Alfred Russel Wallace Grants for Outstanding Field Ecologists
Operation Wallacea had its inception in the central area of Indonesia known as the Wallacea Region. This biodiversity hotspot derives its name from the great Alfred Russel Wallace and the work he did in the region. 2013 marked the centennial year of the passing of this highly influential biologist and field naturalist (see http://wallacefund.info/). It was a letter from Wallace to Darwin explaining Wallace’s postulate that evolution was occurring through natural selection that caused Darwin to hurriedly publish his seminal work. Although Wallace always admired the detail and thoroughness of Darwin’s work, he was, by far, the better field naturalist and funded his extensive travels in the Amazon and Malay archipelago by collecting and selling specimens to the Natural History Museum in London. As a result of these extensive travels, Wallace began to observe the puzzling distribution of species and developed fundamental theories about what is today known as the study of biogeography.
Wallace had none of the financial advantages that Darwin had, but was driven by a spirit of adventure, a thirst for knowledge, and a determination to act on those attributes. Operation Wallacea has been taking undergraduates from the US and other countries into the field to help a network of more than 200 academics conduct biodiversity surveys in remote parts of the planet since 1995. Initially, these research programs ran only in the Wallacea region because of its long isolation from continental land masses and high levels of endemic species. However, the programs now run at 25 research sites in 11 countries and are entirely funded by the tuition fees paid by more than 2000 students each year.
In order to encourage undergraduates to follow in the footsteps of this great explorer and naturalist, Operation Wallacea is offering Alfred Russel Wallace Grants. There are two forms of grants, both aimed at students looking to join one of the biodiversity teams working in remote parts of the world in the summer of 2017.
The first is for UK undergraduates, and is sponsored by Premier Oil – there are 10 grants of £1000 available to those students booked onto an Opwall 2017 project to Indonesia as either a research assistant or dissertation student, and currently studying at a UK university.
The second is for US undergraduates – there is 1 grant of $1500, 1 grant of $750, and 3 grants of $500 available. This grant is available for any students enrolled as an undergraduate at a US academic institution, and booked on to any Opwall 2017 project.
In order to apply, please email email@example.com with the following information in 6 separate attachments :
- Your name, contact information, name of college or university and details of your Operation Wallacea booking.
- Unofficial transcript from your academic institution (this is something you receive from your university that shows what grades you are currently achieving at your university i.e. your latest module exam results).
- Full résumé showing academic achievements to date, information on outdoor activities undertaken, and future aspirations.
- Two letters of reference: one of which should be able to attest to your academic abilities and a second who can describe your character (cannot be a family member or close friend).
- Details of any financial aid or hardship grants received in order to complete college or university
- A summary in 600 words or less of how, if awarded the grant, the sort of work that you would be doing in the field would mirror the type of field work done by Alfred Russel Wallace. What we are looking for is evidence of an understanding of the life and work of Wallace.
Applications for the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant 2017 are now open. The deadline to submit the above documents is Wednesday 22nd February 2017.
Please note that both successful US and UK applicants are required to write a short ‘post-expedition’ article, accompanied with pictures of your trip. This piece should be no more than two pages, more details will be given upon receiving the grant.
All UK winners will be invited to attend an Operation Wallacea Trust meeting in November 2017 to personally thank the representative from Premier Oil and give a short presentation on your experience. Your short article will also be supplied to Premier Oil for use in their 2017 Corporate Responsibility Report.
The winners of the 2016 US grant were as follows:
1st place ($1500: Cody Sears
2nd place ($750): Bethany Watts
3rd place ($500): Krysten Martin
3rd place ($500): Amanda Carreau
3rd place ($500): Brittany Bruce
The winners of the 2016 UK grant, each receiving £1000, were as follows:
Alexander Wickenden: University of Exeter
Amy O’Callaghan: Bath Spa University
Ben Williams: University Of Exeter
David Gance: University College London
Ellen Ward: University of Southampton
Lora Downes: University of Edinburgh
Luke Meade: University of Birmingham
Matthew Tosdevin: Keele University
William Macluskie: Lancaster University
Theresa Zeisner: University of Cambridge
The winners of the 2015 US grant were as follows:
1st place ($1500): Lorna McFarlane
2nd place ($750): Caitlin Andrews
3rd place ($500): Jazmine Angela Galarreta
3rd place ($500): Samantha Rajkowski
3rd place ($500): Candice Slosek
The winners of the 2015 UK grant, each receiving £1000, were as follows:
Annabel Walsh – King’s College London
In amongst my studying and busy London life I did not find time to fundraise, however I was lucky enough to receive the Alfred Russell Wallace grant which essentially paid for all my flights and internal travel to and within Indonesia. I made up most of the money for the expedition through saving my student loan and working two part time jobs; waitressing and a sales advisor in a department store. I mainly save up money in small ways on a daily basis, such as walking instead of taking the bus, buying discounted food and making my own lunch instead of buying in cafes or at uni. It all adds up!
After around 18 hours of flying, I arrived on an island called Buton, located in South East Sulawesi, which is an Indonesian island. In other words, I arrived slap bang in the middle of nowhere with a rucksack and no idea what to expect.I had officially exited all zones of comfort and luxury, no doubt about it. And you know what? It wasn’t all that bad.
To my surprise, I settled into life in Labundo quicker than anticipated. The sun set early, around 6 p.m. and after a dinner of rice, rice, rice and rice (my fussy eating habits were not going to work here, I soon realized), without any signal, internet, Wi-Fi or electricity besides some lights and charging points, we had to entertain ourselves the old fashioned way. We played card games, talked, wrote diaries and looked at the incredibly visible stars and Milky Way, before heading to bed for the fun filled day ahead. Already I was appreciating the simple life in ways I hadn’t even thought I could.
After 2 nights of jungle training, I had survived sleeping on a plastic bag suspended on tree trunks and a hammock which, to my absolute delight, was thriving with ants when as I began to settle into it for the night. With only a head torch and the light of the moon poking through, I had no hope of making them disappear, my only choice was to get in the hammock, pray for minimal damage and settle in for the night with the ants. I was invading their tree, after all…
The last two weeks of my Opwall expedition were spent on the painfully beautiful island of Hoga. Diving on Hoga was so incredible I could never do it justice with words. It’s something you truly have to see to believe and experience. During some internet research for an essay on ocean acidification, I began to toy with the idea of going into oceanography or marine biology as a career path, so the marine element of my Opwall expedition would actually be a deciding point for my future. This meant arriving on this island was a special moment for me, and our first marine biology lecture on coral identification is something I’ll never forget. We applied what we learnt in lectures to real life in scuba diving practicals.
Thanks to Opwall, I can finally answer that frightening question of “So, what do you want to do after University?” with a fairly solid answer. I want to continue exploring the world and its oceans, I want to do a Masters in Marine Biology, and I want to research and protect ocean life before it’s too late.
Caroline Daumich – Plymouth University
In order to raise money towards my research trip to Hoga, Indonesia with Operation Wallacea, I undertook a few strategies. I firstly decided to set up a crowdfunder website where people all over the world (as far as Australia and America) could donate money in exchange for a small ‘reward’ (depending on how much they donated). These included postcards of my own photos taken in Indonesia, small gifts brought back from Indonesia and copies of my dissertation. I then decided to run the Plymouth Half Marathon in order to further raise money towards my research. My sister also helped with some of my fundraising by bringing the message back to my former school in Singapore and managing to collect money on my behalf from students who supported my research. Altogether from this I managed to raise a successful £1,230. Along with this, I also applied for and received the Alfred Wallacea Grant of £1000 which helped immensely with my funding.
Fundraising was difficult but rewarding, especially as it was for my own personal research. The use of social media such as facebook, email and instagram helped me post frequently about my research and get the wider message out there. I spoke to close friends and family about my research and told them to spread the word, in which my crowdfunder link was passed on around the world, where even strangers donated money! Plymouth University also backed up my crowdfunder page as they happened to be partners with them, so I got recognition by the university and a small article published online about my research (https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/crowdfunder-helps-to-keep-a-students-research-project-afloat).
Situated in South west Sulawesi in Indonesia, lies Hoga Island – part of the Wakatobi National Park. Covered in powdered sand, dotted with palm trees, and fringed with coral reefs, it was here, that I as an undergraduate Marine biology student, spent six weeks collecting precious data for my university dissertation on seagrass ecology. I was one of a very few students to tackle a different marine habitat by focusing my research on the seagrass beds. I looked into the temporal and spatial variations of fish assemblages in seagrass habitats, by snorkeling every day among the shallow waters, surrounded by hundreds of species of fish and other marine organisms. This was an incredible stepping stone to the road of research ahead, along with many other opportunities I was presented with that will help pave my future career.
Our first week on Hoga was spent undertaking an important Reef survey technique course. Some may say this was the toughest week on the island. Three lectures followed by three dive/snorkel trips out a day coupled with the lingering jetlag were considered difficult for some, but for me it was a week I will never forget. To be able to understand, memorize and learn three hundred different marine species and see nearly all of them in their natural habitat was something that will stay with me forever in my future academic path. Never have I learnt so much in such as short space of time, in such a dense and species-rich habitat, surrounded my incredibly talented experts in this field of work.
Every day I aimed to snorkel twice, and measured the abundance, length and species diversity of the fish assemblages in the seagrass beds at different tides and distances from the reef crest. Organization skills were key as the tides were very extreme and soon, my new best friend became the good old tidal chart. Each snorkel trip out was a new adventure – not only was I collecting data, I was learning about the marine environment. Encounters with animals I had never seen before was becoming part of my daily routine.
Hoga Island does not have strong internet connection or cellular signal. It does however, have books. Having such limited resources to practice science, is one of the many struggles I had to overcome. But when stripped of such luxuries, the real scientist within me came out. I felt I started asking the real questions, and my mind set had changed. Being in such a remote place allowed me to become an independent thinker, and I found myself asking questions I had never thought were relevant till now. Why are seagrass habitats important? Why are juvenile fish important? Why do we need to protect such pristine habitats such as coral reefs and seagrass beds? These were the questions that motivated my research. Towards the end of the trip, I had the opportunity to present my findings to my friends, peers and staff on Hoga which was incredibly rewarding.
Travelling to Hoga Island with Operation Wallacea was an unbelievably unique experience, where no other trip in my life could compare to it. From seeing an octopus in the wild for the first time, to presenting my research results in front of my peers on the last night, the memories I have made and skills I have gained will follow me throughout the rest of my life.
Clara Morriss – The University of St Andrews
The majority of the money I obtained from my fundraising efforts was from the Wallace Grant which I used to pay the main fees for the Opwall expedition. I also earned about £200 from selling raffle tickets I obtained from the Opwall prize draw. I also dipped into some savings I had been accumulating from selling handmade arts and crafts to people in my local community. All other expenses were covered by my parents who used money they usually put aside for holidays abroad.
Everything I experienced on the expedition was new and exciting. Everyday brought with it new challenges, new information to learn and new techniques to master. I earned my PADI Open Water certification during the first week. This was my first hands on experience with scuba diving and, frankly, it was a skill I had never considered learning before my time in Indonesia. It was rather overwhelming at first, but as time progressed, I found each technique I learnt becoming almost second nature. Rather than stressful, I found the pressure to learn and master this new information stimulating. I am also excited at the prospect of using my certification in future research work.
The second week of the expedition I undertook training to develop reef survey techniques. This involved learning various techniques to monitor the organisms living out in the field and learning how to identify various phyla, families, genera and species. This training brought with it new challenges as I was largely unfamiliar with much of material covered over the course of the week. Upon returning to university this semester, I have found this knowledge to be very relevant to my current coursework and have thus helped improve my understanding of the subject.
I assisted in various research projects during the last two weeks of the expedition. This was another experience that was relatively new to me. Over the time I assisted with two different kinds of research. The first was working with OpWall staff on a reef monitoring project. The project surveyed the biodiversity of the reefs surrounding Hoga island for a report annually submitted to the Indonesian government. During my time I was able to further refine various reef surveying techniques. On top of this, I was introduced to various methods of accessing and analysing raw data in the lab. These were again skills new to me that have positive influences on my understanding of biological research. I also worked with fellow students who were researching for their dissertations. While the work was not as specialised as in reef monitoring, I was able to take part in a large variety of different projects. Many of the fellow students were also kind enough to explain much of their method and data analysing techniques.
Aside from the training, I also experienced many thrilling moments that often pushed my comfort zone. The first few weeks were physically and mentally exhausting, but my enthusiasm for the work encouraged me to keep moving forward. This resilience paid off as, just over the halfway point the tiredness faded and I was left purely with feelings of satisfaction and love for my work. I found that I enjoyed having my limits pushed, this was something I had never really appreciated before and I want to continue doing so in the future.
Coming away from this experience with Operation Wallacea, I am certain that fieldwork is an area I want to pursue further in my academic career. I am eager to take part in more internships in the future to continue to refine the various skills I obtained during my expedition. And while I may not continue to study marine biology, my time in Indonesia has sparked a new found love of the sea and its inhabitants.
Emily Grout – Bristol University
I applied to many grants which were available from around my university area and from where I live with my parents. Luckily I was awarded 2 grants; one being the Alfred Russel Wallace grant and the other from the Beckwith Bequest Trust at Easingwold (which is where I attended Secondary School). This in total gave me £1400 which made a significant difference to the amount I needed to further fundraise. I love chalk drawing, so I decided to draw pictures of large mammals found in the UK and abroad which I held at exhibitions. From these drawings, I copied the images onto cards which I sold and the £200 I made went towards my fundraising. I finally asked members of family and friends if they could donate money towards my expedition and I also had savings which contributed. I would have found achieving my target for fundraising much harder if I didn’t have the grants, I would recommend anyone going to Indonesia to apply for them.
On the 23rd of June 2015 I started my expedition in Indonesia. It began in the forest of South Buton, in a village called Labundo. The village was full of smiles, the locals were very welcoming, and this made me instantly feel at home. I was working alongside eight first year biology students from the UK, South Korea and America. We attended lectures about the forest’s biodiversity and the importance it has to conservation. During this week we had three days of Jungle training. This training taught us the difficulties of working in the jungle. I learnt many skills about survival, ranging from building shelters, eating foraged food (including ants) to creating animal traps.
In the second week our group of nine traveled to a different camp close to the east coast of Buton known as Maleo camp. We spent five days at this camp. On the first day I was assisting a herpetology expert with two other students. The transects were one thousand metres apart and each transect had eight points two hundred metres apart where the pit traps were. Each point had five or six pits in a line two metres from one another, and our job was to look in every pit along the transect to see if we could find any reptiles or amphibians caught during the night. We did not find any frogs or lizards, but we did find a rare skink. We were told the skink was evolving to lose its legs because its habitat was under the top layer of the forest’s soil and therefore would not require them (similar to a worm).
In the evening we did a nocturnal herpetology walk down a river near one of the transects. We wore head torches that showed the reflection of thousands of spider’s eyes watching us. Sam managed to catch a giant frog that we all handled carefully which I really enjoyed! The feel of holding a frog is a bizarre experience – they feel similar to raw chicken and I had to hold then very tightly behind their pelvic bones so they couldn’t slip away. We also saw many tree frogs and a gecko. When we reached the camp after our walk we saw a Civet walking along the camp’s path which we had a stare-off with. I thoroughly enjoyed the forest experience – so much so that it has given me the inspiration to do much more work in rainforests in the future.
After my two weeks in the forest, our group traveled to Hoga, an Island next to Kaledupa in the Wakatobi Marine National Park. For the first week I completed a Reef Survey Techniques (RST) course which taught me about coral reef structures and their importance to our environment. The course gave me the necessary skills needed to identify hard and soft corals, invertebrates and fish when diving. Every day we attended three to four lectures with two dives in between. The dives allowed us to practise our techniques taught in the lectures. I learnt many skills during this week from laying fifty metre long transects to identifying all the invertebrates found in a five metre radius.
In my final week we went to a fishing village called Sampela which is built on stilts over the reef. The people living here are called the Bajau and rely on the ocean for their survival, I found it a wonderful experience to meet these people and see their way of life. They hunt traditionally by holding their breath, diving to the reef floor and spearing the fish. Their methods of fishing are sustainable but, from an analysis of previous studies, their catches have reduced over the past fifteen years. This is most likely due to the large external fishing vessels coming into these waters illegally and using huge nets to catch thousands of fish. There have also been cases of fisherman from Kaledupa using dynamite and cyanide to kill the fish. These methods of fishing are highly destructive of the reefs, increasing the rate of coral reef loss and consequently lowering the fish populations. I found this topic fascinating and I want to do much more conservation work to try and lower these destructive impacts on the reef in future.
I have returned from this experience with more than I could have asked for and I have fallen in love with a country which I will hopefully return to very soon. I would like to thank Premium Oil and the Beckwith Bequest Trust for awarding me grants as I wouldn’t have been able to go and learn so much without their generosity.
George Myers – University of Oxford
I did not have a huge amount of time for fundraising with my course at university being quite full on but I did apply for a number of grants. I managed to secure funding from the following donors, in total £1380: £680 The Queen’s college Academic Support grant, £200 from The Lord Mayor’s 800th Anniversary Awards Trust and £500 from the Mike Soper and Jimmy Elliot Memorial funds. These donations along with the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant made being able to join this expedition an achievable, an experience I would highly recommend to anyone.
During my six weeks on Hoga Island I received a profound insight into the marine world that will never be forgotten. I took my first breaths under water in the first week and rapidly became very comfortable out on the reef. By the time my research was underway I’d forgotten that I couldn’t dive before arriving on the island.
Having never visited the tropics prior to this summer I cannot aptly describe the excitement I felt as we swam away from shore on a training dive and the bizarre silhouette of a coral reef appeared out of the darkness for the first time. Magnificent creatures that had previously been restricted to the realms of two dimensional photos or film were suddenly real. The reef seemed more alive than I could have imagined; thousands of surreal creatures danced all around me in the crystal clear water, everything moved yet there was complete, unbroken silence. As I swam amongst the rich community of countless species I was overwhelmed with a sense of privilege. Shoals of trigger fish effortlessly glided alongside me and I was able to stare them in the eye and make out the intricate details of their scales. Delicate communities such as this are quickly fading into the past; all around the world coral reefs are succumbing to the power of man, so to interact with this ecosystem in such an intimate way, to literally swim face to face with hundreds of fish was a sheer inspiration to do what I can to protect the natural world.
My research was focused on the behaviours of two species of anemonefish (Amphiprion Clarkii and A. Perideraion) which are occasionally found to live in the same anemone host. The principles that enable these two species to share a host, such as the fine partitioning of resources, shine a light on the principles that enable so many species to coexist on the reef as a whole. I feel that by understanding why species can coexist on a small scale, such as fish living within a single anemone, we can get a more complete grasp of why so many species can coexist on a large scale.
One of the findings from my research was that the coexistence of these two anemonefish on a single host is facilitated in part by the fact that the two species, when living together, tend to live in different areas of their host with A. clarkii spending more time in the central region and A. perideraion spending more time in the outer region of the anemone.
Conducting my research was an invaluable experience that taught me a lot more than I was expecting. By getting out there and actively doing the research myself I have gained a much greater understanding of scientific research and all that it entails. I discovered the sheer amount of planning that comes with any research project, and the many, many hours that this takes up, but I also discovered the rewards and the immense satisfaction that comes with such work. My time on Hoga has really inspired me to dedicate my career to the protection of the natural world, which will potentially lead me into a PhD after I have finished my degree. None of this would have been possible without the generous financial support I received; therefore I would like to thank Premier Oil immensely for their grant.
Harry Gray -Cardiff University
I didn’t have a huge amount of time to organise fundraising events but instead I was extremely careful with my money, I managed to stretch my maintenance loan quite a bit towards the trip and I worked earlier in the summer for a catering company and in a warehouse to raise money. I had some help from my grandparents and I was also lucky enough to get a grant from a local council. The Wallace Grant helped a huge amount towards my expedition total, it covered roughly a third of my costs.
Hoga Island is a secluded yet remarkable place and during my four week stay I had the chance to explore some of the most stunning marine sites in the world. I came away inspired and determined to find out more about what we can do to protect these precious habitats and the multitude of life that they are home to.
Having acted as a research station on Hoga for over 20 years Operation Wallacea are very well set up; the accommodation, food and staff were all fantastic and the security I felt underwater allowed me to relax and really get stuck in with the projects. Aside from completing my PADI open and advanced diving qualifications we were taught a variety of skills and received lectures on cutting edge research and conservation issues. I study Zoology and therefore learning about marine environments is not key to my course, none the less I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about the life of corals, inverts and fish and the problems they face. I am keen to continue to improve my understanding and knowledge of marine habitats and have inherited a new passion for the protection of coral reefs from my wonderful lecturers and instructors.
A highlight of the trip has to be my first encounter with a sea krait, a graceful predator beautifully adapted to be at home underwater and totally unperturbed by our presence. Despite their deadly reputation I felt only excitement to see one undulate past, weaving its way in search of a meal. I also enjoyed the company of my unintentional roommates; young monitor lizards would act as an alarm clock as they crashed from the rafters of my hunt after a night’s snooze.
Every dive was a thrill, but we also worked hard on species identification so that we could make an active contribution to the survey work around the island. Although some of the names I learned will be very specific to Hoga the process of accurately identifying species and remembering their names is a skill that I think will definitely be useful in future expeditions and work. We were also able to use quite high tech software to analyse video footage of a transect that allowed us to count and measure fish species. This is definitely something that I wouldn’t have had the chance to try otherwise and will give me an advantage in the future should I end up working in a similar field.
The trip cost me an arm and leg which is why the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant was so helpful and I cannot extent my thanks far enough for the funding from Premier Oil. I had a spectacular trip and fully intend to continue in my career towards wildlife research and conservation.
Kerris Chainey – Oxford Brookes University
I did not carry out any actual fundraising events but I did apply for some grants. I looked on the internet for charities in the area that would fund an international conservation expedition/ project. The other grant that I managed to secure was The Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust which supports students embarking on a gap year, I received £300.
This summer I was offered the once in a lifetime opportunity to embark on an adventure to travel, experience and learn. This opportunity has dramatically furthered myself culturally and academically, and has even allowed me to take another step towards beginning my dream career. When Operation Wallacea came to my University, Oxford Brookes, in October last year I was both shocked and excited by the vast variety of conservation management research programmes that they had to offer.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace have been two of the most influential players in both my education and general interest from a young age. Wallace’s pioneering work on evolutionary biogeography and postulate that evolution was occurring through natural selection has always fascinated me so when the opportunity arose to carry out research in the same region Wallace did over 100 years ago I knew that the Island of Hoga in the Wallacea region was where I was going to carry out research for my dissertation project. The main issue and deciding factor as to whether I would be able to carry out research in such a remote location was funding the project. It was then that I saw the Alfred Wallace grant by Premier Oil which was only being giving to a few students who were going on similar expeditions as me in the Wallacea region. I knew that I needed to get this grant in order to secure my place to go to Indonesia, as it was not feasible without some external aid and funding.
I was looking forward to embracing the Indonesian culture and different ways of life to what I was used to, I wanted to make a difference by understanding the social, economic and environmental problems that were occurring on the opposite side of the world and recognise where I could help assist these problems. When finally arriving on the Island of Hoga in the Wakatobi Marine National Park I was blown away by its outstanding beauty, the pictures I had seen previously could not begin to give a place like this justice. Settling in to island life was not hard at all, the locals were so welcoming and I tried hard over the next six weeks to learn as much of the language as I could. I attended lectures on coral reef ecology which was new to me and thus initially challenging, however every day continued to interest and intrigue me more and more. In lectures I acquired many new skills both academic and practical which would become extremely useful in my future career. I learnt how to use quadrats, both belt and video transects under water, along with learning how to carry out a habitat assessment scores (HAS) on my surrounding environment. All the skills that I have learnt whilst being on my expedition I can take with me and transfer them to use terrestrially.
Over the next six weeks I worked both independently on my project and in groups with research assistants to acquire my raw data in the field. Working with research assistances meant that I had to develop my leadership skills dramatically in order to be able to tell them what I wanted and needed to be done and how much time each activity needed to take in order to get everything done efficiently and to maximise the productivity of my research. Communication therefore was a key skill needed throughout the project, this expedition has defiantly heightened these core skills and has in turn made me a more confident person not only academically in terms of my potential, but also such as public speaking both about my work in presentations as well socially by speaking to many new people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds.
One of the greatest aspects of living on the island was the amount I learnt from everyone around me on the trip, from the scientists themselves, the Phd and masters students all the way to the local inhabitants on the Island of Hoga. I loved the contrast of local and scientific knowledge that worked in sync with each other to help conserve this area of natural beauty.
There was so much more to conservation than what I had first thought before travelling to Indonesia. It is not just down to introducing quotas so that the local people have to reduce the abundance of fish that they are allowed to catch because they need to continue their livelihood to survive. A large part of conservation is to work with the local people by teaching them academically as to why a place such as the Wakatobi region is being conserved, and working with them to help develop new opposing methods to gain the same if not a better income with examples shown just off Hoga’s beaches by the plantation of agar farms. It was only when I was speaking to one of the local people that worked on the island for Opwall that I realised quite how arguably isolated the local people of the island are, this was when I was asked “Is your moon the same as our moon?” This made me realise why, in this ever more globalised world, it is important to educate and share ideas, so that we can all truly understand the world around us, and from a conservation perspective – achieve the greatest results.
I would like to thank Opwall for giving me the opportunity to be able to carry out scientific research in a place that I would never have been able to work in alone and may never get to work in again. The friendships and memories that I have made on this trip will stay with me forever, the skills that I have acquired will be of great use to me in the future. I would also like to thank Premier Oil for choosing me to receive the Alfred Wallace grant, without this grant I would have been unable to carry out my project in Indonesia, I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have been given and I would say that it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Luke Howard – University of Oxford
Aside from challenges in the wilderness of Indonesia, there was also the challenge of raising the money for my expedition; a feat that was achievable and would go on to help me increase my communication and money handling skills. My target amount to raise in just under a year was around £4000, made up by the cost of the expedition, internal and external travel and equipment I had to buy. I heard most universities award travel grants and so applied and was awarded £150 in return for a report after I had completed my expedition. I also applied for the Alfred Russel Wallace grant that is offered by Operation Wallacea through the kind donations of Premier Oil. I was ecstatic to receive the £1000 grant as it covered a large proportion of funding for my project and expedition of a lifetime. I gathered the rest of the required money through savings from a previous job I had in my gap year, and setting aside a small portion of my student loan. Overall raising funds for the expedition was a challenge, but well worth it.
I am a 20 year old student studying Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford. I am interested in organisms, the natural world and particularly ecology. The opportunity arose for me to apply to undertake research in the biodiverse Wallacea region of Indonesia as part of a highly respected conservation project. As a student from a low income background in full time education the cost of funding the trip was an initial barrier however, the grant provided by Premier Oil, enabled me to undertake this prestigious expedition. During my time with the project I undertook the role of research assistant for 4 weeks between June 28th and July 28th of 2015.
The first half of my expedition was concentrated in and around the forests of south Buton (an island off of the coast of Sulawesi). In my first week I had essential lectures on local biodiversity and the methods in which to survey a variety of organisms. In my second week I practiced survey techniques alongside specialist scientists, producing data that would contribute to the conservation of those areas as well as allowing me to learn valuable skills that will be useful in future. Alongside the conservation work I was lucky to learn about the local culture, experience the wildlife and enjoy adventures into the forests to learn about traditional forest skills. I saw amazing animals such as macaques, tarsiers, praying mantises and the sloth-like cus cus.
The second half of my expedition took place on Hoga, a small island within Indonesia’s Wakatobi region. Hoga is an island surrounded by a largely undisturbed fringing reef with near-by fishing communities, making it ideal to study Wakatobi’s marine fish and their relationship with locals. The marine research that Operation Wallacea undertakes at this site forms the basis of influential Papers. It also provides the region with conservation grants and creates plans for sustainable livelihoods for the locals in efforts to preserve the reefs for the foreseeable future.
I had always wanted to be able to dive but never been given many opportunities. Through this expedition, and the money given by Premier Oil, I was able to learn to dive around coral reefs during the first week of my time at Hoga. Once I had my diving qualification I was able to start the reef surveying course. This course taught me the structure of the reefs, their importance, and their relationship with the locals and reasons for the reefs’ demise. I learnt to identify very large number of species which was necessary in order to undertake the work effectively. I also learnt and practiced various methods to survey and monitor the reefs; skills which will undoubtedly be useful to my future career progression and ultimate employment.
The expedition that I undertook was an amazing and influential experience for me which may not have occurred if not for the generous grant from Premier Oil. It gave me skills and knowledge that will be of use in the near future, in addition to memories that will last a lifetime. The only problem with enjoying something so much is that it has left me wanting more and definitely pushed my career aspirations towards the area of conservation and zoology. Hopefully one day I can follow the work done by Operation Wallacea and make a contribution to preserving areas of high biodiversity such as those I observed on my expedition.
Sam Ebdon – The University of Edinburgh
To raise the money for my expedition I used a combination of grant applications, and savings/money management. As well as the Alfred Russell Wallace grant I was awarded the James Rennie Bequest travel bursary from my university that I put money towards my flights. I saved money from my student loan and bursaries over the course of about two years, and by carefully managing my money on a day by day basis and cutting out unessential costs I managed to save a lot of money I would have otherwise spent on trivial things. I think meticulous money management was key to me finding enough to fund my expedition.
Hoga is a small island in the Wakatobi National Park, a small chain of islands found on the south east coast of the Indonesian region Sulawesi. In the heart of the coral triangle, a region known for the world highest marine biodiversity, Hoga provides an excellent opportunity to study tropical marine biology and ecology. Nearby are a variety of sites varying from overfished and damaged to vast and beautiful reefs teeming with wildlife.
On Hoga you stay in a two bed wooden hut on the south west of the island in a settlement occupied by Operation Wallacea. You live just like the locals in modest rooms and basic conditions. By carefully recycling, reusing and living sustainably Operation Wallacea manage to carry out their work on the island without impacting the local environment.
At the beginning of my stay on Hoga I took part in a Reef Survey Techniques course. These techniques provided me with the basic knowledge and toolkit of skills to survey and study the coral reefs and mangroves. I was taught a variety of transect methods, including how to identify benthic species (covering the sea floor) and fish and record them on these transects. I also learned how to take a variety of physical measurements including rugosity (a measure of how rugged the reef landscape is) and how to use a Secchi disk to measure water transparency (an indicator of how much sediment or small material is suspended in the water column). I am currently a Biology student, but with a passion for Marine Biology this skillset allowed me to confidently work underwater and the knowledge of reefs acquired will hopefully jumpstart me in to postgraduate education and work concerning tropical marine environments.
In my second week I worked as part of the reef monitoring team. Every year scientists on Hoga routinely survey a variety of sites at different points of the reef to acquire data for fish abundance, species composition, benthic abundance and composition and reef rugosity and water transparency. This data is collected and compiled into a report to give to Indonesian authorities for the use of implementing environmental management schemes. It was incredibly rewarding to work as part of the reef survey team. It really pushed my skills as a scientist and a scuba diver, working to the limits of every dive to both gather all the required data while still paying attention to survey effort and keeping an eye for detail. This also provided me with the opportunity to get direct experience working with scientists collecting and processing data for real world applications, and giving me a real insight in to work I am passionate about learning about and interested in pursuing in my future.
I spent my third week in the Research Assistant pool. Students on Hoga were collecting data for undergraduate and dissertations and their Master’s projects. I was able to assist a variety of projects providing me with a broad range of skills to practice as well as experience with different kinds of data and aspects of the reef to work with. I managed to experience identifying and filming fish behaviour, abundance and diversity of small marine molluscs, setting up survey transects and comparing and contrasting different environments. This provided me with a range of context for my future studies and thoughts towards my own dissertation which I will be conducting next year. It also increased the breadth of my scientific skillset while diving.
In my last week in the national park I had the opportunity to take part in a community awareness and experience program. We had the opportunity to learn about the local’s livelihoods, fishing practices, histories, beliefs and day to day lives. It was incredibly eye opening, especially visiting Sampela, the village in the sea.
Overall Operation Wallacea was an incredibly rewarding experience, I learned so many skills, met so many incredible people in the field and managed to get first-hand experience in a field I am passionate about. Hopefully my experience from Hoga will jump start me into scientific research and I will continue to contribute to our growing pool of knowledge and conservation efforts.
Tammy Schuh – Swansea University
As I got the confirmation for my place to do my dissertation on the island of Hoga in Indonesia, I got advised to start fundraising. At first, this was a very new concept to me to gain money to finance my travels. I began shortly before Christmas, setting up an Amazon Wishlist, so people could help me by buying items that I needed for my research. Furthermore, I created an account with easyfoundraising.co.uk. With every item purchased from their partner online shops, people fundraised money for my cause. In addition, I contacted Swansea City AFC. The club donated a signed football, which I was able to auction on eBay. Most important part to fund towards my travels was the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant. Getting awarded the grant was firstly a big honour, but also a great help for supporting my dissertation. Relevant to mention as well, was the support of friends and family by helping me with small money donations and buying material I needed for my research.
Indonesia – I heard so much about it, the culture, religion and one of the most popular holiday destinations. However, may trip has a different reason. I was going to research about the behaviour of anemonefish. The goal of this travel was to conduct dives and collect data so I can write my dissertation.
I was lucky enough to be selected one out of ten people to get the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant, which helped me a lot regarding preparation for my travels. Time management was already one of the skills I had to use from the beginning on, even before I took the plane. After my exams, I had to pack all of my belongings, being responsible for all my research equipment and not to forget anything important. Skills in communication were next; arriving in Indonesia at the airport, English was rare or not well spoken, so we work with hands and feet to find the right gate. Even though every one of our little group was exhausted, we considered this more as an adventure. More adventurous was our ferry ride from Wanci to Hoga.
On Hoga, I was able to share my hut with a French girl, studying in the UK. So our hut was already international, which I really enjoyed. So I took the opportunity to fresh up my French. During the first week on Hoga, every person, who was dive-qualified did the RST (Reef Survey Technique) Course. This course was an excellent opportunity to get back into ‘dive mode’ and to explore the incredible reefs around the island. I particularly enjoyed the practical part of it. I was able to learn different sample techniques underwater, which I didn’t even know before. This experience will help me during my last undergraduate year at university, as we will have a Tropical Marine Ecology Field trip to Puerto Rico, where I have to use similar or even the same techniques. But also for my future career, as I have already some experience in collecting data underwater.
Then finally, I could start my data collection for my dissertation. I have never been this nervous before in my life, but knowing that I was prepared thanks to the RST course, I was ready to go into the water. My field supervisor gave me the idea, of using water bottles as markers, so I will find my anemones every time I go underwater. Also, a research assistant helped me conducting my data collection. So I had the responsibility to take care of my RA, as well as of my data. This made me feel like being a scientist, and people will take me, and my research seriously. The highlight before every dive was the actual briefing of my RA. After a while, I knew exactly what I was looking for and could express me in a professional, scientific manner. Also, in the evenings, we had some lectures given by Prof D. Smith. But it was not only Prof. Smith but also all the other researchers, P.h.D students and even locals who made this trip as valuable as it was. Learning from all these people, being able to get first-hand information on new findings and learn from the best in their field was a great experience.
Regarding all the valuable experience I took away from the scientific part, something else was critical. I was able to meet people from all over the world. Meeting people from everywhere around the globe, learning about their culture, language and life was just unbelievably enriching. I never felt so blessed than after meeting all these people and sharing the same passion and interests. Even now, some of us are meeting up where ever we can or just write with each other.
I realised, already during my trip that I want to continue my education and my career in a tropical field. With all the different talks we had to do at the end of our research, I was able to see the different possibilities in tropical marine biology and I knew that I was on the right track. Giving a talk in front of a few dozen people gave me the confidence about myself, my research and my future. I never thought I could learn that much during six weeks. I developed my personality, gained valuable skills for my future and experienced an amazing island. The culture of the local people, the food and just enjoying the quietness and remoteness of this area made me leave as a richer person. I learned from a person I spoke to about my trip in Indonesia, that the future will be the present as well. So, thanks to Opwall and Premier Oil, I will take my present in my hands and with the help of meeting all these new people, my global connections raised so much. Not only will this be part of a great memory, but just the start of experiences.
A R Wallace
Photo courtesy of George Beccaloni, of the London Natural History Museum
This map of Wallace and Darwin’s travels was produced in association with the Wallace Memorial Fund and forms part of the Wallace100 celebrations. Click above for a larger version, or if you would like to purchase this poster then please email firstname.lastname@example.org