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Students Corner

In this section, our student members and grant winners share information about their interests, current projects and experiences in the field.

02/19/16 - Yuri Boyanin, Exploration Fund Grant 2013 Awardee

Originally from Bulgaria, Yuri Boyanin is a PhD candidate in the History Department of Melbourne’s La Trobe University. Ever since receiving an Exploration Fund Grant, he has loyally kept in touch with the Club and sent us riveting travel logs and missives from the far away land of Kyrgyzstan, where he’s been doing research for his thesis. In addition to being a dedicated historian and explorer, Yuri is a very gifted photographer. We’d like to treat you to some of his impressions—read and see for yourself.

During the last four years I have been writing a thesis about Naryn, a region tucked deep in the Tian Shan Mountains of central Kyrgyzstan. When we think of Kyrgyzstan’s countryside, we tend to imagine endless expanses of land, friendly locals, horses saddled with colorful carpets, eagle hunting, and the hospitality of a nomadic people. Naryn, in popular imagination, is a place both beautiful and harsh; its pastoral-nomadic life both romanticized and denigrated.

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12/03/15 - Daniel Villar, SM’15, Part II

In July, Daniel wrote about his upcoming expedition to the Andean Cloud Forest. After his return, he followed up with some impressions from the field.

I am certain that all the diligent readers of this blog have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment of my perilous and groundbreaking expedition to the Cocora Valley of Colombia, and have been wondering why I have not posted back on the results as promised. Perhaps you thought I was dead. Or been kidnapped by a guerilla group, or gone to stay living in the jungle, renouncing all civilization. Well, I am glad to say that all three of those are no, and the reason for my extreme tardiness in updating you on my story is that bane of first semester high school seniors, college applications.
But don’t let me bore you with that; you came here, presumably, to see how that insect-collecting neo-Victorian who wore a bow tie for his original profile picture did when actually out on the field. I might as well say it now; it was not a groundbreaking expedition. I have no new species to my name, nor very grand discoveries. The technical side of what I did is well covered in the report I compiled for the society, and if you are really interested in wax-palm parasites and cloud forest conservation, I suggest you look there while I share with you some background information here.

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11/04/15 - Angelica “Clover” Robichaud, SM’15

We’re very pleased to introduce Clover Robichaud, SM’15, the Club’s youngest member.

Hello, my name is Clover Robichaud, and I’m currently a freshman at Columbia College in Columbia, SC majoring in Biology and Math. I learned about the Explorers Club from the current chair of the Greater Piedmont Chapter, Mr. David Brinkman, who was conducting archaeological excavations in search for the lost colonial town of Granby. I assisted in some of the digs with fellow GP Explorers Club members and listened to his presentations at the Explorers Club. I began attending GP Explorers Club luncheons regularly and enjoyed learning about others’ expeditions and research.
I had already completed a field research project of my own on the Philippine Tarsier, Tarsius syrichta. I procured a modest grant from the South Carolina Academy of Science and visited the Philippine Tarsier Foundation in Corella, Bohol. I presented my findings at the University of South Carolina and received a University of South Carolina Junior Scientist Award.

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10/18/15 - Penrose Hallowell, SM’15

When Pen was approved as a Student Member, in March 2015, he was the youngest member of our Club. Since then, this title has technically gone on to a young lady a few days his junior. We’re very proud of our youngest members and hope that you enjoy Pen’s account of his multifaceted and insightful summer of exploration.

I am Pen Hallowell from Boston and am presently a junior at Dexter Southfield. I have been interested in exploration for as long as I can remember.  Specifically, I was always interested in the oceans, and then I became more focused on marine life. I visited every aquarium I could and spent my summers face down with a snorkel mask on. I still do. The snorkel helps me to be one with the sea. Last year, with the publication of a more detailed sea map, I learned about the dangers our coral reefs are facing. More and more information is coming out about that, and I gave my annual school public speaking lecture on this subject. I projected the sea map onto a screen and discussed what scientists and explorers have learned so far.
This summer, I was a student at SEASCape in Woods Hole. The program was packed with experiences at WHOI, in salt marshes, lectures in maritime history, visits to the Coast Guard and governmental oceanographic institutions.  It was an incredible three weeks and academically rigorous.

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09/24/15 - Sahas Barve, Exploration Fund Grant 2015 Awardee

Sahas Barve researches Avian Ecology and Evolution.

I’m a graduate student at Cornell University and received the Explorers Club Exploration Fund Grant to study bird physiology in the Himalayas. The fact that montane birds, like all other montane organisms around the world, are often restricted to certain elevations has been fascinating me for a long time. Some bird species are limited to high elevations, while others are found only at low elevations. With their deep valleys carved out through thousands of years by rivers like the Ganges, plunging down to 3000 feet and high peaks above 12000 feet within 30 miles of each other, the Himalayas are an ideal study site for studying mountain birds. They are also a global biodiversity hotspot. I work in the Kedarnath landscape of the western Himalayas where, in a relatively tiny area of 40 sq. km straddling a mountain side, we have documented a whopping 260 species of birds. That’s about one third of all species known to breed in North America!

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09/01/15 - Jessica Glass, TM ‘15

Jessica is a brand new Term Member and also among the 2015 awardees of an Exploration Fund Grant.

The line suddenly goes tight and I feel a sharp pull on the rod, which is quaking strongly and bending into a long arch. Fish on! Now comes the battle of reeling up as quickly as possible, keeping the line tight while not breaking the rod, and trying to stay balanced as waves rock me back and forth. Many of us enjoy the thrill of fishing. Not all of us are lucky enough to call it their job. I’m writing from Grahamstown, South Africa, where I’ve just begun a year-long fellowship at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. There is a rich history of exploration at the institute, which was founded by J.L.B. Smith, the man who described the first living coelacanth, a 400 million year old cave-dwelling marine fish thought to be extinct until a live specimen was discovered in South Africa in 1938.

I’m earning my PhD at Yale in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, studying the genetics of marine fish known as kingfish or trevallies. The giant trevally, my main focus species, can weigh up to 176 lbs. and is found throughout the Indo-Pacific. I’m researching how genetically diverse this species is in the Western Indian Ocean. Along with colleagues who tag trevallies to track their movement, I’ll be exploring remote locations in South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles, collecting samples for DNA analysis. The reason I study fish is to promote sustainable management and conservation, including sustainable consumption. Trevallies and their close relatives are targeted by recreational, commercial and subsistence fisheries across Africa. By understanding their genetic diversity, we can design reserves and fishing regulations to maintain healthy populations.

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08/17/15 - Isabella Mandl, YAF 2015 Awardee

Isabella Mandl from Austria is researching Sahamalaza sportive lemurs in the remote north-west of Madagascar for her doctoral dissertation.

“Lemurs? Aren’t those the ones with the stripy tail? From the movie?”
If you study primates in Madagascar this sentence is the first you hear (right after a bad rendition of “I want to move it, move it!”). There are over 100 lemur species on the island, but most people only know a few of the more flashy ones: the ring-tailed lemurs, the dancing sifaka or the not-so-pretty aye-aye. The great big bulk of them remain relatively unknown, and this is where I come in.

I study sportive lemurs. Never heard of them? You’ve probably also never seen one – they are small (about the size of a coconut), brown (exactly the color of a coconut) and nocturnal (not so much like a coconut). The nocturnal and solitary lifestyle is the main reason these lemurs remain unnoticed.  But this is also their biggest problem. All sportive lemurs are threatened with extinction: they are highly arboreal, which means even though they can jump from tree to tree, they cannot cross non-forested corridors. As the forests of Madagascar are vanishing rapidly, the lemurs are losing their habitat, but sportive lemurs are inconspicuous animals, so very few people are noticing this.

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07/30/15 - Lucas Beltramino, YAF 2015 Awardee

All good South-America things come in three: Lucas Beltramino tells us about his studies in Marine Biology in Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

I grew up watching David Attenborough’s documentaries, dreaming that one day I could help to preserve nature and our environment like he did. Because I was equally interested in electronics, I wanted to find ways to combine my passions. After earning my first bachelor’s degree in electronics in my hometown Rosario, in Argentina, I moved to Patagonia, to the small city of Puerto Madryn. Here, on the Atlantic coast, the southern right whales, magellanic penguins, and elephant seals arrive to breed every year.

Once I enrolled in Marine Biology, I developed a devoted love for marine animals as well as for diving and sailing. During many hours underwater, I focused my attention on reef fish behavior and searched for technologies that could help me elucidate some aspects of the life of these sedentary semicryptic species. When the time for writing my thesis approached, I knew how to create the perfect marriage for my two passions: I decided to use the recently designed micro accelerometers to study the behavior and activity patterns of two of the most conspicuous species in these temperate reefs: the ‘mero’ (Acanthistius patachonicus), from the grouper family, and the ‘salmón de mar’ (Pseudopercis semifasciata), the Argentine sandperch.

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12/03/15 - Daniel Villar, SM’15, Part I

With this new entry, we’re staying in South America but are moving up to Colombia. Newly elected Student Member and 2015 Youth Activity Fund grant awardee Daniel Villar has departed to the Cocora Valley. In the following paragraphs he tells us what he hopes to find there as well as about his relationship with Queen Victoria.

Though I was born nearly a century after her death, a part of me pines for the days of Queen Victoria. I don’t pine for the racism, for the imperialism, or for the militarism; indeed, what I pine for is much more specific; it is a style of exploration that has been lost in 20th century, and which was seen as being lost in her time as well. It is the idea of the broad-minded naturalist who travels, collects, and discovers. Many of the greatest scientists of the 19th century fit this mold, including Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace, and Henry Walter Bates, the three fathers of modern (organismal) biology. Even in the 20th century, many explorers (many of whom graced the Explorer’s Club’s membership) continued to some extent this tradition. But in practice it could not be maintained.
As more was discovered about the natural world, it became necessary to specialize. Such is the way of science.

Yet in my upcoming expedition to the Cocora Valley in Colombia, which the Explorer’s Club, through its great generosity, has agreed to fund, I hope to perhaps catch a glimmer of that tradition while advancing modern science and conservation.

Let me pause and explain who I am and what my expedition is about. I am a rising high school senior from Bethesda, Maryland, attending Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, and a student member of the Explorer’s Club. I am also intensely interested in invertebrate zoology.
The Cocora Valley isn’t a remote valley in the darkest Colombia, but it isn’t Central Park, either. It is a part of the Nevados National Park, in the department of Quindio, near the village of Salento. The park has a decent number of tourists, but the number of scientific forays into the Cocora Valley itself have been negligible, especially for what I wish to study: invertebrate parasites.

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06/16/15 - Lucille Kemper, SM ‘14

The summer is upon us, and we’re posting an essay that’s a bit longer than usual. Lucille Kemper takes us back to July 2014, when she went on her first medical mission trip to Peru.

In July 2014, I volunteered to go on a medical mission trip to Peru with a team that consisted of eight doctors, three registered nurses, and six volunteers. The town of Huaraz, 11,000 feet above sea level, was our base for the week. After a long flight from Atlanta and an eight hour bus ride from Lima, we spent the first day adjusting to the altitude and organizing our medical supplies.

After an early breakfast, we headed to the small town of Tumpa for our first day of clinic. Upon arriving we realized that the school where we were to set up had mixed up the date and was not ready for us. While we waited, we got to know the Peruvian team - two doctors, a dentist, and translators. Due to the confusion, the patient flow was lighter than we had expected, which gave us the opportunity to learn how the clinic worked. For dinner, the Peruvian team treated us to a traditional meal they had cooked and which we enjoyed gathered on a rooftop terrace.


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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste