Office of International Education

Globalization of Education

Orangutans, Flying Lizards, and Super Volcanoes: Biodiversity and Water Conservation in Indonesia
January 4 – 20, 2016

Indonesia is made up of over 18,000 islands that straddle the equator, spanning nearly 1,800 miles. This country contains two of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots and the third largest area of tropical rainforest in the world. Over 50 national parks and other protected lands harbor iconic species such as flying frogs, orangutan, birdwing butterflies, elephants, and birds of paradise. Beyond the forest, Indonesia has 34,000 miles of coastline and an abundance of freshwater wetlands and rivers bearing high fish and invertebrate diversity. In a country of over 250 million people, forests and water represent important sources of livelihood for many Indonesians and finding a balance between use and conservation of these resources has become increasingly complex. Conversion of highly diverse forests to palm monoculture and use of water resources for aquaculture production have tremendously boosted the Indonesian economy and the standard of living for many Indonesians, but in some cases these economic boons have led to environmental degradation. We will investigate the dynamics of resource use and conservation on the island of Sumatra on the northwest edge of Indonesia.


Students will earn 3 URI credits for NRS 491: Independent Study or GEO 491: Independent Study.

This program is open to students in all disciplines and will be co-taught by Dr. Nancy Karraker (Natural Resources Science) and Dr. Tom Boving (Geological Sciences). Students may speak to the program director (Dr. Karraker) about alternative codes. Orientation sessions will be held prior to departure, and readings and other materials will be made available on Sakai. There is no foreign language requirement, but students will have an opportunity to learn some basic Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) during the class. Please note that this class will be held largely in rural areas and will have a significant field component; students may be conducting field work during rainy or hot weather.

During this program, graduate and undergraduate students will study the challenges faced by many countries in balancing environment and economy, but will do so in Indonesia, a country that is hyper-rich in natural resources and economic opportunity. The objectives of this J-Term course are to: (1) introduce students to key factors threatening biodiversity and water in Indonesia with field-based examples in North Sumatra, Indonesia; (2) visit a volcanic lake to learn about aquaculture operations; (3) explore a tropical rainforest and study biodiversity conservation efforts there; (4) tour an oil palm plantation and discuss palm oil as a renewable resource and controversial food ingredient; and (5) study effects of oil palm monocultures on biodiversity and water quality. This course will be conducted in collaboration with faculty and students from Universitas Sumatera Utara in Medan, Indonesia.


Sumatra is Indonesia’s largest island and is the sixth largest island in the world. Separated from peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by the Strait of Malacca, Sumatra is graced with mountains of volcanic origin on its western flank, including soaring Mt. Kerinci at 12,500 ft high, and swampy lowlands with mangrove-forested coastlines to the east. We will fly to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and then on to Medan, the largest city on Sumatra and the capital of the province of North Sumatra. From there we will travel to Lake Toba, the largest natural lake formed in the caldera of a volcano, to investigate aquaculture operations. Next, we will head north to Gunung Leuser National Park, one of two remaining habitats for the Sumatran orangutan. We will explore the incredible bird, mammal, amphibian, and reptile diversity and visit an orangutan reserve and rehabilitation center within the park. The last part of the trip will be spent on an oil palm plantation learning about palm oil production and the importance of this form of agriculture to livelihood and economy in Indonesia, and investigating its impacts on biodiversity and water quality. This course will be heavily field-based and enrolled students will be embedded in local communities.

Accommodations and Meals:

Students will stay in lodge rooms of double-occupancy hotel rooms, where available, and in tents in more rural areas. Breakfast will be provided. Students will be responsible for lunch and dinner (~$20 per day).

Program Cost:

Program Fee:
Total Cost:

Program Fee Includes:

  • Round-trip airfare*
  • Accommodations
  • Breakfast
  • In-country transportation
  • Excursions and cultural activities
  • Health insurance

NOTE: All fees subject to change.

*Students can opt to travel with the group or individually.

Program Deadlines:

Application Deadline: October 2, 2015

Final Payment Due: December 1, 2015

Important Requirement: Students are required to complete an Indonesia Questionnaire along with their application.


For more information, please contact:

Program Director
Nancy Karraker
Natural Resources Science

Program Director
Tom Boving
Department of Geology

URI Faculty-Led Programs
37 Lower College Road
International Center

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