The first two weeks of this six-week expedition are spent in the forests of the Wallacea region on Buton Island. Followed by four weeks with the marine research teams on Hoga Island in the Wakatobi Marine National Park. The first few days is split between jungle skills training and learning about Wallacean wildlife and ecology from lectures and field based practicals. For the remaining time, the group will help a team of biodiversity researchers complete surveys targeting bird communities using point counts, distance sampling and patch occupancy analysis for large mammals, mist netting for bats, herpetofauna surveys, pollard walks for butterflies and will be based in the primary forests in the little studied northwest corner of the island. The remaining four weeks will be based on Hoga, at the centre of the Coral Triangle – the most biodiverse reefs in the world. If you are not already dive trained but want to learn then you will start your time on Hoga with a PADI Open Water dive training course and then in your next week you will complete an Indo-Pacific reef survey techniques course with lectures and dive based practicals. If you are already dive trained or wishing to only snorkel on the expedition, you will complete the Indo-Pacific reef survey techniques course during your first week. After completing the Indo-Pacific reef survey techniques course you will then join the large team of researchers working on a range of projects including coral intercept video transects and 3D mapping of reefs, nudibranch surveys, stereo-video surveys of reef fish communities, physiology studies of the adaptation of intertidal species to increased temperature, salinity and reduced oxygen levels and many other projects.
There is a triangle of reefs in Eastern Indonesia that have the highest diversity of hard coral genera, the proxy commonly used to assess overall diversity of coral reefs anywhere in the world. Both the marine research stations being used by the Opwall teams are in the centre of this triangle. The South Buton Marine Training and Research Centre has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and around the surrounding small islands, with the objective being to use the data to develop plans for conserving these reefs. The Hoga Island Marine Research Station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi Marine National Park. Over the last 20 years, a series of scientists have been based
at this site during the Opwall survey seasons and as a result, this is now the most published site in the Coral Triangle. For the last 14 years a series of constant monitoring sites around Hoga and eastern Kaledupa have been monitored for macroinvertebrates, fish communities, coral cover and community structure. The 2019 season will complete this monitoring plus some additional research projects.
The South Buton marine research centre opened in 2013 and has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and around the adjacent islands. These are being monitored annually and it is hoped to use the data to demonstrate that a number of the reefs in this area are of high conservation value. Preliminary social studies have commenced as of 2017, involving interviewing fishermen and other local stakeholders to gauge areas of high fishing pressure and the preferred catch methods. The next step is then to begin implementing some conservation management strategies involving all of the local stakeholders in the near future. There is also a small team at this site working in collaboration with the Global Fin Print Project, which monitors shark and ray populations through the use of baited remote underwater video systems.
The Hoga Island marine research station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi Marine National Park. Over the last 20 years a series of scientists have been based at this site during the Opwall survey seasons and have built up the publications emanating from the site to a level which is unsurpassed by any other marine research site in the Coral Triangle. These data and publications have been used to promote the biodiversity value of the Wakatobi, raise its profile internationally and in particular enable it to be designated as a Biosphere Reserve. For the last 12 years a series of constant monitoring sites around Hoga and eastern Kaledupa have been monitored for fish communities, coral cover and community structure and macro-invertebrates. In addition annual fisheries monitoring is being completed to assess changes in the fisheries particularly as some of the management initiatives developed by Opwall (e.g. buy outs of fishing licences and carrageenan extraction) begin to hopefully have an impact. Alongside these long-term monitoring projects there are also newer projects such as a coral restoration program and seagrass monitoring to provide a wide range of opportunities to all.
The Wallacea region comprises islands of the central part of the Indonesian archipelago that are separated by deep ocean trenches which prevented them from being joined to the main continental land masses during the lowered sea levels of the Ice Ages. As a result of the long period of isolation, a large number of unique species evolved. The forests of the Wallacea region are one of the least biologically studied areas in the world and one of the most likely places to discover vertebrate species new to science.
Operation Wallacea first started surveying the forests of Buton Island in SE Sulawesi in 1995. In 2004 these surveys resulted in a US$1 million World Bank/GEF grant being obtained to establish an example of best practice conservation management for a lowland forest. This project worked only in the central part of the island and finished in 2008. An assessment of the various quantifiable conservation targets showed that 90%+ of the targets had been achieved and in many cases significantly exceeded. Since that point, Opwall has continued with monitoring the abundance and diversity of key taxa in both the central and northern forests of Buton Island. All the Opwall gathered data on the northern and central forests of Buton is being submitted support an application to fund a REDD+ application to protect the carbon and biodiversity of the Buton forests and ensure that local communities have a financial benefit from this conservation programme. In 2019 survey teams will be completing surveys on the transect network at a series of camps spread across central and northern Buton. Most of these survey sites have been monitored in previous years and will provide annual data to assess changes in the biodiversity over time. The rapid assessment mobile team in the northwest corner of Buton will be completing biodiversity surveys in these forests building upon primary research conducted in 2016 and they are the first ever surveys in this area.
In the tropical rainforests of Indonesia is is generally warm during the day (around 25 degrees Celsius), and humid, with up to 80% humidity. At night the temperatures drop lower, but not usually lower than around 15 degrees Celsius. It rains very frequently, and very heavily at times, but for short periods.
At the marine sites during the day, the weather is normally sunny and warm (around 30 degrees Celsius), and the night temperatures drop to around 20-25 degrees Celsius. Being on the coast means there is often a pleasant breeze so it does not always feel this hot. It rains rarely, but when it does it tends to be very heavy for short periods of time.
Fitness level required
Medium – High for the forest sites. You will need to hike for long periods, over steep and muddy terrain, at times with your large rucksack. At the marine sites some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities on Hoga are comfortable, but very basic – the site has shared huts with beds and mattresses and a mandi style bathroom (squat toilet and bucket shower) attached. There is very limited cell phone signal which can usually only be used with an Indonesian SIM card and no Wifi access.