This March break twenty-four science and biology students travelled to South Africa to participate in a global research and conservation programme. This form of ecotourism aims to educate volunteers about conservation issues, introduce them to field study practices and use the data they collect to add to ongoing research projects.
The students spent their first week in Balule at Struwig Game Reserve where they carried out game transects, bird point counts and assessed habitat to determine the impact of elephants. They also photographed incredible animals close up, got expert info from bush guides and were serenaded by the sounds of the nearby hippos from the Oliphants river adjacent to camp.
The second week took them to Sodwana Bay to learn about dune ecology, threats to coral reefs and identify as much of the oceanic flora and fauna inhabiting the local reef as possible. And yes, swimming with dolphins…and sharks! Students were pleased to enjoy some sun at the beach and the “local special” for lunch (named quite aptly the “local special”).
A number of our students also completed their PADI scuba dive training, becoming certified divers for life. In the end, the group braved over 72 hours of travel, 35-degree heat, sun, rain, a power outage and butter and cheese sandwiches; while embracing the trip philosophy: “when you’re having fun, you’re having fun”. They returned to Mentor with incredible photos, experiences and memories as well as a new appreciation for conservation and global ecology.
“In South Africa we were able to experience amazing people and see amazing things. The park rangers and dive masters were full of information and were always ready to help.” ~ Will Corley
“South Africa has been one of the most fun, humbling and life changing experiences ever! Seeing the animals in real life, rather than on TV and swimming in the middle of a pod of wild dolphins was unforgettable.” ~ Allison Mah