This post was originally posted on February 21st 2015 on our Facebook page
Introducing Emma MacWalter (nee Kennedy)!
“My first experience with Opwall was twelve years ago, but it still seems like yesterday! It was a snowy November in 2002 in Scotland and Director Tim Coles came to give a talk to Edinburgh University undergrads about joining a summer expedition. I remember shivering in the freezing lecture theatre next to my best friend and fellow Zoology student Dougie Fraser: we were both instantly hooked by the bright photos of frogs and bats and crazy-looking marine invertebrates. We made a pact right there that we’d fundraise the money and get ourselves on the Indonesia expedition that summer, by hook or by crook!
Since that life-changing summer as a volunteer, surveying bats in the Lambusango forest reserve and struggling to get my head around the incredible coral biodiversity in the Wakatobi, I’ve joined expeditions in Honduras, Cuba and Mexico – first as dive staff (I did my Dive Master Training on Cayos Cochinos), and later – after completing an MSc in Marine Biology back in Scotland – as the Reef Eco lecturer. From swimming alongside whalesharks and watching turtle hatchlings enter the ocean for the first time (so cute!) in Akumal, Mexico to night-diving though sparkling bioluminescence on Hoga Island; from watching vivid tropical storms roll in across the water on Cayos Cochinos to living on the University of Havana Research Vessel and chasing bullsharks on unexplored reefs in Cuba; I’ve had countless amazing experiences through Opwall. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from some inspirational academics (a highlight for me being my first foray into reef ecology with Dr David Smith, and surveying forest bats with Dr. Tigga Kingston) and as the Reef Ecologist I’ve been fortunate to have a chance to pass on what I’ve learned to some brilliant volunteers, many of whom in turn are now making their own splashes in the marine world. I’ve made life-long friends (you can’t help but bond on a field expedition!), valuable academic mentors (Dr. Jon Shrives, Dr Dan Exton and Dr. Greg Cowie to name a few) and am now part of a network of like-minded ‘Opwallers’ across the planet. As my career as a marine scientist has begun to develop I’ve watched Opwall go from strength to strength, expanding its range of expedition sites and publishing more and more exciting new science. Opwall have supported me through my career – through employment on expeditions, training and field experience, and even offering to provide funding for my PhD – and through them I’ve had some of the most coolest experiences of my life.
I completed my PhD in Caribbean reef ecology last year and after spending the summer dissecting venomous lionfish on the Mexico marine expedition (I couldn’t wait to get back into expedition life!) I now hold my first proper marine biology research position at Griffith University in Australia, where I’m managing my own project and coordinating field teams looking at coralline algae and climate change along the Great Barrier Reef. I’ll always be grateful to my Opwall family for their friendship and support, and for getting me to where I am now. And I’m sure it won’t be too long before I’m back on an expedition, meeting new people, exploring new coral reefs and doing some great science!”
To a genuinely amazing and kind person, we thank you greatly and wish you all the best Emma!