Written by Lee Wilson
Nexus International School (Singapore) have participated in a number of OpWall expeditions over the last few years. I’ve been lucky enough to travel with our learners to Sulawesi, Indonesia and South Africa. I’ve returned from each expedition with a deeper appreciation of what such experiences mean for learners as well as a more profound respect for the environment and the essential work that Operation Wallacea does to help protect our planet for future generations.
I’m not one for drama but our expedition to South Africa was a life changing event. From the moment we arrived, we were aware that we were in a vibrant and diverse country and that coming from Singapore, we would see some stark differences. We did see many many differences but perhaps what we’ll remember the most was the friendliness and openness of the people that we met. From the roadside service stations to the camps, everyone we met asked us about our journey and shared a little about their lives too. During the marine week, a dance troupe came to the camp to share their local customs and dance. It was an amazing and unique experience to see such passion and community spirit.
The terrestrial week in Balule started with early morning game and vegetation surveys. It wasn’t long before big game were spotted. The group I accompanied came across a small pride of lions as well as a bull elephant and numerous giraffe. To see these majestic animals in their natural habitat is something those in the group will never forget. The lions passed our vehicle in absolute silence, cubs in tow. The evening talks and lectures were incredibly insightful. Having conservationist share their experiences of rhino poaching was upsetting but something everyone felt they should hear. Then, to have time to talk to some of the local guides with completely different views on hunting and conservation certainly posed some profound questions and shattered some preconceptions.
Upon reaching Sodwana Bay for the marine week, we were struck by the sheer scale of the environment; huge dunes, whales 300m offshore, the activity at the dive shack. Accomodation was slightly more basic but after diving in challenging conditions, that didn’t seem to bother anyone. All but one of the Nexus group had completed PADI Open Water before the trip so we were straight in at the deep end! Our first dive sighting was a small pod of curious dolphins. We went on to dive twice every day, each dive revealing more of the diverse marine species that occupy this important marine ecosystem. The marine biologists gave excellent lectures and the visit to the shark conservation group Sharklife was a real eye opener.
We all returned with new knowledge, and perhaps a few shattered misconceptions about hunting and conservation. I for one will never forget the expedition and the way it helped my group grow and see the world through an alternative lens.