Ex Situ is Operation Wallacea’s virtual lecture series highlighting the work of some of the amazing scientists and naturalists that we’ve been involved with over the last 25 years.
Want to watch the full series? You can find the full playlist here.
New episodes released on Friday with a live Q&A a few days later live on Facebook and YouTube. Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!
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Dr Joe Nunez-Mino has had a long and varied career in conservation. This has included studying dung beetles in the cloud forest of Honduras through to his current job as the Director of Communications and Fundraising at the Bat Conservation Trust. He also worked for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Zoological Society of London leading The Last Survivors project in the Dominican Republic which lead to an appearance in David Attenborough’s “Attenborough Ark” programme.
He did not take a traditional route into conservation. After finishing his undergraduate degree in life science at the University of Westminster, he became disillusioned with academia, particularly because a lot of it seemed too separated from the world at large. He ended up going into the world of business although he continued doing voluntary work with a variety of small UK based conservation charities.
He became aware of how important research is in terms of driving good policy and management decisions. This drove him to return the world of research so he enrolled to do a part-time Masters in Environmental Science at Birkbeck College (University of London). He had been out of the academic world for over 12 years by then but found many of the business skills useful in the world of conservation. In the middle of his masters he spent six weeks in Madagascar where he witnessed the scale of destruction along with a real understanding of what we are at risk of losing. The following year after finishing his masters he was offered a sponsored place to do a second masters in Forest protection and conservation at Imperial College, London. He ended his business career then and there. His MSc thesis took him to Parque Nacional Cususo (PNC; Honduras) with Operation Wallacea. After finishing his Masters he continued to do research in PNC for the following five years, initially on a freelance basis and subsequently as part of his PhD at the University of Oxford on “Biodiversity Indicators and Conservation Priorities”. He has not looked back since. He continues to be involved with some ongoing research and publications but the focus of his work is securing funds for conservation and communications at the Bat Conservation Trust.
George is the Head Herpetologist for Opwalls Cusuco National Park Terrestrial research site. With Opwalls team, he oversees all the herpetology research currently going on in Cusuco, whilst also conducting his Research Masters at the University of Plymouth and Cornwall College working on snake spatial ecology.
George did his undergraduate degree in International Wildlife Biology at the University of South Wales, which, along with giving him a grounding in sound science also gave him the unique experience of field work in the tropics. One of the field expeditions was even out to Cusuco National Park to collect data for his undergraduate dissertation, which used maximum entropy distribution modelling to look at competition between venomous snake species in the park. George has been involved with Opwall for over five years and has gone from being a student to running the herpetology team, and now supervises numerous undergraduate dissertations for students in the UK and abroad.
George is also an avid SCICOMM-er, utilising his love of photography and social media and also gives talks around the world about snakes, snake conservation, ecology and all other things biology related. And, whilst lockdown may have him shut indoors its not stopping him getting the word out about the snakes of Cusuco.
This week we’ve got another early-career conservationist in the form of Sian Green, who’s a PhD student at Durham University. Sian is a large mammal scientist who specialises in camera trapping, who took that expertise into the field with us in Romania – you’ve probably seen quite a few of the trap videos she’s captured if you follow us on social media! Sian’s talk covers the ins and outs of camera trapping, but also focuses down on citizen science – getting members of the public to help analyse videos with Mammalweb.
Sian Green is a PhD student at Durham University working on camera traps and public engagement in citizen science for mammal monitoring. She’s working closely with Mammalweb, an initiative that invites the general public to help analyse mountains of camera trap photos collected from around the UK and Europe.
Sian has a Bachelors in Zoology from the University of Reading, and a Masters in Wildlife Conservation from the University of Southampton, both of which involved a dissertation/thesis studying large mammals in Africa – particularly Elephants! A great deal of her passion comes from the amazing insights into the lives of mammals that we don’t normally get to see, that camera traps allow us to witness almost first hand.
She’s been involved with Opwall for the last few years, working as a large mammal scientist on our Romania project for the last three expedition seasons. One of the most popular and sought-after things that people tend to want to get involved with when working with Opwall has always been large mammals and camera trapping, so we hope you find her insights into it as fascinating as we do!
Dr Dan Exton is Head of Research at Operation Wallacea, where he oversees our global research, conservation and education strategy. He is a passionate marine biologist who specialises in coral reefs and the people who rely on them, and he publishes widely on a wide range of subjects including community ecology, small-scale fisheries, invasive species and biogeochemistry. Dan believes strongly in the power of cross-disciplinary science, as shown by his journey through university that saw him complete an undergraduate degree in marine biology, a masters in environmental governance and a PhD in marine chemistry.
His talk covers one of the biggest pieces of work that Opwall has ever been involved in. Over twenty years of data collection went into producing a paper on the environmental impacts of fish fences, and it was even featured by the BBC. No idea what a fish fence is? Dan will explain all!
Dan’s Opwall journey began back in 2005 when he joined as a volunteer to complete his undergraduate dissertation in Indonesia, before returning in various summer field staff positions throughout his Masters and PhD. He joined Opwall full-time straight after completing his PhD, initially leading our global marine research and operations, before evolving into his current position back in 2017.
Dan works closely with a number of universities throughout the UK supervising a team of PhD students, he is an honorary lecturer at University of Essex and a Research Associate at University of Oxford. He is also Secretary of our partner charity the Wallacea Trust, where he leads the applied conservation outputs from the Opwall expeditions worldwide.
This week, we have Dr Gabi Teren from our South African partner organisation WEI, discussing the return of Elephants to the Flower Kingdom. Elephants were recently re-introduced into an area in the Western Cape where they had been hunted to extinction from over a century ago – however, the environment is still very different to the areas that Elephants normally inhabit. The Cape Floral Region is made up primarily of fynbos – a hugely diverse area of heathland with more of a Mediterranean climate. However, Elephants require huge amounts of food – often upwards of 150kg per day, and there were concerns the environment wouldn’t be able to cope with that. WEI, in conjunction with Opwall volunteer teams, looked into those concerns to find out.
Gabi is the research manager for WEI, who are the in-country partners for Opwall in South Africa. She manages all the research across the sites, some of which operate all-year round. She grew up in Johannesburg and her passion for wildlife came from visits to the world famous Kruger National Park as a child.
She did her undergraduate and PhD degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg focusing on zoology and ecology. Her PhD looked at the effects of elephants on plant diversity in northern Botswana which sees some of the most intense impacts from elephants in the world and there are both positive and negative effects for diversity. She joined WEI 3 years ago and established the Human-Wildlife Conflict research and Fynbos Biodiversity Hotspot research programmes.
She also supervises the dissertation projects with Opwall and travels between sites during the summer expedition season. She can often be found sitting on the ground in a vegetation survey trying to get everyone around her excited about half-eaten plants and what that means for conservation. In her spare time she enjoys the beauty of the Cape Floral Kingdom and all it’s wine (!) in addition to taking her beagles for hikes in the mountains and on the beach.
Sophia Wood is the co-founder and CEO of Friends of Wallacea, a sister organization to Opwall that partners with rural and indigenous communities to develop community-led wildlife tourism that empowers and incentivizes local ecosystem stewardship. Founded at the end of 2019, Friends of Wallacea is on its way to working with seven Opwall partner communities to create year-round income through tourism to promote the conservation of unique species.
Sophia started her career as a political scientist looking at tourism as an economic development tool in indigenous communities in Chile and Kenya and claims her career in conservation was launched when she joined Opwall as a staff member in Fiji in 2017. She now runs Opwall’s sites in Ecuador and the Galapagos, alongside her role at Friends of Wallacea. Prior to Friends of Wallacea, Sophia worked in the Latin American tech industry as a writer and investor with a global venture capital firm based in Santiago, Chile, where she lives today.
Have you ever wondered how the carbon market works? How bigger companies can offset their carbon emissions by buying credits that go towards offsetting programs? Luke will explain all!
Luke Howard is the Projects Officer at the Plan Vivo Foundation- A governance body within the Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) that helps deliver funding to conservation and tree-planting projects in developing countries. Luke will help explain how the VCM operates, how carbon credits support projects, and the role of Plan Vivo as a governance mechanism. For those who have not heard of the VCM, or are still exploring future career paths, this lecture provides an initial glance into an exciting and expanding sector.
Luke studied Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford, where he specialised in ecology and conservation, before completing a MSc in Environmental Protection and Management at the University of Edinburgh. He has since been working at Plan Vivo for over 18 months, where he primarily manages activities surrounding current and new conservation/afforestation projects.
Professor Nicola Marples has worked with Opwall in Indonesia for over twenty years, first getting involved in 1999 and has been involved with the publication of numerous papers alongside Opwall during that time. She was also involved in our exciting discovery of the Wangi-Wangi white eye, a new species to science! You can read more about this discovery in the paper below.
A senior lecturer and a fellow at Trinity College Dublin, Professor Marples initially studied Zoology and Oxford University, before moving on to do her PhD at Cardiff University, and has been at TCD since 1996.
She has been involved with over 90 peer-reviewed publications throughout her career and is primarily focused on bird ecology and adaption.
Her research spans diverse topics from predator-prey relationships to mimicry systems and the importance of birds to understanding evolution on remote islands. In her lecture “Principles of Island Biogeography,” Professor Marples will discuss how species develop on remote islands and how they continue to change once they are there. She also delves into how the study of biogeography can inform how we develop plans to conserve endangered species and habitats on islands – and on land.
The material for her lecture arises from a long-term project between TCD, Halu Oleo University Indonesia, and Opwall. Check out her Ex Situ lecture to learn what islands can teach us about evolution and how to protect the world’s most unique species.
This week, we’ve got long-time Opwall Honduras collaborator Dr Jonathan Kolby, talking about his work with Chytrid Fungus – a disease that is present globally in amphibians, putting a huge number of species at risk of extinction.
Dr Jonathan Kolby has been involved with Opwall since 2007, when he joined our Honduras project in Cusuco and developed a lifelong commitment to combating global amphibian declines and extinction. He recently established the Honduras Amphibian Research & Conservation Center to specifically prevent amphibian extinctions in Honduras, has published over a dozen scientific papers, written blog posts for National Geographic and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, and currently runs a citizen science project on iNaturalist called “Saving Salamanders with Citizen Science” to help monitor for the emergence of salamander chytrid fungus in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. at James Cook University in Australia, where he studied the global spread of amphibian chytrid fungus and ranavirus.
He also recently wrote an article for National Geographic entitled “To prevent the next pandemic, it’s the legal wildlife trade we should worry about” that we’d recommend reading!
Ex Situ #3 features Éadin O’Mahony and her talk – “Using Whale Snot for Conservation” (we love this title!). While Éadin has worked with us as both a volunteer and a staff member in recent years, we couldn’t pass up asking her to talk about her Masters project – flying drones through Humpback Whale blow.
Éadin is currently an MRes student in Marine Biology at the University of St. Andrews and specializes in using innovative technology for cetacean research off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. In her lecture, Éadin discusses her work using drones to capture whale blow for genetic research and gives us a window into the life and career of a young marine biologist in the field.
Our next edition of Ex Situ features Kieran McCloskey, a PhD student at the University of Exeter studying the impact of marine noise on fish reproduction and populations. In his lecture, Underwater Acoustics and Noise Pollution, Kieran will discuss how man-made sounds can have a detrimental effect on marine life and how he is quantifying this outcome through animals’ reproductive output.
Noticing that noise pollution has a clear effect on our oceans and natural areas, Kieran became fascinated with translating its impact into meaningful predictions about species’ fitness and population outcomes. His research has taken him to Opwall’s marine site in Honduras, where he spends much of his time in the ocean to measure fish breeding habits. This research question has taken Kieran through a strong academic career to attain Master’s degrees from universities in both the US and UK before taking on his doctoral study.
Alongside his research, Kieran fosters a love of the ocean as a Divemaster, leading scientific surveys and community outreach surrounding marine conservation. We hope you will join us for this informative lecture on human impacts on our marine life!
For the inaugural episode we have Dr Niall McCann, host of TV’s “The Biggest and Baddest” and a vocal public figure in the conservation of the world’s biodiversity. In his lecture, Conservation on the Frontline, Dr. McCann will recount his experiences as a biologist – from starting off at the age of 18 working for the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, to Cusuco National Park in Honduras working with Operation Wallacea, to his TV work and finally his work as Director of Conservation at National Park Rescue. You can find more out about Niall at his website, here: https://niallmccann.com/
You can also find the recording of his live Q&A below!