Five students from the Institute of Earth Systems (IES) graduated on 21 November 2019 with an M.Sc. inNatural Environment and Resources Management, a new Master level degree programme offered for the first time last year.
One of the highlights of the course programme was a field study expedition in July 2019 to French Guiana. The students were accompanied by Professor Louis F Cassar, the Institute’s Director and lecturer in biodiversity conservation.
Other members of the team included Ms Christa M Pisani, Technical Officer at the IES, Dr Martin J Ebejer, specialist in entomology, and Mr John J Borg, senior curator at the Natural History Museum of Malta.
The Guiana expedition’s various activities were designed to achieve a better understanding of the different habitats found within the rainforest and how these are affected by the numerous tributaries within this region of the Amazon.
Small powered boats were used to maneuver through the narrow waterways during trips to Crique Gabriel and to the extensive Kaw marshes; the group also made brief visits to the town of Kaw, as well as to a remote indigenous Amerindian village. During these boat trips, the students encountered a rich diversity of birdlife as well as bats and monkeys, and were able to handle a young spectacled caiman, among other species. While visiting the beach of Remire-Montjoly, the group witnessed two Olive-Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) laying their eggs, this beach being one of the few places globally where this vulnerable sea turtle nests.
Extensive collections of both preserved and live specimens of indigenous insects were viewed during a visit to the Natural History Museum Le Planeur Bleu in Cacao village.
The students also prepared and baited a number of different traps close to their lodgings within the rainforest, including light traps and around 28 other types such as aerial and malaise traps. Over several days, a variety of different species of the orders Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, Coleoptera and Diptera, among others, were identified and logged.
The trip was organised as part of the elective study unit titled Biodiversity Conservation: Theory and Application, and it enabled the students to explore in some depth the topic of biodiversity conservation, and to compare local conservation efforts with those employed overseas.
After their return, the students continued to work on a portfolio and subsequently gave oral presentations based on their field observations, with several students choosing to carry out their dissertation research in the field of biodiversity conservation.
A small selection of photos taken during the expedition can be viewed on the IES Facebook page, and an exhibition of the best students’ photographs is expected to be organised shortly.