• Indonesia
2 to 8 weeks

Program Details



Starting Price
What's Not Included
Accommodation Airfare Domestic Airfare Airport Transfers Equipment SIM cards Transportation Travel Insurance Visa
Dec 12, 2019
Dec 13, 2016
8 travelers are looking at this program

About Program

Operation Wallacea is a research and environmental organisation, working alongside university and college academics to build long term datasets to put towards various conservation management goals. We recruit volunteers to help out with the data collection, and train them in the skills and background that's needed to help effectively. There's also the option to complete dissertations or senior theses at our sites.

The Indonesia projects are based on Buton Island and the nearby Wakatobi island group, and are Opwall's longest running projects. The marine site alone has published over 90 scientific journals, and the forest site has described 21 new vertebrate species to science. The marine site also feeds data gathered from the reef monitoring programs directly back to the Indonesian government.

There are a large number of 2023 projects students can get involved with, with surveys on everything from the endemic Buton macaque down to herpetofauna and invertebrate species.

This program is currently not being promoted on Go Overseas by its provider. Check with Operation Wallacea for the most up-to-date information regarding the status of this program.

Program Reviews

4.78 Rating
based on 9 reviews
  • 5 rating 77.78%
  • 4 rating 22.22%
  • 3 rating 0%
  • 2 rating 0%
  • 1 rating 0%
  • Impact 4.35
  • Support 4.9
  • Fun 4.35
  • Value 4.8
  • Safety 4.7
Showing 1 - 8 of 9 reviews
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Yes, I recommend this program

Exploring coral reefs in Indonesia

This summer I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go on a 4-week expedition to Indonesia working as a marine research assistant with Operation Wallacea, the very region in which Wallace had made many of his invaluable observations. Having never been in Indonesia beforehand, I was quite nervous when I boarded the first plane to the Coral Triangle. Forty-eight hours and four flights later, I finally arrived in Bau Bau, which is situated on an island in South East Sulawesi. During my first week I undertook an important Reef Survey Technique course. Through the three daily lectures, I learned to identify over 200 marine organisms and their attributes in great detail, as well as learning about their habitat, reef ecology and protection mechanisms. With a persistent jetlag this was a challenging task but most rewarding. Nothing compares to the experience of spotting organisms in their natural habitat during the daily dives. My first sighting of a juvenile pufferfish sleeping on a soft coral was very memorable. These encounters became part of my daily routine and turned every dive into a new adventure. Whilst diving in such a rich and dense marine habitat, I learned various techniques on how to best survey the abundance of organisms underwater. Practical skills which I could have never aquired at Uni.

During my second week in Bau Bau, I joined the monitoring team, where I applied my newly acquired skills and knowledge to actively contribute towards Opwall’s conservation efforts.
The team plays an integral role in collecting the data needed to establish a marine protected area around the Opwall site on Buton. Throughout the week, I learned how to process and analyse the raw data in the dry lab after collecting it during our two daily morning dives. This included several hours of analysing stereo-video data to assess fish abundance. Without Wi-Fi and only weak cellular data arising questions had to be solved the traditional way using reference books or by conferring with the other scientists and staff on site. This probably took longer than simply typing a question into google but often sparked interesting discussions among our group. The evenings were spent playing card games with the Indonesian staff.
This week really showed me how much a scientist can achieve to protect our environment. While an activist can chain himself to a tree and might protect it from being cut down, a team of scientist can protect the whole forest.

The two weeks flew by and it was time to head off with a group of students to the second Opwall site in the middle of the night. Two ferries brought us to the astonishingly beautiful Island of Hoga, situated in the Wakatobi National Park. The marine research centre on Hoga is Operation Wallacea’s flagship, with a marine protected area having been established there in 1996. Stripped of all modern conveniences, including running water and air conditioning, I quickly adapted to the new setting and fell in love with the way of life on the remote island: living in a traditional wooden hut on stilts, recycling waste and minimising water consumption in order to protect the beautiful environment.
As a research assistant, I helped dissertation students gather data for their different projects ranging from behavioural studies of fish to ecological studies on coral and sponge association. During those dives and snorkels, I was struck by how more abundant the fish and corals where on Hoga than around Bau Bau, where we had encountered destructive blast fishing several times. This was proof of the positive impact of a marine protected area on the fish and coral population.

In my final week, I had the opportunity to embrace Indonesian culture and learn about locals’ livelihood, fishing practices and beliefs when I took part in the culture course. A memorable experience was the visit to a fishing village near Hoga where local fishermen had started seaweed farming, which can be used to produce agar and provides an alternative income source to fishing. This was an eye opening experience which made clear to me that there is so much more to conservation than conducting research and introducing fishing quotas. This showed that the protection of the environment can only be successful if scientific research is synchronised with locals’ lives. I would therefore highly recommend the culture course to all students, even if your main focus is the research.

The expedition was an incredibly rewarding experience, and left me with an increased breadth of scientific and practical skills and a close insight into field research. The people I met in Indonesia sparked my passion for protecting these unique habitats. I would therefore recommend this program not only to people who are already studying marine biology, but also to everyone who is up for discovering a new world under water.

What would you improve about this program?
The research assistants could be put into contact before the expedition starts eg via facebook so they can exchange questions and get to know each other beforehand.
It would also be great to have some students who did the trip speak at the talks at the universities.
47 people found this review helpful.
Yes, I recommend this program

The Mysterious Island of Buton with Operation Wallacea

There's nothing that can quite describe the excitement of waking up in the middle of the rainforest, slogging it through mud that'd make Glastonbury look like a sandbox, eat a gigantic bowl of rice only to bathe in a gently flowing river, and then journey off for a hike into the wilderness, on the search for wildlife!

The trip I went on was the very first mobile expedition to the north of Buton, which surveyed in the mountainous region there, and later on, in the nearby villages and coastline. At times, it felt like a whistle-stop tour through nature's jewellry box; the sun would carve beams into the canopy after a great tempest, the ocean would glitter and shine, the fish rippling like opals, the butterflies dancing in the roads and clearings... There honestly is no way to descrbe the beauty and adventure of living in such a remote region!

Every day, food is provided, and it's a delight for the culinary senses, which is made all the more incredible that locals cook it in the jungle, in jungle conditions! A lot of different biological professions were there, and you generally hang around with the biologist who has expertise in the area you're most interested in, but everyone stays together, and you can freely join a 'herp' walk, or help out measuring the pitch of bats echo-locating if you wish!

The locals that Opwall hired along the way were courteous and always ready to help! But the best part is sitting down, and trying your Indonesian; I came armed with but a preliminary bit of knowledge from a guidebook, and I often found I could make good conversation, especially given they were so keen to help out!

I personall don't think there's any better way to have such a *raw* experience of the jungle and of Indonesian culture firsthand than by joining a mobile team with Opwall. We were kindly invited down to the local village to witness the celebration marking the end of Eid, and the villagers' generosity was humbling, to say the least.

Of course, it's quite tough, living most of the time in a jungle environment, and you will probably come back with a few insect bites and scars from rattan, but here's where the medic becomes a lifesaver! Medication and general advice is always available, and if you do accidentally get a bit roughed up on a hike, trip or otherwise injure yourself, everyone pulls together to help out, so you're never left on your own!

If adventure's the goal, you couldn't do any better than Opwall; I personally feel a changed person after venturing to this little part of the world, and I assure you that by the end, four weeks won't have been enough time in the jungle (even if a bug-free environment beckons!).

What would you improve about this program?
Being the first-ever run trip of its kind, delays and a 'day-by-day' schedule were inevitable, but part of the thrill! Of course, at times, it could be difficult, but it's the nature of the environment. The best thing I can say is just to maintain the same equal student/researcher relationship, as it's really nice to sit around the campfire, drink excessive amounts of coffee and swear excessively with doctors, biologists and researchers who are, no pun intended, down-to-earth!

Of course, I would highly recommend a botanist and an entomologist, as we lacked these two on our trip, and often bemoaned the lack of this expertise when debating whether to prod a plant, or try to study a mysterious looking beetle!
48 people found this review helpful.
Yes, I recommend this program

Great experience if you are thinking about a career in conservation

the 1 month with opwall was really rewarding, giving me some insights into the real conservation work, and propelled me to think more about the relationship between conservation workers and community. The Hoga island was the highlight of the expedition. the reef there is just amazing - this could be the reason to keep striving to preserve the nature whenever I am in doubt about a career in conservation.

What would you improve about this program?
food - more proteins needed in the Buton site, and non-fish proteins in the marine site would be appreciated
the last week at hte forest site was not well organised, we almost always have the entire afternoon unplanned.
46 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

My amazing Indonesian dissertation experience - an unforgettable trip!

I recently visited Hoga, Indonesia for the second time this year, but this time as a dissertation student. I've always been passionate about tropical marine ecology so I knew I had to get involved in some way with my dissertation, as I would love a career in this field. I had already had an amazing trip prior to my summer visit, so I knew I was only going to enjoy it even more.

From crystal clear waters with vast numbers of fish to the exciting, intriguing slope of the Sampela reef, this place will never be forgotten. I had multiple encounters with larger animals such as turtles, Napoleon wrasse and dolphins which I will remember forever. The seagrass beds and mangroves make for a more surreal experience, as I had never snorkelled around habitats like this before

6 weeks collecting data on fish communities and benthic structure on Hoga has vastly improved my reef surveying skills as well as my SCUBA diving skills. I feel like a research programme here will put give you the right experience as a step towards a career in marine science. All of the staff on the island were amazing and made every effort to make everyone feel comfortable and happy, even when we were having difficult days away from home or regarding our projects. We never hesitated to approach anyone, including other volunteers and the social atmosphere was one of the best aspects of my trip! My supervisors, both field and university, were exceptionally helpful and gave tips and pointers as to guide me through my project, which I am currently writing up.

I am definitely looking at going back to one of Operation Wallacea's sites for a 3rd time, perhaps this time as a Divemaster as I have heard these trips are just as great.
Thanks OpWall!

What would you improve about this program?
I think perhaps to create a social network space for volunteers to "meet" before they go to the sites would be a good idea - it would allow people to become friendly before they arrive and therefore creating stronger friendships. Apart from that, no other faults.
45 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

A fantastic learning experience

This wasn't my first expedition with Opwall - i went on a 2 week expedition to Mexico with my school back in 2014, and even that was literally lifechanging! The singe week we spent diving convinced me to study Marine Biology at University rather than my planned Archaeology.

This time I signed up for a 4 week Marine expedition in Indonesia, the price was high, but I was able to scrape together enough from fundraising, grant applications and a part time job. For those interested in applying, I would urge you to also apply for the Alfred Russel Wallace Grant, which can net you a £1000 grant! It's only for those going to Indonesia, and few discover it - the deadline has been extended twice because not enough people have applied, so definitely go for it.

Anyways, onto the review - I was only there for ~ 2 weeks, having to return to the UK early when an internship changed their starting state, so I can only talk about the South Buton site. Here's a rough description of the itinerary, it may change a little in future years but not by much. For the first week we were split into 2 groups, those who already have a diving qualification, and those without. Both groups dived twice a day at the same time, but again in separate groups.

Those with a qualification did their Reef Survey Course, which consisted of 2 lectures a day where we learned reef ecology and species/family names of the fish, coral, algae and invertebrates we encountered. In the two daily dives we were taught surveying techniques and surveyed the species/families we learned in the previous lecture. We ere then tested at the end of the week in an exam where we identified what were in photos. The required pass mark was high (I think it was 90/80%?) but you can repeat the exam and no-one has ever needed to do the exam more than twice.

Those without a qualification did their PADI Open Water Course, which had 1 lecture a day - the two dives will be spent learning techniques.

In the second week, those who just got their PADI qualification went onto learning the Reef Survey Course, the rest of us assisted the dissertation students with collecting data. Everyone was also given the option of doing the Advanced PADI Open Water Course for a cheaper price than if we had done it at home. I'd recommend you get your OW qualification before going so you can get that extra experience with the dissertation students and then do your AOW in your second week at the lower price (plus so you don't have to do the Reef Survey Course & AOW at the same time).

Every week there's a degassing day, where you an go into town to visit the supermarket complex, do your own thing and have a barbecue/party in the evening. Meals are buffet style, with rice, a variety of veg dishes, fried eggs and fruit. Despite being told meat/fish would be a rare treat, we actually ended having some for at least 1 in 3 meals. The food was great, and for those who aren't huge fans of rice they always had some noodles too (which tended to go quickly). The accommodation was very comfortable, 2-3 beds in a room with air conditioning (!) and an ensuite shower and toilet.

The diving centre staff were incredibly helpful and patient with us if we forgot to check a piece of kit back in or out, even when they have 3/4 groups to deal with at once! The opwall/administrative staff were also hugely helpful, when I had to go back early they helped me book tickets and made what might have been an incredibly stressful problem go much smoother. Everyone was always up for a chat - if you go talk to as many people as possible! Everyone has stories to tell and the researchers have so much experience and information you can learn, I study Marine Biology but I probably learned more in those 2 weeks from diving and talking to people than I did in a term back at Uni!

Whilst there you'll spend most of your time - diving, eating, relaxing, learning - with the other research assistants, even though I was only there for 2 weeks I formed great friendships with some and am still in contact with them months later - I even met up with some in London a few weeks ago.

Also, a couple things that aren't necessary but are useful - an underwater camera (and bring the right charger! still killing me that I took the wrong one) and a small laptop or tablet for revising.

So, a bit of a lengthy review, but I hope I've given you a good insight into what you'll be doing in your 2 weeks at South Buton. These expeditions are amazing, whether you study the biological sciences or not, and if you're thinking of going on an expedition then I cannot recommend Indonesia and Opwall enough! Go for it!

What would you improve about this program?
The only possible thing I could think of would be to put research assistants and other volunteers in contact with each other via facebook before the expedition starts, would take away some of the apprehension when you arrive and first meet eachother.
44 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Indonesian adventures - an in-depth review

I went to Indonesia with Opwall as an undergrad research assistant for 8 weeks: 2 weeks on Kabaena looking for insects, 2 weeks on Buton helping with biodiversity surveys and looking for insects, and 4 week diving on Hoga and looking for insects. As you can see, I am an entomology student, and my primary interest was finding as many strange invertebrates as I could, which was especially important because I was the only one significantly interested in doing so. (As a result, I am/was possibly the world's expert on the terrestrial invertebrate diversity of Kabaena island - which is not saying much, really) Opwall mainly served as a means for me to explore tropical biodiversity uninhibited (for the first time) and expose myself to foreign places and ways of doing things, which I say was a success. Everything was a fascinating new experience! Especially being able to learn to dive in the coral reefs there.

I seem to have constructed a very long review (I discuss each of the rating items (Impact, Support, etc.) in detail), so to save space on this webpage and spare your scrollbar, I have uploaded the rest of it to Dropbox as a .txt file: https://www.dropbox.com/s/deio5ou4q5tl4pj/Opwall%20review.t…

41 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Experience for an Unbeatable Price

My experience was amazing - this was my second expedition with OpWall and I spent 6 weeks in Indonesia; 4 of which were in the jungle and 2 which were on the marine site. I met the coolest people ever, especially those who were OpWall staff, and every person had something great to contribute to the group. Even in the marine site (although the staff were slightly less kind), everybody worked towards a common goal of conservation research and adventure. I will be back soon!

45 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

An unforgettable jungle adventure

My month spent in Indonesia was simply unforgettable.
We had the best scientists, doctor and fellow research assistants to keep us company during our crazy jungle adventure.
Between catching bats and measuring snakes there'd always be card games at our rough and ready jungle table.
I learnt so much about bats, birds, snakes and frogs from how to handle them to where they live and their ecology. Sitting here writing this in cold, grey England i miss the jungle and our mobile team very much!

What would you improve about this program?
The only thing that could be improved would be if we'd had a botanist and an entomologist!
45 people found this review helpful.

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