 weeks and apply it to helping improve my new RA’s coral identification and his diving ability in the water. This week will likely be the most useful week I have had, and I will likely use it for examples for interviews for the coming years.

Conor Berney: TCD

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Gondwana Game Reserve in South Africa this summer, it was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.

My own project focused on the distributions and habitat preferences of the large herbivores within the reserve. How these large herbivores utilise and impact on the typically nutrient-poor, endemic fynbos vegetation is relatively unknown although it is important information for solid conservation management. To collect the data, we carried out several transects – recording species, GPS location, numbers, habitat type and several other factors every time any large herbivores were seen along the transects.

However, we were all also expected to chip in and help out with the other projects and research going on in camp, rather than just focusing on our own individual project s. I was slightly apprehensive about that going out to South Africa, but actually working with the group of other dissertation students carrying out bird point counts, vegetation surveys, collecting elephant dung for stress hormone analyses and creating a habitat map of the reserve was one of the highlights of my trip. I was very lucky to end up in such a great group where everyone got on so well, it really made the whole experience that bit extra enjoyable.

In addition to being part of a great group of students, the staff were all amazing as well and I can’t thank them enough for making my time in South Africa so special, I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about any of them. They were all so nice and friendly as well as being some extremely knowledgeable and inspiring people that were only delighted to help or just chat with us students.

Meeting all these awesome people, hopefully making some lasting friendships, learning about fynbos, and interacting with these amazing animals in such an amazing setting was a privilege and an experience I will never forget. I am so glad I took this opportunity with Opwall and WEI, it might just be the best decision I’ve ever made. This taste of field work has definitely helped me realise that this is what I want to do in the future.

Unfortunately, my time in South Africa had to come to an end at some point but I could’ve happily stayed on for at least another 2 months. Now that I’m back home I suppose it’s time now to analyse the data I’ve collected and actually write up my dissertation. While it doesn’t quite compare to being in the field, I’m actually not dreading reading and writing about this project as I am genuinely interested in it. If it all goes according to plan, I hope to investigate some of the reasons behind the habitat preferences of the large herbivores. In particular, looking in to how the different species of herbivore partition resources and assessing the potential for interspecific competition for the limited resources within the fenced reserve. Finally, I hope to tie in how the landscape of fear affects the distributions of the herbivores and determine whether the different herbivores are selecting areas for the resources present or if they prefer more open areas with good visibility where they can see any would-be predators coming.

The Fynbos Biome is a unique part of the world with amazing wildlife, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and am extremely grateful to everyone who supported and helped me get there and make the most of this once in a life -time opportunity.

Duncan Swanney: Heriot-Watt University

In the initial week of arriving at the base the beginning day was relaxed to accommodate for jet lag and tiredness from traveling whilst allowing for accommodation to be set up and facilities to be toured. Additionally, a rough briefing to the weeks schedule was done allowing for a more precise idea of day to day events. The rest of the week consisted of training for the PADI open water certificate, in the mornings the theory-based aspect was taught and reviewed followed by an examination to ensure full understanding. In the afternoon we headed to the beach to do confined water dives just before noon the followed by open water dives testing the skills in the afternoon. Some slight schedule changes were required to be made due to weather warnings creating restrictions on the open water dives delaying the final dive until the Monday starting on week 2.

Week 2 began with the completion of the PADI open water training and after passing all my courses became a fully certified open water diver. The permit allowing us to undertake the studies only arrived on the Saturday of week 2 to during the remainder of the week practices were done in monitoring the turtle behaviour and tourist behaviour additionally. On the Saturday the first official day of data collection was undertaken, and we went in 2 pairs with one member in each pair analysing the turtle behaviour and the other member analysing the tourist behaviour. This was done in 2 different 2-hour periods during the data collection. On Sunday of week 2 the data was analysed with the turtles being identified and the behaviour data being upload to the master copy.

Week 3 is when the schedule started to become more rigid and we were performing data collection every day excluding Sunday. We had scheduled times to analyse turtle behaviour and around these times we also would do the other data collection we needed to perform such as seagrass plots, and turtle transects. The turtle behaviour was monitored by following a chosen turtle after photographing the tops of their heads to ID. The chosen turtle was then followed for 20 minutes (assuming it wasn’t lost for a period longer than 2 minutes) and every time a different behaviour occurred the time to the second and behaviour was recorded. The behaviours exhibited were feeding (along with seagrass being fed on), surfacing, diving, swimming, resting, cleaning and other. Additionally, in sync with the turtle behaviour the other person in the pair would be recording tourist behaviour by swimming along with the turtle and recording the tourists near the chosen turtle using the same 20-minute focal data. The tourist behaviours were listed as acceptable (3-5m), approaching (1-3m), crowding (<1m), chasing, photo (any recording or photography), and touching.

The seagrass plots involved a 3 person team using a GPS to move to the preprogramed points across Akumal bay and dispatching a 1m2 quadrat with the quadrat centre on the point and analysing the area. Within the quadrat area the abundance of each seagrass present was recorded along with the max height of each seagrass, epiphyte presence and grazing across the whole area, and other species present. The turtle transects were straight forward using a transect tape along the GPS lines someone would record the number of tourists and turtles along with the distances along the line. My final week ended on the 28th of July and I returned home a few days after.

Justine Thompson: Edinburgh Napier University

From the moment I selected my expedition with Operation Wallacea I was in absolute awe of Gondwana. I spent six weeks of my summer in Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa conducting research for Operation Wallacea and for my master’s project.  When I arrived at Gondwana, I couldn’t believe I was there, having to pinch myself to make sure it was all real. The scenery itself was just breath taking, alongside the encounters with the wildlife throughout my stay.  Gondwana was my first time in South Africa and it provided me with a lot of first experiences!

My project “The Relevance of Primary Productivity for Ungulate Habitat Selection in The Cape Floral Region, South Africa” primarily focused on the use of the Game Transect data collected on Gondwana. These were conducted every day via a 4×4 vehicle along predetermined transects routes. During these surveys is when I saw my first impala, wildebeest, eland, red hartebeest, bushbuck, bontebok, springbok, rhino, zebra, giraffe and elephant! Data collection included GPS coordinates, distance bearing, habitat, visibility, number of individuals, sex of individuals and herd condition. This survey was a new methodology to me and provided me with new skills including use of equipment for measuring and counting, species id and sexing of individuals.

My project relied on another type of survey, habitat mapping, newly developed for this year’s expedition. This was also a new methodology to me but very quickly myself and the other dissertation students picked it up. Following the same game transects, plant species were identified in patches which allowed broad habitat types to be classified. Patches were drawn on QGIS to create and overall habitat map; a first created for the reserve! Already having experience with GIS from my master’s course, I found myself helping other students to use the software. This allowed me to increase my own confidence in the software and give help when required to other people. I also used GIS to produce NDVI maps for my project, something I had not even heard of before my project and now find super interesting. My project excited me every day, as every day was different in terms of the data that was collected and what wildlife I was going to see.

I participated in other surveys during my time in Gondwana including bird point counts and vegetation surveys. The bird point counts always meant a very early morning, but the beautiful sunrises made the early starts worthwhile. Not to mention, watching the high diversity of birds dancing through the Protea and Erica plants learning each distinctive bird song. Without a doubt, you would see a new plant species every day during the vegetation surveys, counting 20 different species in quadrats, sometimes more. I could even put my own camera trap out in the vegetation plots. Waking up every day with butterflies in your stomach with excitement for the day ahead of you truly made writing my master project very special to me.

Around the data collection I had many breath-taking first-time moments too, from the starry night sky, the intense sunsets, encountering lions for the first time, finding the mythical buffalo, seeing a baby rhino to the elephant herd coming up to the vehicle with each one being as magical as the other. Even speaking to the staff, research assistants, field guides and reserve conservation mangers inspired me and motivated me to complete my masters and continue in the conservation sector. Gondwana is a very special place and certainly an experience I will hold in my heart forever.

Kate Sharmen: Nottingham Trent University

Wow… what a summer that was! I’ve just arrived back to the UK after spending two amazing months with Operation Wallacea in the coral triangle on a tiny island called Hoga in Indonesia. 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 which I shared with Holly who was a volunteer who quickly became a good friend.

I didn’t want to waste any time therefore the day after arrival I started a week-long Reef Survey Techniques course, where I attended a series of enthusiastically delivered marine ecology and diving skill lectures. 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 practiced and built upon skills such as transect laying, belt transects and species identification.

Upon completing the Reef Survey Techniques course, I was excited to spend the second week carrying out preliminary data collection snorkels. This week was so important in terms of ensuring that my actual data collection went smoothly as it gave me the opportunity to practise and refine my data collection method. By the third week of my expedition I was comfortable and confident with my data collection method which meant that I was ready to jump into action and start collecting the data for my MSc research project – the main reason why I embarked on this science expedition to Hoga.

So, for the next five weeks, I utilised 3D modelling techniques and conducted habitat assessment scores and rugosity measurements alongside fish, invertebrate and coral ID surveys. This data will be used for my MSc research project which focuses on how the structure and spatial distribution of coral bommies in a coral reef patch impact upon fish and invertebrate diversity. Due to the large amount of time that I was able to spend collecting my data, I managed to collect a much larger dataset than I ever anticipated by surveying over 200 bommies and identifying 8719 fish and 4108 invertebrates. I hope that this research will 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.

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 data and improving my communication skills through delivering a presentation on my research to approximately 50 people (of staff, volunteers and locals). I built upon my diving skills through assisting with any science dives that I could jump on. Through the locals sharing their culture with me, my eyes have been opened and I have adopted their outlook of appreciating what I have rather than wanting more. My life has become so much richer with the many friends (both volunteers and local staff) that I now have. I have memories of fun, laughter and the feeling of awe when I saw both marine and terrestrial animals which will last a life-time. In Hoga I think that it’s safe to say that I found my home-away-from-home.

Katerina Boskova: Portsmouth University

A mission to save the scary-looking but charismatic long-spined black sea urchin

It has been months since I have returned from an expedition with Operation Wallacea and I am still living through my memories as it was still happening. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend my summer in Honduras looking into the aspects of slow recovery of a local keystone species, long-spined black sea urchin. The generous financial gift towards my expedition costs from the Murray foundation made an immense help to my funding the trip.

After a rather stressful journey, that took me through the US, where I unexpectedly spend two nights at the airport because my flight was cancelled. I arrived in Utila, a small but vibrant island of the coast of Honduras. Warm and friendly welcome by the staff, the sun and the ocean made me thrilled about the upcoming six weeks and put me into an expedition mode right away. In the first two weeks I was taking the reef ecology lectures and was offered to complete my PADI rescue diver course, while already diving into the ecological surveys looking for the spiny creatures, baby corals, and fish. After the reef ecology lectures, I managed something I though was impossible, I was able to identify all the hard coral species, macroalgae, fishes, and invertebrates and everything underwater started to look real and more exciting.

Me and other three girls from Princeton University together with our project leader worked on the sea urchin project. Our role was to assess biotic and abiotic factors that might have led to a slow recovery of the long spined black sea urchin. We were diving twice a day, six times a week, so we soon developed an effective way of collecting our data. Identifying past-swimming fish while laying a transect line, spotting minuscule corals, or finding well-hidden sea urchins became a second nature. We were collecting data on the demographics and population density of the urchin, its heterospecific species, coral recruit species, competitive herbivorous fish, predators, temperature, habitat structure, and benthic cover. After each dive we compared our counts and inserted data into an Excel sheet and had a video of the benthic floor to analyse.

So far, we know that the urchin is an essential herbivore in the Caribbean coral reefs and in ideal conditions it maintains the health of the reef by grazing on the overgrowing macroalgae. However, since the 1980s after a major mortality event when over 90% of the urchins disappeared from the Caribbean, the fast growing macroalgae started taking over and are now suffocating the much slower growing and more vulnerable corals. Several factors have been suggested as the reasons for the slow recovery. Starting with insufficient habitat complexity, increasing the water temperature, pollution, and compromised reproduction success by the low-density population.

The scientists from Operation Wallacea and university students have been gathering data on this topic since 2013 and even though there is a clear general understanding of the issue, more research into the specific variables is required so the knowledge can be successfully applied to helping the sea urchin recovery.

And why does it all matter? Why do we need more hard corals and less macroalagae? Hard coral cover is the marker for a healthy reef because its structural complexity creates a unique habitat for millions of other marine organisms. However, we depend on them as well, as they support fisheries, tourism, and provide coastal protection during storms, hurricanes, typhoons, and even tsunamis. Therefore, it is in our best interest to keep the coral reefs, not only in the Caribbean, thriving, which proves to be one of the greatest challenges of today marine conservation efforts.

 

Lyndsay Walsh: TCD

This Summer I was lucky enough to travel to the Peruvian Amazon and carry out research in conjunction with Operation Wallacea and Fund Amazonia. The Amazon basin is one of the most biologically vital and diverse parts of the world and these two organisations and the work that they do is absolutely essential to the conservation of this region.

Arriving in Iquitos late Sunday evening, jet-lagged and extremely sweaty (us Irish are not well-adapted to humidity), I was greeted by Sarah at the entrance to the Casa Moray hotel. Sarah immediately set the tone for the entire trip with her energy and enthusiasm. When you are exhausted and have slight cabin fever from being on a boat the majority of your time, you sometimes forget about the amazing circumstances you have found yourself in – living on a boat in the Amazon basin! The expedition staff were always quick to raise spirits or stoke intrigue with an interesting fact or two.

Our research station was situated on the lower Yarapa river. The ‘Rio Amazonas’ is a boat refurbished from the rubber-boom era and each time we would come back from a survey on our little propeller boats, particularly in the soft light of the evenings, I would be slightly in awe of its presence. My project was specifically looking at the sustainability of the fisheries in this part of the river. Now bear with me for a second. I know that when people think of the Amazon they immediately picture sloths and jaguars – but the fish are absolutely crucial in maintaining the functionality of this ecosystem. Even if they are perhaps not the most charismatic of fauna. That being said, piranhas are pretty awesome and it was often during the quiet of a fishing survey that you would look up and notice a sloth or two perched above you.

The sustainability of fishing has never been assessed in this area of river, which has several villages of people living along it, and so we decided to carry out a Stock-Abundance-Sustainability-Analysis. This entails estimating how many fish are in the river, how many fish are being taken out of the river due to fishing, and judging whether this is a sustainable take-off. To collect the data we carried out fishing surveys using nets, used side-scan sonar (which is an amazing technology whereby the sonar detects individual fish in the water and you can count them), and interviewed local people.

This data is extremely important as it provides baseline data against which future analyses can compare. Baseline studies are sometimes regarded as ‘boring’ but their importance cannot be understated. They are the foundation of conservation science; how can you assess an environment if you do not know what is already there? Without baseline studies your picture of an ecosystem is blurred and unclear. Once you begin to build and compare using baseline data it is like putting on a pair of glasses, the picture comes into focus.

I had a fantastic experience collecting this data and one of the highlights of the entire experience was having the opportunity to go into the village and speak to the local persons about what we are studying, and including them in our research. Too often environmental research excludes the very persons it is meant to benefit most. Through talking to the communities about their experience of fishing and how it has changed over the years, it gave the research added context and importance. I have done a few expeditions now and while each time I consolidate my passion for environmental science and protection, one thing in particular becomes clearer every time: it is the people who truly make the experience.

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 the summer. There are two grants of £250 available each year 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 2021 are now open. To apply, please complete our online application form by midnight on Wednesday 14th April 2021 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 each year, to any students enrolled at a UK university and booked on to an Indonesia expedition as a research assistant or dissertation student in the summer.

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

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 2021 are now closed.

    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 2021 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 2021 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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