Well it’s nearly Christmas and, after much hard work, we have a project that is really starting to take shape. Over the past few weeks myself and the team have been laying the foundations of Expedition Samloem 2013, with the aim to sort out the majority of our logistics by Christmas, it seems we have done it.
It all stemmed from Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) and The Seahorse Trust, two of our chief collaborators. MCC have been conducting fantastic marine research around Koh Rong Samloem and have recently begun working with the UK-based Seahorse Trust and Save Our Seahorses charities. After visiting the island Neil Garrick-Maidment, the Executive Director of The Seahorse Trust, came back to the UK to spread the word about the excellent work that MCC have been undertaking. While doing this he got in contact with the University of Exeter, which is where I and the rest of the team got involved.
Early emails between Neil, Paul Ferber, founder and CEO of MCC, Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter (now our supervisor) and myself discussed the possibility of conducting terrestrial research to compliment the marine work already taking place. Very little research of this nature has been conducted on the island, to MCC’s knowledge there are not even any full records of the terrestrial species on the island. Now, tropical islands fascinates me, not because of any long, sandy beaches, but because of their often unique ecology.
For those of you not in the know, tropical islands are loved by scientists for their high levels of endemism (species only occurring in that one location). This comes about through species becoming isolated in an area due to geographical barriers, in this case it is the large body of water that separates the island from the mainland. Any species that cannot cross this barrier will become isolated and over time will evolve and adapt to their environment. Ultimately, if you put the same species in two isolated locations with heavily contrasting environments, they are likely to eventually evolve into separate species. Does that all make sense? No? Google Darwin’s finches, if it still doesn’t make sense then maybe biology isn’t for you.
Anyway, I have diverged somewhat, in short, tropical islands fascinate me for the endemism and the unique interactions that occur between species in such small ecosystems. We’ll be making some videos to illustrate these next year, so keep an eye out!
After speaking to Paul, Neil and Brendan I decided that I could not pass up the chance to undertake a project in such a location and have been working tirelessly ever since to make it happen.
After forming a core team of 6 students we set about sorting out the logistics of the expedition. For any of you that have undertaken something like this before you will know that it is not an easy or quick process. October to December has been dominated by extensive talks with Paul and Neil regarding how to go about our research, various permissions we require, our methodologies, risk assessments, the list goes on. We are very fortunate that ‘Projects Abroad’, who work closely with MCC, are helping us solve logistcal headaches such as transport to and from the island, food, accommodation and more.
The expedition itself will have a big media aspect to it (website, videos, blogs and more) and, as you can see, we’ve managed to get the ball rolling sooner than I expected on that. We hope that it will make the project accessible to a much wider audience, helping us share the incredible experiences we will encounter and boosting people’s enthusiasm for science.
After what seems like an age, we are finally in a position where I feel like our logistics are close to sorted and after Christmas we can start gathering the necessary funds to make it all happen. Over the coming weeks we will be looking to expand our Core Team, take on researchers and identify people in-country that can come and be a part of the project.
It’s a very exciting time for us and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.