On The Ground With National Geographic Explorer Chris Boyes
Studying human impact on the ecosystem
The team also makes note of human developments along the river, giving a full snapshot of the ecosystem. They use a 360-degree camera and capture a photo every minute, to share with other researchers not on the expedition. Soon they’ll incorporate AR, improving how they map the river.
“We can do most of this with just a few people and iPads. We’ve been able to automate a lot of it,” says Boyes. “But we rely on local guides to help navigate the river and navigate local politics by chatting with the chiefs of each community we pass through, to make sure we’re floating these rivers respectfully.”
The pandemic halted much of their work for the last few years. This May will be Boyes’ first expedition since 2019, when he led a team down the Cuando River in Angola and Namibia. “That was our first real foray into the unknown. Before that trip no one knew much about it. Satellite imagery gave us a little, but not much. We ran into communities of people who we didn’t even know existed.”
Like a lot of research, the biggest challenge is funding, not the field work itself. Boyes admits it’s a massive effort to put on these expeditions, but it’s gotten easier with support from Nat Geo and lessons learned from the Okavango Project. “It’s a bit daunting sometimes. Right now we’re trying to take our time, get the story right, develop a steady funding model, and do it all proper.”
Research in the Lufubu and Chambeshi
The Lufubu is just 500 kilometers long, which would take the team three weeks to paddle. Chambeshi is longer, and would require more planning. “After that, a few of us will head up to Ethiopia and South Sudan, to reconnaissance what the work would be up there. Try to get eyes on these rivers.”