Browsing content filed in exploration
Helen Scales and fish copy

I was in Florida Keys recently making a documentary for BBC Radio 4 and got to visit the amazing Aquarius Reef Base (the world’s only underwater research station).

Explore 2013

In November I’ll be speaking at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual expedition and fieldwork planning weekend in London. I’ll be offering advice on communicating your discoveries both during and after an expedition.



Yesterday I saw rain for the second time in 2 months. The first time was 6 weeks ago when there was a strange shower that lasted thirty seconds as we ate dinner outside at our guest house. We heard an unfamiliar noise and looked across to see the swimming pool jumping with raindrops. The second …

Pied_crow Myburgh

The accidental birdwatcher

As a marine biologist I consider myself to be a fish-watcher. Obviously it’s not the sort of thing you can do all the time; it generally requires a certain amount of being underwater to really work well. But for bird-watchers it’s a different matter. Theirs is a pastime that can happen at any moment and …


My fabric obsession

I’ve tried to resist but it’s no use. When we leave West Africa in two weeks my bags will be laden with fabric. I should have guessed that I’d develop an unhealthy obsession with the printed fabrics out here in West Africa. I suffered a similar affliction in Malaysia, coming home with masses of sarongs …

mini beach 3

Dakar made mini

I’ve been in Dakar for a week now and believe me, this is a city of contrasts. I’ve driven along smooth motorways with blue French signs and brand new peage tollbooths and seen young kids begging by the roadside for food and coins. I’ve watched shiny new buses that wouldn’t look out of place in …

dusty leaf


Philip Pulman had a lot to say about dust in his His Dark Materials trilogy but I suspect it’s not the same variety of dust that I’ve been getting to know lately. Last weekend the Sahara blew in. We woke up to find the world around us covered in a fine layer of orange dust. …

oyster shells

The world's best oyster festival

I’ve never been to an oyster festival before and I don’t imagine there are many quite like the one I went to a few days ago. This one involved a lot of singing, dancing, whistle-blowing, and drumming. I got to eat my first oysters plucked from between the roots of Gambian mangroves – and they …

dead fish 2

Dead fish mystery solved

Remember those dead fish on the beach getting munched by vultures that appeared in my first Gambian post? (some without heads?) Well, I’ve found out where they’re coming from. I met Chris, a fisheries biologist visiting from the US who’s working with a local project called Ba Nafaa. He’s out here helping local fishermen find …


Sahelian riches

For the past few days I’ve been paying my first visits to fishing communities here in the Gambia. I’ve met and chatted with my first fishermen; I’ve seen baskets of fish being pulled from the sea and balanced on the heads of young Ghanaian men who run up the beach to waiting traders, little kids …

Wiggly sea urchin

On sand dollars and dead fish

So here I am in the Gambia. It’s a country I hadn’t thought a great deal about until a few months ago. I didn’t know it takes the shape of a sliver running along the River Gambia, poking a meandering finger into Senegal. I didn’t know how small it is – just over 4000 square …

Helen's kindle


One of the giveaway signs that we’re about to go on a long trip is the upswing in the amount of stuff being delivered to our house. In the past 5 days we have taken delivery of two kindles, two cameras, two external hard drives, two pairs of trail running shoes, one netbook, one voice …


I'm going to West Africa

In one week I will be in West Africa. It’ll be the first time I’ve visited sub Saharan Africa and I’m oh so very excited about it. It’ll be the first big trip in years that I’ve been on with my husband (The Other Dr Scales). In 2005 we lived together on Madagascar’s wild west …

helen coming up for air

My new favourite thing

I recently paid my first visit to the Red Sea and discovered my new favourite thing: freediving. The idea of learning to freedive first came to me years ago when I was floating on my back in a saltwater swimming pool by a beach in Madagascar, gazing at the sky and imagining what it would …

seahorse with cuttlefish eggs

Seahorses with dangerous underwear

Seahorses are masters of disguise. They really are. They can grow a coat of weedy sprouts and change their skin colour to seemlessly match their surroundings. No wonder a cuttlefish recently mistook a seahorse for a blade of seagrass and covered it in eggs, as seen in this video on the BBC news website. The …