To start out 2019, new and old EFT staff from around the world, gathered in Singapore to commence annual training. The new field biologists of 2019 represent Singapore, the UK, Indonesia, and the US. The week started out by identifying native flora and fauna, including Oriental whip snakes, hornbills, mudskippers and golden orb spiders while exploring the local rainforest at MacRitchie National Park and the wetlands and mangroves at Sungai Buloh. The goal of the week was to introduce the team to new ecosystems and get familiar with field teaching methods, ecology and each other. Training is an important aspect of EFT, as getting accustomed to all the trip sites is important to successful leadership later on.
Following Singapore exploration, training continued up to Malaysia, stopping first at Gunung Panti Recreational Forest to practice group management. Entering the rainforest, the gentle whooping call of gibbons and the song of black-naped oriole filled the thick air. Halfway down the trail, three white-handed gibbons suddenly came swinging through the branching canopy above. Their long arms expertly grabbed vines as they nimbly swung along. It was a lucky encounter for the first trip of the year to Panti. Following a freshwater stream, the group stumbled upon fresh elephant dung and were excited by the thought that elephants had been in that spot so recently.
Staff continued on to get familiar with ecosystems and culture in Sedili, Malaysia. Exploration of the rocky intertidal shore gave the team a chance to practice leading groups while getting familiar with the sea cucumbers, brittle stars, red-eyed reef crabs, decorator crabs, and nudibranch that were exposed during the especially low tide. The group then trekked to a local palm oil plantation, where they discussed the pros and cons of palm oil in preparation for a lively debate later that night. Lifesaving, water safety, and kayak skills were reviewed during the day, and team building games, leadership tools, and group facilitation were taught at night.
From the seashore, the trip continued on up through Malaysia to Ipoh where they visited Kellie’s Castle, the site of a scavenger hunt tour of the unfinished Scottish mansion. Continuing on to an Orang Asli Village the group met with Pak Long, the village headman, who demonstrated traditional blow dart making and usage, and discussed village history and current threats to traditional ways of life.
To round out 2019 training, EFT spent the last week of February on Tioman Island off the eastern coast of Malaysia. The week on Tioman followed the tail end of monsoon season, as the island reopened to visitors for the year. The main goals of the week were to get accustomed to snorkel and rainforest sites, visit local turtle conservation projects and practice survey methods for advanced International Baccalaureate science studies.
A full day of snorkel training involved practicing group management in the water at six different sites, including Renggis Island and Tulai Island. A vast diversity of reef fish was seen, as well as a black tip reef shark, blue spotted rays and a banded sea krait. One hawksbill turtle was spotted missing a rear flipper, likely lost to a boat propeller. An amazing abundance of sea salps was on display, filling the water with their clear bodies. Highlights from the Tioman rainforest treks included colugos, large monitor lizards, anglehead lizards, hammerhead flatworms and a bounty of trilobite beetles. A lucky few spotted a reticulated python on a night walk the last day of the trip.
Tioman rounded out the end of annual training and the start of a great 2019 season. The new EFT members are excited to share what they know about each ecosystem and look forward to leading students out into the field.
Emma Su - EFT Field Biologist