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Exchange experience in South Africa: into the wilderness

June 7, 2013
  • The field camp was full of laughter and left everyone an unforgettable memory!

    The field camp was full of laughter and left everyone an unforgettable memory!

Earlier in April 2013, four marine ecology research postgraduate students - Circle Hong, Ginger Ko, Calton Law and Dineshram were selected to be a part of an annual collaborative exchange programme between the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of the University of Hong Kong and the Department of Zoology of the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Heading into the fourth year of student exchange, HKU postgraduate students participated in the UJ field excursion conducted in Tsitsikamma National Park, which is one of the largest coastal protected areas in the world, situated along the Garden Route in south-eastern coast of South Africa.  Tsitsikamma is renowned for its unique richness of marine biodiversity and natural beauty. Within a few hours’ drive from Tsitsikamma wilderness, students also visited Knysna Estuary, famous for its indigenous seahorse and rich estuarine diversity. 

Unlike previous years, HKU students participated in a 7-day MSc field excursion and worked in small groups with UJ Master’s level students. The programme focused on understanding temperate rocky shore and estuary ecosystems including species distribution patterns, interspecific relationships, biological adaptations as well as conservation of these habitats. Every day the programme started with a lecture introducing a habitat followed by interactions with the creatures in the field including experiencing different sampling techniques and species identification. Working in small groups allowed students to have more chance to experience field work in these unique ecosystems. Besides field work, students also presented their research and exchange ideas with local students during informal seminars. 

The excursion also provided a good platform for cultural exchange, as students cooked some traditional dishes that were truly phenomenal. At night, the campsite was always filled with laughter, with students sharing stories about the cultures from their hometowns and also meeting the indigenous wildlife, such as inquisitive baboons. 

As in previous years, students from UJ will come to Hong Kong in October to join the HKU residential field course as part of the Ecology & Evolution course to continue this meaningful exchange programnme.  We are extremely grateful for the financial support provided by the School of Biological Sciences and the Faculty of Science, and of course our hosts in UJ for providing such a memorable scientific experience.  

Ginger:
Thank you for giving me the great opportunity to widen my horizon in this field course and I really enjoyed it. I feel so fortunate to have the chance to explore the magnificent coast and discover about the costal organisms at Tsitsikamma. The estuary was beautiful, and standing next to one of the cutest animals, the Rock Hyrax, and close contact with the Bushbuck were really unforgettable. I met the friendliest people ever and the lecture gave by enthusiastic professors was really useful. Lastly, meeting with the local South African students allowed me to understand the local culture and share our culture to them. All in all, this is a memorial experience for me. 

Calton:
This is the second time for me to explore the nature in Africa, and this programme let me to see this continent from another angle apart from the famous savannah. Anything on the temperate rocky shore and estuary habitats in southern hemisphere was totally new to my knowledge! The creatures and scenery there always stunned me a lot. Thanks so much for giving me this fascinating opportunity to learn coastal ecology in this wonderful outdoor classroom and made a lot of friends during the course as well as meeting old good friends who participated in the field course previously in Hong Kong!

We would like to thank the Department of Zoology of UJ, School of Biological Sciences and SWIMS of HKU. The exchange programme could not be made without their generous supports. 

Dinesh:
Being a part of this exchange was a great experience that allowed me to cross the equator and travel to a new country where you are constantly amazed by the beautiful mountains, oceans, plants, night stars and everything that one doesn’t want to miss in his life. The best part about this course was the field trips; they have given me invaluable experience to study marine biology with the local South African students and the beloved professors. Every day we spent time in the field sites and learned about the richness and diversity of different ecosystems, from river mouth, the estuary, all the way down to the ocean. Facing monster waves on rough but stunning rocky shores was mind-boggling experience of a lifetime. I feel truly thankful to the Swire Institute of Marine Sciences (SWIMS) and the University of Johannesburg for making this exchange experiences a wonderful and unforgettable experience in my life. 

Circle:
Having heard of the rich biodiversity in South Africa a lot, finally I got the precious chance to explore them as a part of this exchange programme this year!  We spent most of the time in field trips, identifying countless species, investigating animal behaviors as well as getting familiar with distribution patterns of different organisms, from estuary to ocean. Surprisingly, unexpected baboon’s hanging around outside of the classroom and trespassing into our room left us with unforgettable memory and invaluable lesson. I also enjoyed a lot of studying and living with the local South African students to taste different types of culture and build up friendship with them. All in all, this exchange programme was so much more amazing than its description by words. I feel so lucky and thankful for the great support from Department of Zoology of UJ, School of Biological Sciences and SWIMS of HKU.

  • The students with Prof. Gray Williams (at the back) on the shore of Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa (From left to right: Calton, Ginger, Circle and Dinesh)

    The students with Prof. Gray Williams (at the back) on the shore of Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa (From left to right: Calton, Ginger, Circle and Dinesh)

  • Students got excited reaching to the top of the hill with a wonderful hiking.

    Students got excited reaching to the top of the hill with a wonderful hiking.

  • Students using beach seine net to know the macrofauna of the Knysna Estuary, one of the most important estuary in terms of biodiversity in South Africa.

    Students using beach seine net to know the macrofauna of the Knysna Estuary, one of the most important estuary in terms of biodiversity in South Africa.

  • Naughty baboons visited our campsite while we were away for field works, ransacking the houses and looking for food.

    Naughty baboons visited our campsite while we were away for field works, ransacking the houses and looking for food.

  • Rock hyraxes, once thought to be the close relatives of African elephants, can be found everywhere in Tsitsikamma National Park.

    Rock hyraxes, once thought to be the close relatives of African elephants, can be found everywhere in Tsitsikamma National Park.

  • Students with Prof. Allanson (second left at the last row) from Rhodes University outside the Knysna Basin Project Laboratory.

    Students with Prof. Allanson (second left at the last row) from Rhodes University outside the Knysna Basin Project Laboratory.

  • Students were exploring the amazing organisms on the rocky shore at Tsitsikamma.

    Students were exploring the amazing organisms on the rocky shore at Tsitsikamma.

  • “Stars” are not found at the sky only! These are countless dwarf cushion starfish, occupying the rock pools along the shore.

    “Stars” are not found at the sky only! These are countless dwarf cushion starfish, occupying the rock pools along the shore.

  • Everything is big in South Africa! Even this “little” limpet was much larger than those found on the shores in Hong Kong!

    Everything is big in South Africa! Even this “little” limpet was much larger than those found on the shores in Hong Kong!