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  • Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Options include:

  • 2023 dates available:
    2 weeks – 20 June – 3 July 2023 (1 week terrestrial, 1 week marine)
    2 weeks – 18 July – 31 July 2023 (1 week terrestrial, 1 week marine)
    2 weeks – 25 July – 7 August 2023 (1 week terrestrial, 1 week marine)
    4 weeks – 13 June – 10 July 2023 (2 weeks terrestrial, 2 weeks marine)

Please note there is a £700 supplemental cost in addition to the expedition fee due to the large cost of operating within the Galapagos. Please see the “costs to consider” tab.

Forest Site

The forest part of the expedition takes place in the Sani Reserve, a 40,000 ha indigenous reserve located deep within the Ecuadorian Amazon along the Napo River – the largest tributary to the Amazon River. Our site is located directly across from Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve sometimes considered the most biodiverse place on Earth. The Sani Reserve, and all other protected areas in the Ecuadorian Amazon, are under continuous and imminent threat from oil development, which creeps downriver leading to significant deforestation and ecosystem degradation with little to no long-term benefits ending up in the hands of local indigenous communities who lease or sell their land for this extraction. The conservation of the rainforest in Ecuador therefore depends on communities being able to receive income that replaces potential oil revenue.

The Sani Isla Kichwa indigenous community has protected their forests for over 40 years by developing numerous ecotourism projects, including an ecolodge, research station, and private cabins, that are designed to substitute the income that could be gained from oil extraction and provide sustainable jobs in the community. The newly-inaugurated Sani Research Station, created as a base camp for biodiversity research in the Sani Reserve, will be used by Opwall survey teams through the field season, as well as university groups conducting Amazon research throughout the year. In previous seasons, teams of Opwall scientists completed a detailed habitat and vegetation communities map of the reserve, compiled a photographic guide to the fish, reptiles, and amphibians of the reserve and gained initial distributional data on the birds and large mammals. As our research continues further teams of specialists will be developing the information on the biodiversity of this site to improve tourist experiences with wildlife and help the Sani ecotourism projects recover from the pandemic. Students based at this site will help with surveys each day, spend a day visiting the local indigenous community center, and have opportunities to work more closely with scientists on specialized survey methods to answer research questions that protect the biodiversity of the reserve.

Key Surveys:

  • Herpetofauna: Standard searches along routes will be used morning and evening to allow data collection of both diurnal and nocturnal species. University students may help with morphological measurements for new species and photographs to be documented for the Sani Reserve field guide, including handling species as indicated by the herpetologist.
  • Birds: Bird point counts will be carried out to support population data collection for bird species that are easily spotted or heard, both along the river and in the forest canopy. Mist netting may also be used to capture individuals and students will help take morphological measurements and mark individuals for population studies.
  • Habitat: Habitat surveys will be carried out on existing plots throughout the Reserve to calculate carbon storage within the forest and to complement the data collected for other taxonomic groups. Students staying for longer periods may also support phenological surveys that help determine the ideal habitat for primates to aid in better spotting by the lodge.
  • Entomology: Entomology surveys will focus on large and charismatic species such as butterflies and beetles. Techniques used will include malaise traps, butterfly traps, opportunistic net trapping, and other formats to record the biodiversity of arthropods for the field guide started in 2018.
  • Mammals: Distance sampling methods along the transect routes will be used to infer population densities and surveys will be carried out each morning for primates and other mammals. Patch occupancy analysis will also be used to allow study of more elusive species such as the jaguar and tapir. This will involve using tracks and feces as signs of presence, and will be further supported by camera trapping throughout the reserve.

Marine Site

In the Galapagos part of the expedition, you will travel to San Cristobal island within the famous Galapagos archipelago to support a rewilding project in the highlands of the island. San Cristobal is one of the oldest and the easternmost island in the archipelago and is also the only island with a fresh water source, starting from a crater called El Junco. Our research site on San Cristobal, the Jocotoco Reserve, is a 120 ha private conservation area adjacent to El Junco that is owned and managed by Fundación Jocotoco, a German-Ecuadorian nonprofit focused on bird conservation and rewilding. We will spend part of the time in bunkhouses or tents in the Jocotoco Reserve before descending to the capital of the island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, to survey the marine life on San Cristobal through a partnership with the Galapagos National Park.

The first portion will be focused on helping rehabilitate the Jocotoco Reserve, which is one of the only known breeding sites for the critically endangered Galapagos petrel. Populations of this ground-nesting bird have been declining over recent years due to predation and disturbance by invasive species like cats, dogs, rats, and pigs. Fundación Jocotoco is proposing to fence the entire area to exclude these invasive species and allow the native vegetation and petrel numbers to recover. Students based at this site will help monitor petrel nests for activity, plant native Miconia species using techniques designed to improve germination success and study Galapagos tortoises at a nearby research center. University students placed at this site for longer periods may have opportunities to conduct further research on predation activity by invasive species or marine species such as Galapagos sea lions, turtles, manta rays, and frigate birds.

Key Activities:

Galapagos Island Ecology Course*

*Can be completed by snorkeling or as a fully qualified diver

This course includes:

  • A Discover Scuba Dive: An opportunity to dive for the first time for novice divers, or snorkel, or qualified two-tank dive to observe local marine life.
  • Guided visits to the Transitional, Humid, Coastal Arid, and Mangrove zones to see and monitor the associated species
  • Assisting with wildlife surveys at the rewilding site (see below) and research at the local tortoise sanctuary
  • Hikes and snorkeling along the arid coastline while monitoring marines species
  • Opportunities to study and control invasive species to aid in rewilding the island


  • Birds: Bird surveys will include weekly checks of the marked Galapagos petrel nests and camera traps to monitor for signs of disturbance, hatching chicks, or new nests. There may also be bird point count surveys of smaller species such as finches or of marine birds like frigate birds at breeding sites along the coastline.
  • Mammals: Camera traps and patch occupancy analysis using feces and tracks will be used to monitor the presence of invasive species that may be threatening petrels in the Reserve. Marine mammals such as sea lions may be surveyed on visits to the coast either from land, from a boat, or while snorkeling to monitor breeding.
  • Vegetation: The Jocotoco Reserve is one of the most important areas for the protection of Miconia, a vegetation species native to the Galapagos. Students will work to replant Miconia, learn about new techniques to ensure plant success, and study the diversity of species of this plant within the Reserve to create a field guide to Galapagos highland plants.
  • Marine life: Students who have completed the reef ecology course may have opportunities to participate in surveys in the Galapagos National Park to study populations of sea lions, manta rays, turtles, frigate birds, or other important marine fauna.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Research Objectives

The Sani Reserve is the largest indigenous-owned conservation area in the Ecuadorian Amazon and forms a critical corridor between Yasuni National Park to the South and Cuyabeno Faunal Reserve to the North. The 40,000 ha Reserve protects over elevent resident jaguars, as well as lowland tapir, woolly monkeys, giant otters, harpy eagles, monkey frogs, arapaima (the largest freshwater fish in the world) and thousands more species. Sani Reserve is also home to the 800-person Sani Isla indigenous community, who fiercely protect their rainforest home.

However, like the rest of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sani Reserve is under imminent threat from the expansion of oil drilling along the Napo River and even within Ecuador’s national parks. In fact, indigenous reserves like Sani Reserve have deforestation rates 3-5x lower than in the rest of the Amazon, including national parks, and therefore serve a critical role in protecting the forest. The Ecuadorian terrestrial project will focus on establishing Sani Reserve as a recognized site for wildlife research and tourism within the Ecuadorian Amazon to ensure sustainable income to the community that replaces potential oil revenue.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most famous nature tourism destinations in the world as the site where Charles Darwin first began to understand the theory of evolution. However, the introduction of domesticated animals and plants has threatened the native vegetation and wildlife on the islands and several species are in grave danger of disappearing soon if action is not taken. The new Jocotoco Reserve on San Cristobal Island, located just adjacent to the only fresh water source in the archipelago, is working to protect and rewild a 120 hectare reserve in the highlands that is home to Galapagos petrels, Miconia plants, and numerous other species.

Furthermore, the Galapagos National Park – which includes terrestrial and marine areas and covers 97% of the islands – is a critical marine protected area for endangered pelagic species like sharks, turtles, and marine mammals. However, little research has been conducted on the health of some of these populations due to heavy restrictions on surveying within the park; the partnership with Fundación Jocotoco provides a unique opportunity to support the Galapagos National Park by surveying marine species as well as terrestrial wildlife.

  • Participate in lectures, workshops, and surveys on neotropical biodiversity and conservation
  • Learn about the biogeography of each region
  • Practice survey methods for birds, herpetofauna, mammals, vegetation, and insects
  • Experience fieldwork in the truly remote Ecuadorian Amazon
  • Dive with sea lions and study giant tortoises in the iconic Galapagos Islands
  • Support the rewilding and recovery of critically-endangered species
  • International flights: Return flights to Quito airport & return flights to the Baquerizo Moreno Airport in San Cristobal on the Tuesday in the middle of your expedition
  • Internal transfer: Travel costs from the start and finish points of the expeditions to the international airport
  • Please note there is a £700 supplemental cost on the expedition fee due to the large cost of operating within the Galapagos
  • Visa: Not required for most countries but please check: https://www.cancilleria.gob.ec/2019/08/12/ecuador-exige-visa-a-los-ciudadanos-de-11-paises/
  • Park Entrance Fees: $20 to exit Ecuador and $100 to enter the Galapagos National Park, paid in cash at the airport
  • Vaccinations: Please check with your healthcare provider
  • Covid-19 Testing: Antigen or PCR tests if required to return to your home country
  • Spending money (US Dollars) for snacks/drinks/souvenirs throughout the trip


In the Amazon Rainforest at Sani Research Station, the climate is hot and humid during the day (25-30 C) although it can feel much cooler in the shade. Heavy rainstorms can come up suddenly (that’s why they call it a rainforest!) and long sleeves are generally recommended to protect from insects. At night, the temperature drops to around 22 C and is rarely cold. The Jocotoco camp in San Cristobal can be misty and overcast due to the “garua” fogs in the Galapagos highlands from June-August each year. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and other marine areas are hot and dry.

Fitness level required

Medium – High in Sani. You will sometimes be walking 5-10k in muddy conditions or rowing canoes in and out of camp. At the marine sites, some fitness is required for in-water activities (diving, kayaking, etc) as well as some longer walks but conditions are relatively easy. You will be hiking up and down steep hills – although relatively short distances – to check petrel nests, so agility and balance are helpful as well as general fitness.


Facilities in Sani are comfortable but basic. You will stay in shared tents with access to flushing toilets and showers. There is no cell phone signal in the Sani Reserve and there is no internet available at camp. Facilities at the Jocotoco Reserve are also shared tents with flushing toilets/showers available. There is phone signal and potential for limited Wifi in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Conditions at the hotel in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno are comfortable shared hotel rooms.


  • Ecuador
  • Galapagos
  • Sani Research Camp
  • Jocotoco Reserve Camp
  • Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4EX, UK
| +44 (0) 1790 763194 or +44 (0) 1522 405667 | info@opwall.com