8th October 2013
We were thrilled to hear of the recent JCG visit to South Africa during assembly on Tuesday 8th October.
On 3rd July a group of 35 Year 12 students and 6 members of staff left Jersey to travel to South Africa on a biodiversity expedition with Operation Wallacea.
As fog was forecast for out intended departure date of 4 July we made the last minute decision not to risk being stranded in Jersey and left a day early on the overnight ferry to Portsmouth. After an uncomfortable night’s sailing, a very long day waiting in Heathrow, an overnight flight to Johannesburg and a very long coach journey we finally arrived late in the evening on 5 July at Struwig Eco-reserve in the Balule Game Reserve on the outskirts of Kruger National Park.
We woke the next day to the beautiful view of the Oliphants river and the strange, throaty chuckles of our resident pod of hippos, ready to begin our first week following an African Bush Ecology course. During the week we had daily lectures on all aspects of African wildlife and ecology and we ventured into the bush on foot and in the game viewing vehicles. We were astounded by the vast array of wildlife we encountered, from warthogs and impala to giraffe and elephants, and also by the encyclopaedic knowledge of our field guides. An important part of our first week was carrying out habitat assessments. We measured the vegetation cover and recorded the damage done to trees by elephants in several locations around the reserve, we took part in early morning bird point counts and we carried out invertebrate surveys using pit fall traps. The data collected by us and other school groups will be used by the reserve managers and groups of academics to assess both the health of the reserve and the impact of elephants on the grazing available to other herbivores and to implement elephant population control measures where necessary. For one night we left the relative comfort of Struwig and spent the night camping in the bush. Here we told stories and played games around the camp fire, had open air showers under the stars and slept in tents listening to the sounds of elephant, hippo and hyena moving around in the area just outside the camp. In our evenings at Struwig we went on night drives where we saw some of the nocturnal animals of the bush and learnt about the constellations of the southern hemisphere. We also had a debate on the pros and cons of trophy hunting and gave presentations on the species we had learnt about.
After a truly amazing week in the bush we set of on the next leg of our African adventure and made the 13 hour coach journey to Sodwana Bay in the iSimagaliso Wetland Reserve on the north east coast of South Africa. During our second week we spent our days diving and snorkelling on the stunning reef systems of Sodwana Bay. Each dive began with a terrifying boat journey through the surf and ended with an even more terrifying landing back on the beach but the wildlife we encountered in the water made it worth the effort of getting to and from the reefs. We were dazzled by the diversity of fish and invertebrate species but it was the megafauna that really blew us away. We saw green and loggerhead turtles, white tip reef sharks and manta rays and we were all lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins and to see humpback whales on their migration along the coast. Our evenings in Sodwana were spent following an Indian Ocean Reef Ecology course; we attended lectures on reef species, discussed the threats facing marine ecosystems and, at the end of the week, gave presentations on what we had learnt.
After 18 months of planning the end of our trip came all too soon and, after saying our goodbyes, we began yet another all day coach journey back to Johannesburg for our flight to the UK. The expedition was something that none of us will ever forget; for some it was a truly life-changing experience and everyone who took part had an incredible time, learnt a great deal and developed a new understanding of the issues facing conservation in Africa today.
A video showing our adventures is available here (fast broadband recommended for viewing)
Further information about this visit is available from the Trip Leader, Miss Lisa Rheumer (firstname.lastname@example.org)