“Seram is an island of about 6,600 square miles, 100 miles West of New Guinea. It is the largest island in the Moluccas and is still largely unexplored. Our expedition there in 1987 was one of three major scientific expeditions conducted by Operation Raleigh that compared the bio-diversity of the rainforests of Seram with Costa Rica and Cameroon. Many of the specimens collected were previously undiscovered and are now in the public archives at the British Museum.
“The reunion weekend had been meticulously organised by ex-venturer Andrew. Activities included a hike up Helvellyn and kayaking on Ullswater lake. In the evening the alumni heard from one of the original expedition scientists, Dr Alastair MacDonald, whose various research interests have drawn him back to the island in recent years.
“Alastair shared how the island has changed since the Operation Raleigh expeditions. The incessant logging and destruction of the rainforests inside the Manusela National Park has stopped as a result of lobbying. Also the salmon crested cockatoo, one of 14 species of bird endemic to the island, is now on the CITES list of protected species, so it is illegal to capture or export them off the island.
“While there have been many changes on the island, Alastair said the local villagers continue to have great affection for Operation Raleigh even after all this time.
“Another alumnus, Steve, offered an emotional tribute and his respects to the venturers and staff that are sadly no longer with us. I was also honoured to speak with my fellow alumni about the ways that Raleigh has changed over the years and its modern day focus on sustainability and lasting impact.
“The goodwill, camaraderie, sense of fun and adventure that brought us together all those years ago still pervades today. And while the freshness of our youth might have long gone, the memories of our experiences remain. In the 29 years following our expedition we have been dispersed in every direction around the UK and the world. While many of us are now focused on our careers, families and loved ones, I know that for many of us our Raleigh experience helped shape our adult lives and define the people we are today.
“As I arrived home and recounted the weekend reunion to my family I was slightly despondent at their somewhat glazed but polite look. They just didn’t understand. At that particular moment I wished they had attended Raleigh, as the Raleigh DNA that all of our fellow alumni share is unique and special. Raleigh alumni are like a family and it’s only with each other that we can truly understand the impact of Raleigh on all of our lives.”
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