Science

Operation Wallacea Science Expedition to Dominica

Two years ago the idea of a science expedition to the remote small mountainous island of Dominica was launched by Dr Trott. A staggering 28 pupils signed up from L5-U6 and fund-raising led by Mrs Mudie began in earnest with Charlie Mullin designing a great emblem combining the PPC logo and the Dominican flag. In September 2017, a year before we were due to leave, Dominica was hit by the devastating category 5 Hurricane Maria that flattened almost every home and stripped the leaves off every tree. Some people in the remote areas were cut off for over a month and very few trees could bear any fruit. The Dominicans being resilient people began the rebuilding as best they could with limited supplies and each other for primary support.

It was at this time that we decided as a group to continue with the expedition in July 2018. The scientists present desperately wanted data on the impact of the Hurricane and the Dominicans themselves needed a few visitors to bring some income to the island.

On July 21st we left the UK our aim being to complete a series of scientific surveys in conjunction with ongoing research projects to assess the damage to the rainforest and marine organisms. We spent a week at 3 Rivers Eco-lodge near Rosalie living in tents or basic wooden dormitories and doing daily sampling of the animals such as lizards, birds and bats. Deep in this pristine rainforest we were surrounded by the sounds and smells of the forest and we had to trek to our sites, through rivers and past stunning waterfalls. Each day we gained knowledge from leading experts to help us understand the ecosystems and why they are so important to protect and sustain. Words cannot describe how beautiful the rainforest was even after the hurricane. Night surveys involved head

torches, bat traps, strange noises, sleepy eyes and lots of very large insects including the huntsman spider and blister beetles which seemed to especially like the boy’s tents.

A quote from one of the younger girls ‘at first it was scary, now it’s amazing’.

At the end of the long hot days we would all cool off in the ‘mermaid’s pool’ a beautiful section of a freshwater river, were we could wash ourselves or our clothes. Jumping in from a large volcanic boulder also provided entertainment and competition.

For the second week we travelled by nerve wracking roads to the Capital Rosalie and then a 3 hour boat trip to the northern point of the Cabrits National Park, whale watching as we went. We were lucky to spot 4 sperm whales including a mother and calf that swam calmly just by the boat. Once ashore we stayed at the renovated hilltop British Barracks of Fort Shirley for a week, learning to scuba dive, snorkelling or completing marine underwater surveys on the reef. On one site called ‘Champagne reef’ we monitored the pH of the seawater which was lower than normal, due to the carbon dioxide bubbles leaking into the sea from the volcanic chamber below. Our collected data will be used by researchers looking at the long term implications of climate change on the coral reefs of the world as these high levels of CO2 may well occur in the future.

It is difficult to summarise a trip like this as we all experienced so many new and interesting things. Each of us took away something very different and it was indeed ‘life-changing’ for many. Photographs tell some of the story but if you get the chance speak to one of the 32 that went you will hear some great tales and lots of science! All our data will make up a small part of over 10 scientific papers and our Dominican butterflies caught with a world leading lepidopterist ‘Clive’, will be displayed in the Natural History Museum in London. Must visit!!

You can see some of what we got up to by clicking through to this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-VBy6bO6Hc