What Makes an Opwall School Trip So Special?
Operation Wallacea is a conservation research organisation that runs award-winning biodiversity research expeditions, helping students and volunteers from around the world to gain valuable experience in research. We have spent nearly 30 years working in a range of locations such as tropical rainforests, coral reefs and sea grass meadows, with a network of over 200 researchers working on projects that inform conservation management strategies and save species at risk from extinction.
Photo by Kathleen Farley
By working alongside our researchers in the field students can learn valuable survey skills, experience other cultures, meet people from around the world and contribute towards biodiversity research. With our volunteers’ help, we have been able to publish nearly 650 peer-reviewed academic papers, described 72 species that are new to science, helped to create 6 new protected areas and national parks, and supported local communities to establish income streams that work in harmony with the environment.
We think what we do is pretty special, and we’re sure your students will too! Below we have outlined what makes our sites really incredible to work in, and answered some FAQs. Don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com with any questions!
- Mexico – Our sites in Mexico give a brilliant insight into the history and cultural traditions of the ancient Maya. Our terrestrial site is located within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which is also the location of the ancient citadel of Calakmul. Students will get the opportunity to visit this incredible site for themselves and learn about how the Maya lived within the forest and alongside the wildlife that depend on it. Our cooks and many of our local guides are from communities that still live within the forest and are descended from the ancient Maya. Students will get to interact and learn from them, as well as hear about the honey-making business that Opwall have helped them to set up!
Photo by Carlos Carias
- Madagascar – This island is world-famous for the huge range of endemic species which can be found here (90% of all species found in Madagascar are actually thought to be endemic!). Students will get the opportunity to survey species they will see nowhere else. They will take part in Pollard counts for butterflies, crocodile transects, bird mist netting, spotlighting for amphibians and distance sampling of lemurs. They may also get the chance to assist with ongoing dissertation projects which involve sifaka behavioural studies, DNA sampling of herpetofauna and capture-mark-recapture of nocturnal mouse lemurs!
- South Africa – South Africa is of course famous for the large wildlife found there, and our expeditions are no exception to this! Both of our terrestrial sites are Big 5 game reserves, so students will have an amazing opportunity to see lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and elephants. Our marine site, Sodwana Bay, which is within a UNESCO world heritage site, is an incredible place to learn to dive among a diverse range of aquatic wildlife.
Photo by Tom Avent
- Croatia – Due to the shorter travelling distance for European schools Croatia is a popular option as a result of lower travel costs, but don’t think it’s any less exciting than our other sites! Our terrestrial site is in the Krka National Park, which has become a popular tourist destination. Our research helps to show the impact of tourism on different species and habitats within the park. Unique to this site are cave surveys, as well as searching for signs of wolves on mammal transects. Joining us at one of our marine sites on Silba Island and Pag Island is a fantastic chance to learn more about sea grass meadows, molluscs, sea urchins and Mediterranean fish communities, as well as being an incredible location to get a PADI Open Water qualification.
- Indonesia – Our sites in Indonesia are located within the Wallace region, which is home to some incredible unexplored rainforests and pristine coral reefs. The marine site on Hoga Island is one of our most heavily-published sites, where we look at coral regeneration, the behaviour of cleaner fish, sea grasses, butterflyfish communities, mangrove ecology and marine plastics. Volunteers get to learn how to conduct stereo-video surveys of fish, video surveys of benthic transects and how to 3D map coral reefs. At our terrestrial site in the Langkube Valley, students will take part in a jungle survival skills course as well as participating in surveys. Particular attention is given to species that are endemic to the area, including the Anoa and Maleo, sightings of which are critically important to local conservation efforts.
Photo by Michele Murphy
- Honduras – Our terrestrial site is in the Cusuco National Park which has been ranked in the top 50 most irreplaceable biodiversity sites in the world! This is our most published team of forest researchers of all of our sites, making it a great place to learn a range of terrestrial survey techniques as well as how to analyse data sets. Our marine sites at Tela and Utila are Opwall’s largest marine sites and are home to our pioneering efforts to integrate technology into coral reef monitoring, which includes 3D modelling and use of robots!
- Peru – during expeditions in the Peruvian Amazon students are based on research ships in the Yarapa river. The main aims for this site are to collect data on the sustainability of forest resource use by the indigenous people of the area, and to study the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance in the Amazon. This is an incredible site where we study species such as dolphins, macaws, primates, caimans, turtles, fish and bats!
Photo by Charlotte Harper
- Knepp – Our UK-based field site is located at the UK’s premier rewilding site in West Sussex, which has been returned to a landscape that is not managed by humans. The contrast between Knepp and traditional farmland is startling and it has to be seen to be believed! The vegetation is managed by introduced large herbivores and has resulted in huge increases in floristic diversity and insect abundance. 13 of the UK’s 17 breeding species of bat can be found at Knepp, as well as some species such as the Purple Emperor butterfly, nightingales and turtle doves thriving at Knepp while declining in much of the country. Rewilding is a growing part of conservation in this country and first-hand experience is quickly becoming invaluable!
Some Questions we are Often Asked:
Which site is the best for an educational trip?
All of our school expeditions are structured to fit around school curriculums – the talks and practicals deliver training and information on conservation, ecology, geography, biology and environmental science. The everyday contact and working relationships with researchers and scientists encourages a level of communication that allows students to truly thrive.
What is your favourite expedition?
We think they are all incredible in different ways and for different reasons. Some are based in locations you would otherwise never get the chance to visit, some give opportunities to see unique ecosystems and species. All of our expeditions enable volunteers to gain valuable field experience, meet people and make connections within the field of conservation, as well as to build confidence!
Photo by Ernesto Reyes
Are Opwall expeditions accessible?
Although there is a cost associated with our expeditions, the vast majority of our volunteers fundraise for their expeditions, and we have an incredible fundraising team who are able to help students to reach their fundraising goals. They will give either an in-person or virtual presentation to your school group, covering different methods of fundraising. They are available throughout the year to help with ideas and support, and are also able to help with grant applications that the school can do to help cover costs!
Which place is the best for value for money?
All of our sites offer 2 week expeditions at the same price. The cost covers the scientific curriculum, research permits, food and accommodation. The only difference in cost will be the travel associated with each site. Due to the shorter travelling distance for European groups to our research base in Croatia many schools opt for this expedition as it saves some money.
Photo by Frances Budd
We also offer a shorter 5 day field course based at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, which is another lower cost option for schools based in Europe.
Which sites offer the best jaw dropping experiences mixed with curriculum links?
South Africa is home to the most iconic animals on the planet and seeing them front and centre is one of the most unforgettable experiences you can ever have.
Honduras is already cited as one of the most irreplaceable areas in the world but getting to see newly discovered species (and finding more!) is pretty jaw dropping.
Madagascar is well-known for its endemism and one of the most famous are the lemurs. The terrestrial camps have lemurs visiting daily which is pretty unbelievable!
Photo by Roger Poland
Indonesia is home to the most spectacular reefs on the planet, and there aren’t many places that it would be more incredible to study our reef ecology course.
Mexico has unexplored ancient ruins which are now home to spider monkeys! It is an amazing place to see the anthropogenic impacts of the Mayans on Calakmul.
Croatia offers outstanding nature with species that are more closely related to tropical fauna than northern Europe! The sea grass meadows are vitally important and are a truly beautiful place to dive.
How often do you get to live on a research boat in the Amazon River watching river dolphins? Our Peruvian expeditions are a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Knepp is the UK’s premier rewilding site, and joining the field course is a great chance to experience the positive benefits of making room for nature!
Photo by Fran Anderson