These expeditions are to the spectacular Iwokrama forests on the Guiana Shield which has the same megafauna species and abundances as the best remaining parts of the Amazon. Of your two-week expedition, you will spend your first two days in the Iwokrama Forest research centre on the banks of the Essequibo River completing a lecture course on Guiana Shield wildlife and conservation, accompanied by practicals training you in some of the survey techniques being used. After that you will spend a week in a forest camp where surveys will be completed on forest structure, dung beetle communities, reptile and amphibian surveys from standard search transects and spotlighting at night, point counts, soundscape analysis and mist netting for birds, distance sampling to survey primates, patch occupancy and camera trapping for jaguars, pumas and other large mammals, mist netting and sound analysis surveys for bats. The last three days are spent on a boat survey along the Burro Burro River where you will be helping with water bird, giant river otter and arapaima surveys.
The Guiana Shield in South America is a massive granite dome that formed 2 billion years ago and now encompasses Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and parts of Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. Throughout most of this area there is a low human population density, and as a result, 2.5 million km2 of tropical rainforests still remain largely untouched, along with extensive savannahs and wetlands.
The Operation Wallacea expeditions are working in Guyana – an English speaking country with one of the lowest population densities and highest per capita forest areas on the planet, as well as incredible savannahs and wetlands. The expeditions involve trekking through undisturbed forests, where jaguar, tapirs, giant otters, harpy eagles and many other charismatic South American species are abundant.
Operation Wallacea has formed a partnership with the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC) and the Amerindian community of Surama. The IIC manages one million acres (371,000ha) of lowland tropical rainforest in the centre of the country. The IIC represents an international partnership between Guyana and the Commonwealth to demonstrate how tropical forests can be sustainably used in the interest of global scale climate change, local communities and biodiversity conservation.
Surama Village is a Makushi Amerindian community, which has a vision to develop, own and manage a community-based eco-tourism business by using the natural resources and their traditional culture practices. Protection of rainforests is a matter of ensuring that surrounding communities can have a financial benefit from conservation of those forests, and this is the basis of many of the REDD+ type data collection monitoring projects being run by Opwall, where funds are raised through preservation of the carbon content of the forests. However, an alternative approach is to sustainably exploit the timber in the forest using a reduced impact logging protocol developed by Iwokrama so that communities can have financial benefits, but the biodiversity of the forest can be maintained.
Just under half of the Iwokrama Reserve has been designated as a sustainable use area (SUA). Within this area a 60 year rotation has been agreed where approximately 1% of the trees in the blocks to be logged are removed with detailed planning so that the cut and skid trails to remove the timber have minimal impact. This level of cutting for the most part allows the canopy structure and overall age structure of the trees to be maintained even in the harvested blocks, but since the trees removed are the high value commercial species, it generates substantial income for the local communities. This is a very impressive harvesting system and if it can be demonstrated to have minimal impacts on biodiversity whilst at the same time generating much of the income that would have been achieved from much less sensitive ways of harvesting, then this approach may have much wider applications worldwide.
The Opwall teams are helping to provide detailed and verifiable data sets on target biodiversity taxa in the Iwokrama forests both to examine the impacts of selective logging but also to quantify long-term changes in the biodiversity of the forests.
An annual monitoring programme providing equal coverage of the SUA and wilderness preserve (where no logging is allowed), as well as the forests surrounding Surama Village has been initiated, and is being completed by the Opwall survey teams. The purpose of this monitoring is to provide long-term data sets on the abundance and diversity of key biodiversity taxa so that the impacts of sustainable use within Iwokrama and the forest surrounding Surama can be identified in comparison with the non-utilised wilderness areas.