Going on the expedition made me realise I wanted to go into conservation
29 May 2019 13:53
By Holly Griffin, Young Explorer, Amazon 2011
I’m Holly and I was a Young Explorer on the Amazon 2011 expedition to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Peru. I went on to study Environmental Geography at UCL and now I’m a marine conservationist. My work is in understanding the human side of conservation, and engaging people effectively with ocean issues. I’m interested in human behaviour, ethics and law in relation to ocean conservation.
How did you hear about British Exploring Society?
When I was at school there were annual talks by students who had fundraised and gone on a BES expedition themselves. I listened to their stories, wondered if I was up to it and then decided to challenge myself and sign up to the Amazon 2011 expedition.
How did you fundraise for your expedition and what skills did you learn?
I wrote to lots of grant-giving trusts and charities, explaining what I was going to be doing and how it would help my personal development and make a contribution to scientific research. I also did a range of other fundraising activities, including making and selling jewellery, babysitting and other odd jobs.
Describe your expedition, how it made you think and feel, what were the highs and lows?
We spent four weeks living in the dramatic surroundings of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. We completed a rotation of four phases: Phase One volunteering in the village of San Martin; Phase Two trekking through the jungle and making camp every night under a tarpaulin, Phase Three based at Science Camp, conducting transects and various other surveys and Phase Four canoeing up the River Marañón to finish back at San Martin.
As you might expect, the jungle wildlife was incredible. Our scientific research was an important part of the expedition as we were helping to collate data for local surveys to help monitor the biodiversity of the area. These were carried out in the area around the Cocha Caro Wiuri in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. We conducted transects which were near-silent treks through the jungle, logging what wildlife we saw, what habitat it was in, the number of individuals and their activity. We saw Howler Monkeys, Brown Capuchins, Spider Monkeys, Scarlet Breasted Macaws, Amazonian Kingfishers and many more in their natural environment. We also took part in caiman, fish and turtle egg surveys, all of which were fascinating, as we watched the guides demonstrate the various techniques and we logged the results. Getting involved in this scientific research was what motivated me to apply for a degree that would lead me into a career in conservation when I got home.
The expedition was certainly a challenging one and as a result our Fire grew very close. Working as a team helps you cope with the hostile conditions of a jungle environment and we became very efficient at setting up camp, making a fire and cooking a hot meal after trekking. Exhaustion from the draining physical exercise, the heat and interrupted sleep often made the going tough, but our team always managed to get everything done. My most memorable teamwork moment has to be when our very damp team managed to light a fire in the middle of a huge Amazonian thunderstorm, using wet wood, machetes and a lot of good humour.
What’s the one aspect of the expedition that you will never forget?
The noise of the jungle, and the surprise downpour that I washed my hair in!
Were there practical lessons you learnt on expedition?
• How to set a camera-trap to capture images of local wildlife that only comes out when you’re not there. We got some amazing images of jaguars and tapirs!
• Make your bed tarantula-proof by hanging a box mosquito net and tucking the edges right under your roll mat. Keep those spiders out.
• Keep jungle critters out of your boots by storing them upside down on sticks over night.
• Boil your water for as long as possible then purify. It’s never going to lose its river water colour, so fill your Camelbak/bottle and don’t think about it.
How did you apply what you learnt through the programme, to life back home?
Completing this expedition gave me a huge confidence boost, and definitely made me better at problem-solving day-to-day issues!
Do you feel differently about what you can do/want to do, since the programme?
Going on the expedition made me realise I wanted to go into conservation, rather than study languages as I was thinking of doing beforehand.
How would you describe your Leaders and what impact did they have on your experience?
Our leaders were great, they were really involved in everything we did, and took an interest in helping us get the most out of our expedition in terms of personal development. The science leaders were particularly inspiring to me, and a big part of the reason I went into environmental science.
If another person was thinking of going but was undecided, what would you say to them?
These expeditions are a great way to prove to yourself what you’re capable of, which may well be more than you think. You will find yourself in situations that will test your physical and mental abilities, and you will make close friendships with your team as you all problem-solve and help each other through.
If someone was looking to support the programme with a donation, why would you tell them it’s worth it?
As a conservationist, I know our field needs more passionate young environmentalists like the ones that BES inspires. Supporting a YE in going on an expedition will not only allow them to have a formative experience in their personal development, but will also help to get more young people fired up about the state of our natural world, and give them first-hand experiences that could drive them to use their careers to tackle these issues.
By Holly Griffin