Dear Parents and Caregivers I hope you and your family have remained safe and dry…
From 30 June until 17 July, our group of eight went on an adventure of a lifetime to Indonesia, a trip involving nine plane trips, two overnight ferries and about 20 hours of bumpy roads!
We joined an international group called Operation Wallacea (Opwall), who aim to provide scientific research and conservation opportunities to university students, scientists and now secondary school students from around the world. They use the data we helped to collect to form conservation strategies in the area, working with the local people, and seek funding from the national and worldwide governments to maintain these sensitive areas as reserves. They also hope to inspire the next generation of marine or forest scientists, and may well have succeeded with our group!
We chose the Sulawesi region of Indonesia, out of many Opwall sites across the world, as a place where no tourists ever visit due to its remoteness, so the only chance we’d get. We spent our first week in the rain forest on Buton Island and one week on Hoga Island, an idyllic coral reef island in the Wakatobi national marine park. In the forest camp, we stayed in big army tents next to a river, with huts and covered spaces all around for hanging out, eating and even a bush lecture theatre.
The days were full and our group, along with other students from other schools in New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan participated in a series of biological and conservation programmes. There were lectures each day and field expeditions up steep and muddy tracks, some to gather valuable data and others to learn jungle survival skills and see interesting wildlife like snakes and tarsiers.
It was surprisingly comfortable in the camp despite lots of really heavy rain and cool bucket showers called mandis, not to mention those sharing a hut with a tarantula! We will not miss the awful spiky rattan plant.
Travelling from the jungle to the coral reef involved hiking across rivers, ten hours of bumpy travel and an overnight ferry stay. The local people are so friendly and cheerful and we felt like celebrities wherever we went as tourists are rare. Hoga Island was beautiful, with our days here spent snorkeling or diving on the reef with colourful corals, fish and snakes, and a whole reef ecology course worth of lectures. Local shops here saw our students kitted out in loud, tropical clothing as they at last had somewhere to spend their rupiah and the food was delicious, though we’re all a bit sick of rice. We visited an amazing overwater village on stilts, with basic huts, schools, limited electricity and water piped from the island nearby. Again, the local people seem to have little, but are always welcoming and smiling.
Our group worked alongside graduate and postgraduate students and scientists from all over the world. Some of the Opwall volunteers started out the same way our students did, by a trip to one of the many Opwall sites around the world, and are now regular volunteers or working on PhDs.
Both teachers and students who went had an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, challenging themselves physically and mentally and gaining new skills and friends. Planning is already underway for another epic ecology expedition – Opwall Madagascar 2020!