field research


Environmental Science faculty members John "Buck" Banks and Jim Gawel are in Kenya with undergraduates during the month of February to study critical issues in conservation and sustainability, with special reference to biological diversity, development, and community-based environmental efforts.

Hello from the Coast province! We have been here at the Mwamba Bird Observatory & Field Station/A Rocha Kenya for about ten days now – everyone is working hard on their independent research projects while also learning about the myriad environmental and social issues pertaining to sustainability here on the coast. After passing through Mombasa for a quick overnight visit, we headed north a few hours to our current location.

Our days have been filled with group and individual activities – including two days spent catching birds and insects in the nearby Arabuko-Sokoke Forest reserve (the largest last remnant of a much larger coastal forest stretching from Ethiopia to Mozambique, and home to more than half a dozen endangered bird species), visits to the Gede Ruins monument (once a thriving Swahili community in the 1500s) and the local Bio-Ken Snake farm, and engaging in various activities with Watamu Turtle Watch, a conservation group sponsored by the Local Ocean Trust that focuses on rehabilitation of injured/sick sea turtles as well as releasing turtles caught in fishing nets back to the sea. We’ve also been taking advantage of our proximity to the Indian Ocean – swimming, snorkeling, and walking on the beach at night under the starry East African sky have become part of the routine. We have a few more days here before heading east again as we begin our long journey back to Nairobi and onward to the U.S.

You can read about all their adventures on their blog, Notes in the Field.


Environmental Science faculty members John "Buck" Banks and Jim Gawel are in Kenya with undergraduates during the month of February to study critical issues in conservation and sustainability, with special reference to biological diversity, development, and community-based environmental efforts.

Hello from Lang'ata! We have crossed the equator twice in the past week - today we made the long trek back south to the Nairobi area from the Samburu region, crossing the equator again just outside of Nanyuki. We wrapped up our week in Wamba (Samburu) with some insect sorting work, a visit to a local home in Wamba, and a game drive today through the Samburu National Park. We had some van trouble on the way home, so arrived back in Lang'ata later than planned this evening - tomorrow we have another long day, as we'll head west to Mombasa. More later...

You can read about all their adventures on their blog, Notes in the Field.

Environmental Science faculty members John "Buck" Banks and Jim Gawel are in Kenya with undergraduates during the month of February to study critical issues in conservation and sustainability, with special reference to biological diversity, development, and community-based environmental efforts.

We are here in the northern Kenyan region of Samburu, where we are spending this week at the Earthwatch Kenya Drylands Research Field station in the small town of Wamba. We are into our third day here, after a long 6+ hour drive north from Lang’ata – the last hour or so of which was across a dusty sand track. The landscape here is dotted with ancient volcanic cinder cones, and is scrubby and arid, with water conservation and quality central to many environmental and social concerns.

The station here has been the site of many community-based environmental research projects conducted by Earthwatch Institute over the past several years. Before we left Lang’ata, Dr. Nick Oguge (Director of Eathwatch Kenya, and President of the Ecological Society for East Africa) visited us and gave us an overview of the various research projects that have been conducted here. These include an ethnobotany investigation into the efficacy of various local plants as medicinal cures, and a project focusing on the conservation of an endangered zebra species. This species, the Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), numbers fewer than 3000 in the wild now. Once widespread throughout East Africa, it has been driven to extinction in all but Kenya and Ethiopia, with most of the dwindling population residing in the Samburu region where we are staying. Our first morning here, in fact, we set out into the bush to look for Grevy’s zebras – and were able to find a small population within an hour or two! We also stopped at a local regional market afterwards and wandered among the stalls of vendors from far and wide selling their wares.

The last few days have been spent doing fieldwork – including an 8km hike in the watershed up in the mountains behind the station (part of the Matthews range) to take water samples from the river running down into the village (to test for pH., conductivity, and bacteria as measures of water quality), and a visit to some nearby subsistence farms to collect data on herbivory and insect biological diversity. We’ll do some more water quality testing and some insect sorting and identification over the next few days – then we’ll head back south to Nairobi and out to the coast!

Read messages from the students and all about their adventures on their blog, Notes in the Field.


Environmental Science faculty members John "Buck" Banks and Jim Gawel are in Kenya with undergraduates during the month of February to study critical issues in conservation and sustainability, with special reference to biological diversity, development, and community-based environmental efforts.

Hello from Lang'ata! We have just finished up a week with the Green Belt Movement, and are back at their center in Lang'ata, on the outskirts of Nairobi. This week we spent a few days in a Chuka community (one of nine Meru tribes) near Mt. Kenya, enjoying time in homestays and working with the women in the local Kiang'ondu network of the Green Belt Movement. In addition to learning about seed harvesting, planting, and forest restoration, we all had a chance to help with daily chores such as milking the cows, cutting up arrowroot and other vegetables for meal preparation, and even learning how to pick tea!

From the Chuka village visit, we headed southwest across the Great Rift Valley to the plains. Today we wrapped up a two-day safari in the Maasai Mara reserve in western Kenya - saw plenty of wildlife (elephants, lions, giraffes, cheetahs, warthogs, topi, gazelles, etc.) and are now resting up back at the Lang'ata GBM centre outside of Nairobi - tomorrow morning we depart early for the northern region of Samburu!

You can read about all their adventures on their blog, Notes in the Field.

Environmental Science faculty members John "Buck" Banks and Jim Gawel are in Kenya with undergraduates during the month of February to study critical issues in conservation and sustainability, with special reference to biological diversity, development, and community-based environmental efforts.

We are back in Kenya for another month-long UW Tacoma study abroad course - this year I am once again here with Dr. Jim Gawel, and we have ten students from the UW Tacoma and Seattle campuses with us...everyone has come in from the long two-day air trip (via Amsterdam) and are settled in at the Green Belt Movement's (GBM) facilitieis in Lang'ata, outside of Nairobi. Tomorrow is a packed day - orientation, including an overview of the various projects that GBM (brainchild of Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathi, who recently passed away), a visit to a local giraffe sanctuary, and some lectures on Kenyan economics/politics from faculty from nearby Kenyatta University. We're also be preparing to spend some time in the one of the Green Belt Movement communities, with the Chuka up on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya. More later - now everyone must get some rest!

You can read about all their adventures on their blog, Notes from the Field.