This expedition is divided into three parts: five days working in Lilongwe with the team of scientists looking at how biodiversity can thrive in a suburban setting, six days dive training and/or helping with fish surveys in Lake Malawi and two days visiting Liwonde National Park to see some of the charismatic East African fauna.

  • Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

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

  • 2023 dates available:
    21st June – 4th July 2023
    28th June – 11th July 2023
    5th July – 18th July 2023
    12th July – 25th July 2023
    19th July – 1st August 2023

Part 1 – Human-wildlife interactions and environmental education
The first five nights will be based in Lilongwe Research Centre helping to assess the biodiversity of the many green spaces, wetlands and river corridors in the area. The groups will be split into smaller teams that will assist with each of the following activities:

  • Carnivore monitoring: This will involve using camera traps and GPS tracking to monitor the distribution and behaviour of local carnivore populations, focusing largely on the spotted hyena.
  • Bat surveys: Harp traps, mist nets and acoustic measurements will be used to monitor bat population trends and assess threats.
  • Bird surveys: These will be conducted at the same locations as the bat surveys to provide an initial assessment of bird diversity in the area.
  • Entomology surveys: Light-traps will be used to collect samples that will then be taken back to camp for pinning and species identification.
  • Vegetation assessments: Detailed surveys of the vegetation surrounding the study sites will be conducted to determine habitat types and preferences.
  • Cultural exchange: With the animals living in such close quarters with the wildlife, environmental education is an important part of mitigating human-wildlife conflict. Students will have the opportunity to work with a local school or community group to share experiences of wildlife in their hometowns and learn about each others culture.
  • In addition, the students will be completing a lecture course on Malawi Conservation which covers topics such as African biodiversity, speciation and human evolution, ecological monitoring techniques and human-wildlife interactions.

Part 2 – Lake Malawi dive training and fishery research

For next six days the group will be based in a small backpackers lodge on the shores of Lake Malawi in Nkhata Bay. 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 snorkelers helping with other parts of the research programme.

Part 3 – Liwonde Safari Camp

On the final days the group will be transferred to the Liwonde National Park in Malawi. No visit to East Africa is complete without seeing some of the large game species that provide such a draw for tourists. The Liwonde National Park is the best national park in Malawi and it will give the group the chance to see many of the charismatic megafauna including elephant, hippo and rhino. A day will be spent in the camp and all students will experience a boat based safari and a vehicle safari with experienced local guides.

Malawi Research Objectives

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.

  • Attend lectures/workshops on Malawi conservation and human-wildlife interactions
  • Learn survey methods to sample carnivores, bats, birds and vegetation
  • Take part in local environmental education sessions
  • PADI Open water dive qualification
  • Participate in lake Malawi ecology course
  • Visit one of Malawi’s best game reserves

The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.

You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.

If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.

In Malawi the “windy season” has just started. It is hot most days (temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees) with only occasional rain. During the evenings the temperature drops but still usually stays above 20 degrees.

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.

Creature comforts
Facilities in Lilongwe are basic (bunk beds, bucket showers, latrine toilets). Nkhata Bay and Liwonde are a little less rustic (bunk beds, running water for hot and cold showers, composting toilets). All sites have cell phone signal but no wifi.

Bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms with shared bathroom and toilet facilities

Lake Malawi:
Bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms with shared bathroom and toilet facilities

Bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms with shared bathroom and toilet facilities


  • Malawi
  • Nkhata Bay, Lake Malawi
  • Lilongwe Research Camp

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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