24 July 2017

Biology trip to Croatia

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At 3:00am on Thursday 29 June, 29 pupils and 3 teachers departed from Solefields for Heathrow Airport. After a short stop in Vienna we arrived in Split, Croatia for our two week Opwall (Operation Wallacea) Biology expedition.

A scenic coach journey later and we arrived at our first base, a community hall in Krka National Park. Here we spent the first week on a rotation of activities having been split into five smaller groups. In these groups, each morning we assisted a different team of scientists with collecting data about the local fauna. A particularly successful morning was on herpetology where we set and collected traps for terrapins, snakes, frogs and toads around a local lake at the foot of a monastery. Other opportunities in which we had the chance to participate included electrofishing with the fish team and mist netting (at 4:15 am!) with the bird team.

The afternoons consisted of a lecture from a different scientist each day about their specific field and a workshop with the same team that we had assisted in the morning. These ranged from fish dissections of invasive species to determine stomach content, to setting wildcat lures and looking at motion triggered camera footage of large mammals such as the elusive golden jackal. After delicious suppers delivered from a local restaurant and daily chores, we had an evening lecture before optional night expeditions which included reptile and bat surveys and large mammal spotlighting.

At the end of this action-packed terrestrial week, we boarded the ferry from Split to the island of Mljet for our marine week. From our secluded base, we gained open water scuba diving qualifications to help the scientists survey the ocean floor and assess the health of the sea grass (Posidonia oceanica) and large shells (Pinna nobilis). Meanwhile, snorkelers on the surface carried out sea urchin and fish identification surveys. Apart from our aquatic activities, we had fascinating lectures twice a day on sustainability and conservation of the marine environment. We also visited the local town of Pomena, picturesque lakes in the National Park and surveyed dolphins from a boat. These involved sweaty walks accompanied by morale boosting music! As well as monitoring the living organisms in the bay, we also carried out boat monitoring surveys to assess the level of human activity and thus the destructive effect on the marine environment.

Our second week came to a close with a visit to a nearby, abandoned military bunker to watch the sunset followed by a quiz and pizza night. Tired but enlightened and sad to be leaving, we departed from Pomena on the ferry to Dubrovnik to fly home, once again via Vienna.

We all feel our ecological knowledge and biological global awareness has expanded from the inspiring and engaging teams of scientist which we have worked with. Therefore we would like to thank Mrs Mylod for her excellent organisation of this invaluable experience and Miss Bonsall, Mr Kirby and Dr Sharp for their patience and enthusiasm throughout the whole trip.

Phoebe Barker and Matlida Denbow

 Photographs from the trip can be viewed here 

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