This expedition is based for three weeks in the Cusuco cloud forest site, followed by three weeks at one, or both, of the Opwall marine research sites in Utila and Tela. The first three weeks are as for expedition 4 with training in jungle survival, canopy access (optional – for an additional cost) and Neotropical forest ecology followed by 2 weeks working with the various forest scientists, who’s projects include collecting data on forest structure, amphibian spotlighting, small mammal trapping and mist netting for bats, alongside many other projects. Then the next three weeks are based at one of our marine research sites, either Utila island or the mainland bay of Tela. You will learn to dive to PADI Open Water level in your first marine week (if not already qualified) and then progress to our week-long Caribbean coral reef ecology course with practicals by diving. If you are already dive trained or would prefer to snorkel you will start with the Caribbean coral reef ecology course. For your remaining weeks you will join our team of marine scientists helping to collect data on one or more of our research projects. These would include 3D modelling of coral reefs, using stereo-video to survey fish biomass and invasive lionfish ecology, amongst many more.
The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America – which have evolved separately. Many of these ecosystems have been badly degraded but there is a proposal to join currently discontinuous areas of forest into a continuous Mesoamerican forest corridor running from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (where there are other Opwall teams) to Panama. Part of this corridor will encompass the cloud forests of Cusuco National Park in Honduras – a site rich in endemics and endangered species yet threatened by unchecked illegal deforestation. The Opwall survey teams have been working in Cusuco since 2003 and the data produced has resulted in the Park being listed as one of the top 50 most irreplaceable protected areas in the world (based on a review of 173,000 sites worldwide). As well as underlining the biological value of Cusuco, the datasets collected by the Opwall teams are also being used to make an application for funding through Natural Forest Standard (NFS). This will allow carbon credits from the Park to be issued, which can then be sold to multinational companies wishing to offset their carbon emissions and at the same time help protect biodiversity. Funding obtained in this way will then be used to manage and protect the park and the many unique species it supports.
In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of coral reefs, including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive predator (lionfish) originally from the Indo-Pacific that has spread across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two marine research sites in Honduras where these issues and many more are studied: one is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns in reef community health, alongside novel research to address key conservation priorities and gaps in our current understanding of these fragile ecosystems. Honduras is also home to Opwall’s pioneering efforts to integrate technological solutions into the monitoring and study of coral reefs, including our 3D computer modelling method. Opwall’s team of marine scientists in Honduras helps to support not only international academic research and new method development, but also supports local non-governmental organisations with their efforts to improve marine conservation in Honduras.
Most of our volunteers fundraise for their expedition costs. Find out more.
In the cloud forest of Cusuco National Park it can get warm in open areas (temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius) but much cooler in the shade of the forest. Overnight the temperature can drop below 10 degrees Celsius at higher altitudes. It rarely rains in the morning but it regularly rains late in the afternoon and overnight. Our marine sites are hot and usually dry, but with occasional storms.
Fitness level required
Medium – High in Cusuco. You will need to hike from camp to camp for up to 5 hours with your backpack over steep terrain. At the marine site some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities in Cusuco are very basic (tents, hammocks, river showers, basic trench toilets). There is no cell phone signal in Cusuco National Park and very limited satellite internet available through a communal laptop at Base Camp. Marine site facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.