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.
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.
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.
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.
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.