Passing on the love of nature to the next generation

29 students from Clayton joined 24 from the Malaysian campus in spending 5 days at Mulu.

Each time Associate Professor  Catherine Yule, the Deputy Head of the School of Science (Education) at Monash University Malaysia, enters Sarawak, she is both awed by its beauty and saddened by what she sees.

“I’ve been travelling to Sarawak, very regularly since 1990, and each time as we fly over the state, the devastation of its natural forests is so apparent,” she said.

Dr Yule, who introduced and has been conducting a unit called Tropical Terrestrial Biology to third year students since 2001, has not only been visiting Mulu for her own personal research but has been bringing students from both Monash University Malaysia and its Clayton campus in Australia for an annual field trip to the World Heritage Site.

“From 2007, we ran this subject ‘Tropical Terrestrial Biology’ in parallel with the Clayton campus. Once a year, for the past four years, we’ve come together for the field trip to Mulu Caves in Sarawak,” she said.

“Mulu is a World Heritage Site and it’s perfect for the field trip as there are so many different environments for the students to conduct their research. There are rivers, swamps, caves, bats and so much more. At any one time, students are doing projects on frogs, on bats, carbon storage, small animals and the list goes on.”

In their most recent trip, 29 students from Clayton joined 24 from the Malaysian campus in spending 5 days at Mulu.

Apart from literally getting their hands and feet dirty in one of the most beautiful natural sites in the world, the students also learn to work in inter-cultural groups.

“For every trip, the day before we leave Mulu, the groups will make power point presentations on their findings. This is a great opportunity for group work, working on their interpersonal skills as you communicate with people from different nationalities and cultures,” said Dr. Yule.

For her students, their time in Mulu is truly inspiring.

“The students really enjoy themselves, and the trip just inspires their research. Most of them say it is an experience they will remember all their lives,” said Dr. Yule.

“Mulu is very well run, and is just such a joy to visit. The place is special, there’s always something new and it’s really just so beautiful,” she said.

However, she said it was a real “tragedy” that too few Malaysians actually realise how beautiful the Caves are.

“Most of the visitors to Mulu are foreigners. All of the times I’m there, I see so few locals, and it’s sad because people don’t know what they’re missing out on.”

She said that the devastation of rainforests in Borneo, specifically Sarawak and Indonesia’s Kalimantan, was “shocking” and believes that unless drastic changes are made, the only places with forests will be the national parks.

Dr. Yule is a tropical freshwater ecologist, studying rivers, swamps and lakes and looking at them as an entire ecosystem and how they all work together. She has merged her passion for her research with a fierce determination to inspire those under her charge to share her love for nature.

“What inspires me is that I can really make a difference. When I think of some of my past students who are now working with NGO’s to help the displaced indigenous jungle people, or of another student who fought to ban styrofoam packaging here on campus, I feel a sense of satisfaction.

“My role is to influence them, and they go out and do these things that they are passionate about. That is my biggest joy,” she said.

Dr. Yule hopes that all her students will grow to love Malaysia and go to places like Mulu so that they would experience its beauty for themselves and “want to preserve and take care of this country”.

“Foreigners like us can spearhead the conservation movements, but ultimately we can only do so much. We need the locals to take charge of the change, to make these changes,” she said.