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

The first week of this expedition will be spent at one of our terrestrial research sites – Dinokeng Reserve or Balule Reserve. At both sites students will assist local experts in long-term monitoring of the reserve flora and fauna. The second week of the expedition will be based at our marine site – Sodwana Bay – where students can either learn to dive or take part in a Reef Ecology training course.

Dinokeng Reserve & Sodwana Bay

One week in Dinokeng Reserve, a high veld Big 5 reserve followed by a week dive training, or diving if already qualified, at Sodwana Bay.

Schools’ Booklet

Balule Reserve & Sodwana Bay

One week in Balule Reserve, a low veld Big 5 reserve followed by a week dive training, or diving if already qualified, at Sodwana Bay.

Schools’ Booklet

Site Details

Terrestrial Sites – Dinokeng and Balule Reserves

The students will complete two part days of bush skills training and four part days helping with biodiversity research in the reserve. The other part of each day will be in camp completing the African Wildlife Management course. The research activities in both reserves include helping with the following:

  • Elephant impact on vegetation: This is assessed using the Walker scale of damage within ha plots selected randomly from within 3 bands of distance from water sources.
  • Estimating large mammal populations: Completing distance based large mammal surveys from vehicles to estimate abundance of the target species.
  • Bird surveys: Completing foot based point counts and transects to determine bird diversity.

Marine Site – Sodwana Bay

The students taking the joint terrestrial and marine option will spend their second week in Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa and will complete one of three options:

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives and open water dives to gain an official scuba diving qualification.
  • Indian Ocean reef ecology course: This consists of lectures and inwater practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures in Sodwana Bay cover an introduction to coral reef ecosystem (characteristics of a reef, distribution of reefs in east Africa), coral and algal species (growth forms and common species), megafauna (whales, sharks, manta rays), mangrove and seagrass ecology (importance of connective systems, threats to mangroves), economically important invertebrates (lobster fishery, aquarium trade), identification of coral reef fish (main reef fish families), reef survey techniques (quadrats, transects, stereo video), threats to and conservation of reefs (protected marine areas in South Africa and Mozambique).
  • PADI Open Water referral course: For this option students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components. This course takes three days to complete, after which, students will join the Indian Ocean coral reef ecology course.

South Africa Research Objectives

Operation Wallacea and our partners, Wildlife and Ecological Investments (WEI), coordinate large-scale research programmes to provide an empirical backbone for key conservation projects in South Africa. Our main aim is to assist conservation managers with pressing large-scale issues that they do not necessarily have the resources to address themselves. The South Africa research programme covers a series of reserves across the country, each using slightly different management strategies to conserve diversity in their reserves. Big game areas in South Africa are fenced to avoid the spread of disease and conflicts between communities and dangerous animals. However, in densely populated areas such as around Dinokeng Game Reserve, human-wildlife interactions are still common. Here, our research teams are looking at the extent of these interactions with a special focus on large mammal species. Large mammal distributions are monitored regularly through game transects, and a matrix of camera traps set up throughout the reserve. By combining this information with our knowledge of areas of dense human activity, we can begin to understand the drivers behind large mammal movement and any potentially disruptive behaviours they exhibit. The use of roads in the reserve is also monitored through camera traps and behavioural observations to quantify how roads and vehicles affect animal movement, survival, and behaviour.
The restriction of natural movement caused by fences can also lead to potentially unsustainable levels of vegetation impact when mammal populations are high. Elephants, for example, are keystone species and high feeding pressures can lead to excessive impact to the vegetation. By directly monitoring feeding impact on vegetation and its knock-on effects to other taxa, such as birds, our teams can assist the reserve managers to better understand how to manage their elephant populations to maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem. This monitoring is especially important in Gondwana Game Reserve, which is situated in the florally diverse fynbos region. While the vegetation here is highly valued for its diversity, it holds little browsing or grazing value for many of the game species commonly found in tourist reserves. The management here have therefore asked us to monitor how the large, enigmatic game species are utilising the various vegetation types found within the reserve.

  • Attend lectures/workshops on African conservation and wildlife management
  • Learn survey methods to sample large mammals, birds and vegetation
  • Learn tracking skills in the African bush
  • PADI Open water dive qualification
  • Participate in Indian Ocean Reef Ecology course

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.

Climate
Our expeditions run during the South African winter, so temperatures at all terrestrial sites regularly drop below 5 degrees at night. It is dry season in the north, however, so the chances of rain are slim in Balule and Dinokeng, and days are usually sunny and warm with temperatures up to 18-22 degrees. Gondwana regularly sees wind and rain alongside the sun, and so warm, waterproof clothes are essential. The temperatures are generally warmer at night in Sodwana, and the sun can be quite fierce when out all day at the beach.

Fitness level required
Low. There are some short hikes over rough terrain, but most of the work is in or close to the game-viewer vehicles.

Creature comforts
In Dinokeng and Balule, you will be staying in shared dorms within a large house while at Sodwana accommodation is in shared tents and you will need to bring a roll mat to sleep on. All sites have hot running showers, flushing toilets and access to electricity for large portions of the day. There is very little phone signal in Balule, but decent signal in Sodwana and Dinokeng. No sites have access to wifi.

Locations

  • South Africa
  • Balule
  • Dinokeng
  • Sodwana Bay

Want to get involved with this project?

Preparation

Want to get involved with this project?

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