Cornish students have swapped the classroom for the tropical rainforests and exotic river habitats of Borneo, taking part in an exciting expedition and research project.
The group of students, all studying wildlife and conservation at both Cornwall College Newquay and Duchy College Stoke Climsland, spent 17 days exploring and studying the areas that surround the Kinabatangan River in Sabah and the coral reefs of Mantanani Island. The annual field trip is part of an ongoing research project coordinated by staff and students from the College for the past six years. For three wet seasons and three dry seasons, students have undertaken a range of projects surveying amphibians, fish, birds and primates as well as assessing the impact of increasing tourism on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the area.
Wildlife lecturer Dr Angus Jackson from Cornwall College Newquay, said: “The Borneo trip is unique in that it’s not just about seeing and experiencing but more about our students getting involved. During the trip, we were non-stop every day, involved in surveys and projects that have a six year history to them, using actual application of standard survey methods to real life situations, using them in a regular, standardised scientific fashion to collect data that has an objective. The research is all new and the fact that the students are doing it themselves is hugely exciting. Each day was very different, it could be going down the middle of the river looking for primates, or hugging the bank really close in looking for riverine birds, seeing things that few people ever get a chance to see.”
During their first few days of acclimatisation, the group visited some key conservation organisations in the area around Sabah. The Bornean Sun Bear Centre, a wildlife conservation and research centre for improving animal welfare and rehabilitation of the Malayan sun bear and Sepilok, a rehabilitation centre for Orangutan. From there, the team travelled to Danau Girang, a field station run jointly between Cardiff University and the Sabah Wildlife Department, where they worked on a range of projects on the Kinabatangan River.
Director of Higher Education across The Cornwall College Group, Dr Andrew Smart, said: “Students and staff worked really well together and we were able to gather a lot of data to add to our ongoing projects. The really valuable aspect of the trip from the students’ perspective is that they got to participate in some real research. They were actively involved, gathering and analysing data and participating in discussions around where the project is going next.
“Along the way we also had a lot of fun. Borneo is one of the best places to see primates in the world and we were lucky enough to see wild orangutan while we in the forest. In fact, one built their nest metres away from the doorway of the building where we were staying. The students all got up first thing in the morning and saw the orang wake up and move off into the forest, which was an incredible experience!”
During the second part of the trip the team moved to Mantanani Island, where data was gathered on the impact of the increased development of the island as a holiday resort. Dr Andrew Smart continued: “We finished the project by spending two days on Mantanani Island, carrying out reef check surveys to look at the impact of an increase in local tourism and the damage that it does to the reef. This year was the third year that we’ve been carrying out the surveys and we found some fairly significant changes, with a lot more algae that is linked with high nutrient status appearing on the coral reefs in the lagoons and a lot more coral bleaching and damage to coral in those areas as well. Unfortunately, it looks as though the increase in tourist snorkelling trips in the area is having an impact but we’ll continue the work over the next few years to see if we can identify how severe it is.”
Student Claire Dixon, who is currently studying at Cornwall College Newquay said: “Borneo was the best! We were welcomed by some amazing local people who made our stay feel like home. This trip was really exciting because every day was an adventure and each day something new was learnt. I really appreciated the opportunity I had to go on this trip because of how much it opened my heart to people, nature and our planet home. I enjoyed every single bit of the trip but I can highlight the night we went out on the boat and the stars in the sky were so beautiful, and we got to see pythons, crocodiles, primates and hermit crabs gathering on the beach, exchanging their shells, it was very exciting. All these adventures and new experiences have truly been nourishment for the soul. I loved it!”