Mekong expedition covers 2,000km by bike

Lucy Archer and Natasha Howard pedalled 2,000km plus

Lucy Archer and Natasha Howard pedalled 2,000km plus

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TWO friends, two bikes and a few essentials sounds like the perfect recipe for a day out.

But for Bognor resident Lucy Archer and college pal Natasha Howard, it was the start of a 2,000km cycle along the Mekong river for conservation.

Lucy stops to take in the views

Lucy stops to take in the views

The pair graduated from Imperial College London in October, having completed a masters in conservation science.

While on the course, they took the opportunity to apply for the college’s expedition grant, run by the university’s exploration board.

Lucy, 27, of Wychwood Close, said: “We were lucky enough to be awarded funding and so set off with just our bikes, a couple of panniers and a few essentials in November.

“Together, we cycled alongside the Mekong river from the delta in Vietnam through Cambodia and Laos, reporting on conservation stories along the way.”

A fishing boat at sunset on the Mekong

A fishing boat at sunset on the Mekong

Lucy is a former Bognor Regis Community College student, while Natasha is a former British Olympic rower who was born in Zimbabwe.

They kept a blog of their adventures and funny tales, called Meandering the Mekong, and included myriad photos on the website.

“Our aim was to cover the lower length of the Mekong entirely by non-consumptive means – i.e pedal power,” explained Lucy.

“We covered more than 2,000km in five weeks and now have lovely achy knees to prove it!

“Along our route, using the contacts we made on our course, we visited and interviewed the people working on the front line of conservation for 11 different conservation projects and organisations.

“These included WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), Fauna and Flora International, Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Wildlife at Risk, to name a few.

“We wrote reports for our website and social media channels to help raise awareness on this incredible, yet relatively unknown, region and hoped to highlight some of the valiant efforts people are making towards conservation in this area.”

Around 60 million people live in the Mekong’s lower basin, making it a vital artery running through SE Asia for the many people who depend on it for their food and livelihoods.

Lucy added: “However, as is the case across the natural world, it is under increasing pressure and faces many threats.

Lucy has extensive experience of the Mekong region, having travelled and worked throughout south-east Asia. She travels far and wide in search of wildlife and has worked with turtles in Cape Verde, barn owls in Hungary and wading birds in Peru.

As part of her masters research, Lucy spent three months in Uganda last summer.

Natasha, who competed in the women’s eights for five years and at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, enjoys all sports and being outdoors.

In 2014, she cycled back towards the UK from China for three months, travelling through China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

She has extensive experience living, travelling and working abroad, having grown up in Zambia, Namibia and Hong Kong, then working in the Maldives and China.

Natasha, who lives in Cornwall, spent three months in the eastern rainforest mountains of Madagascar last summer, conducting research for her thesis.

The conservation science graduates believe they are the first female-only team to complete the extraordinary journey along the banks of the mighty Mekong river.

Travelling 2,390km through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos by bike, equipped with just the bare essentials, they used an online blog and social media to raise awareness of the importance of the Mekong, both for biodiversity and the people who depend on it.

Along the way, they visited cutting-edge conservation projects that are working to protect the river’s biodiversity. They hope their blog documenting positive conservation stories wil inspire others.

The Mekong is the 10th largest and 12th longest river in the world and, after the Amazon, is the second most biodiverse river basin in the world.

With its headwaters in the Tibetan Plateau at Lhasa Gong Ma Spring, the river flows approximately 4,300km draining an area of 795,000 km2 on its way to the delta in Vietnam, where it empties into the South China Sea.

The Mekong basin is home to around 20,000 species of plants, 1,200 birds, 800 species of reptiles and amphibians and 430 mammal species, including Asian elephants and tigers. Between 1997 and 2007 alone, 1,059 new species were discovered in the Greater Mekong.

Around 80 per cent of the 60 million people who live in the lower Mekong Basin rely directly on the river system for their food and livelihoods.

Travelling slowly by non-consumptive meant the Meandering the Mekong team had fantastic opportunities to meet and talk to the people who live alongside the river.

They learned about work with Siamese crocodiles, butterflies, gibbons, tortoises and turtles along the way. They also met a Korean-led biology team collecting, killing and preserving ten individuals of each species for an inventory of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian fauna.

Linking with schools across the UK, an interactive learning environment was established, which will allowed children across the globe to ask them questions about the natural world, which they then put to the conservation organisations.

Visit {http://meanderingthemekong.wordpress.com/ |meanderingthemekong.wordpress.com} to read the blog.

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