Given the low levels of vaccination in Malawi and therefore the susceptibility of the local communities with which we work to infections, we are not at this stage proposing to run expeditions to Malawi in 2022. However, travel advisories and conditions on the ground change rapidly, and if by early 2022 it is looking as though Malawi is possible, we will be bringing forward the 2023 options and run them in 2022. Our partners and the local communities with which we work are desperate for the Opwall teams to return so we would like to run in 2022 if at all possible. However, if you want to be sure of joining an expedition in 2022 then it would be best to look at one of the other countries.
Lilongwe Research Centre
At this research centre you will be helping to assess the biodiversity of the many green spaces, wetlands and river corridors surrounding Lilongwe. You will be assisting with activities including carnivore monitoring, bat surveys, bird surveys and vegetation assessments. You will also take part in a cultural exchange with a local community group to share ideas about human-wildlife interactions.
Lake Malawi Aquatic Research Centre
As well as completing dive training the researchers at this site are using a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) to complete video transects of the cichlid communities at depths beyond the reach of divers. In addition, Underwater Visual Census surveys are being completed to determine the cichlid communities in shallower depths and the results of these UVC surveys with ROV transects compared at a series of sites to compare the methods. The groups will be split into those learning to dive to PADI Open Water level, qualified divers helping with the dive-based research surveys and snorkellers helping with other parts of the research programme.
Liwonde National Park
This last part of the expedition is designed to give some practical experience of how a game reserve housing charismatic megafauna including elephant, hippo and rhino is managed.
Biodiversity has never been more in danger than it is today with human encroachment expanding and the wild areas in which biodiversity is traditionally thought to thrive, diminishing. But what about species that have found a niche outside of these “wild” areas? Species that have learnt to live alongside humans in the most unorthodox of places? Lilongwe – Malawi’s capital – is small and rural in comparison to many African cities and maintains healthy populations of several carnivores, including spotted hyena and jackal. So, if the predators can survive here, what other biodiversity is supporting them?
Opwall and its scientists are working with local experts from Conservation Research Africa to monitor the biodiversity of this area and use these data to inform human-wildlife conflict mitigation. Carnivores are tracked to monitor their distributions, movement patterns and dietary composition. Trapping and acoustic surveys for bats and point counts for birds are performed at areas of high, medium and low disturbance to assess overall biodiversity in the area. Vegetation surveys are also performed at these sites to understand how changes in species composition and density might impact bat and bird populations.
Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world, but most are more closely related to other species living in the lake than to species living elsewhere. It appears that speciation is happening within the lake, but surprisingly little is known about how this occurs. Our lake research centre, The Maru, conducts underwater population and biodiversity surveys of the Lake’s cichlid fish populations using a remote-operated vehicle (ROV). This underwater camera allows transects to be recorded at depths recreational divers cannot reach, giving a greater insight into how cichlid diversity might change with depth. At shallower depths, cichlid surveys are performed by snorkelling, diving and the ROV to compare the accuracy of these three research methods.
Most of our volunteers fundraise for their expedition costs. Find out more.
You will be visiting Malawi in what is known locally as the cold, dry season. Rain is very rare, and while temperatures during the day can get up to around 25 degrees, at night and in the early mornings temperatures can drop to single figures feeling quite chilly.
Fitness level required
Low. There are some short walks over rough terrain, but most of the work either requires very little walking or is from a boat.
Accommodation will be in dorm dorms at all three sites, with bunk beds, running water for showers (although hot water is limited) and flushing toilets. All sites have cell phone signal but no wifi.