Great Rift Valley - Schools Expeditions - Operation Wallacea

Great Rift Valley – Schools Expeditions

African Great Rift Valley schools booklet

Key features of the expedition:

  • Opportunity to work with a Nature publishing team of academics on speciation mechanisms
  • Cultural exchange while staying in school in a rural Tanzanian village
  • The only Opwall expedition that is run over 2 countries (Tanzania & Malawi)
  • Chance to visit the Great African Rift Valley – birthplace of humankind – and learn about its ecology
  • Learn to dive in Lake Malawi which has a greater diversity of fish than any other lake on Earth


Structure of the expedition

This expedition is divided into three parts: 5 days working in western Tanzania with the team of scientists looking at how speciation occurs in lakes, 6 days dive training and/or helping with fish surveys in Lake Malawi and 2 days visiting the Liwonde National Park in Malawi to see some of the charismatic East African fauna.

Part 1 – Speciation mechanisms and culture in rural Tanzania

The first 5 nights will be based in Kisiba, south western Tanzania, helping with the under-surveyed volcanic crater lakes in the area. The groups will be split into smaller teams which will spend a day on each of the following activities:

  • Fish surveys: This will involve using cameras, either remotely controlled or on a line at a given depth, to take video surveys of the fish in the lake. The footage will then be analysed in the lab enabling identification of fish at various depths.
  • Limnology surveys: Helping to bathymetrically map the lakes and survey the water temperature and oxygen profiles at different depths.
  • Aquatic invertebrate surveys: This will involve taking dip net samples around the edge of the lakes and using grab sampling for the deeper areas to sample the aquatic invertebrate communities at different depths and on different substrates.
  • Bird surveys: These will be conducted around the lakes to help establish the biological importance of the region.
  • Cultural exchange: Because groups will be living in a small school in rural Tanzania they will be surrounded by local students and will get to see and be part of the daily routine at the school. There will also be the chance to participate in a culture workshop with some of the local students in order to exchange ideas, learn some Swahili, and discuss topics of relevance to the young people of the region.
  • In addition, the students will be completing a lecture course on the Evolution of Species which covers much of the A-level, AP or IB syllabus on genetics and speciation but goes into more depth on the different mechanisms of speciation.

Part 2 – Lake Malawi dive training and fishery research

For the next few 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 – Safari camp, Malawi

On the final days of the second week the group will be transferred to the Liwonde National Park in Malawi. No visit to the Great Rift Valley is complete without seeing some of the large game species that provide such a draw for tourists to East Africa. 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.

African Rift Valley Ecology and Evolution course

In addition to helping with the research projects during the day, the students will be completing a course on African Rift Valley Ecology and Evolution.

  • The first part of this course which is taught by researchers at the Crater Lakes site covers much of the A level, AP or IB syllabus on genetics and speciation but goes into more depth on mechanisms of speciation.
  • The second part of the course gives an overview of the Rift Valley, fishery exploitation and the discoveries made about early hominids in this region and is taught at the lodge in Malawi.
  • The final lecture in the course is given in the safari camp and covers some of the management issues faced by large game reserves in East Africa.


Tanzania (Crater Lakes)

Groups will be staying in dormitories in Kisiba secondary school which is a short walk from the beautiful Kisiba Lake. There are bunk beds, latrine toilets and jungle style bucket showers at this camp. Living in a small Tanzanian rural community will also give students the chance of learning about local agriculture and experience living in a different culture and community from their own.

Malawi (Lake Malawi)

The groups are based at the Mayoko Village Beach Lodge in Nkhata Bay on Lake Malawi. The lodge is built on the steep shores of the lake, and acommodation here will be in small dormitories. There are shared bathrooms, shower blocks, a dining room and bar, lecture area and a fully equipped dive centre enabling easy access to the lake. Most of the diving is done from the shore although some sites can be accessed by boat.

Safari Camp

For the final part of the expedition the students will be staying in the Liwonde Safari Camp. Accommodation will be in thatched dormitories with separate toilet and shower blocks in the camp.