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Diving into research in Africa

Diving into research in Africa

A unique research trip has given Year 12 student Alice Cao an insight into the ecological systems of lakes in Africa.

Alice recently returned from a two-week expedition that took her to Tanzania and Malawi where she took part in collecting research data and studying breeds of fish, in particular cichlids.

The opportunity to take part in the trip was a result of Alice’s selection for the International Bio Olympiad – an annual Biology competition for secondary school students. The New Zealand team were to head to Iran for the international competition but, due to political issues surrounding the country at the time, made the decision not to attend.

Instead, the five students and two teachers joined Operation Wallacea (Opwall), an organisation that runs a series of biological and conservation management research programmes for tertiary students, for this expedition.

“In Tanzania, we stayed at a local high school near an untouched crater lake. Our focus was collecting data from the lake – mapping its bottom surface, testing water pH and oxygen content, measuring water visibility and counting fish populations,” says Alice.

“In Malawi, we focused on memorising different varieties of cichlids and diving along 50m transects to count abundance of each type of fish. Lake Malawi is an ecological hotspot, with the highest rate of species formation in the world. This makes it very interesting to scientists internationally.”

The group also visited Liwonde National Park for some wild animal spotting.

The research conducted by the group will support the scientists working onsite.

“This was an amazing experience. It wasn’t all about science, there was a lot of cultural learning, interacting with locals, and relaxing in the African sun. It is an amazing place that not many people would choose as a top travel destination, but it is definitely worth visiting,” says Alice.