This expedition involves staying in the cloud forests of Cusuco National Park for three weeks and then spending a week at one of the marine sites. The first week of this expedition is the same as for expedition 4 with jungle training, canopy access (optional*) and a Neotropical forest ecology course. However, in the second week you will be completing an introduction to expedition medicine with lectures and practicals on how to organise medical support for an expedition, how to health screen participants and organise evacuations, how to diagnose common tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, treatment of snake bites, how to deal with anaphylactic shock, trauma treatment and how to suture. The course is taught by a very experienced expedition medic in the field camp with practicals each day and is always very popular. In the following week you will be sent to work alongside the medic in one of the more remote fly camps. Most of the time in this week you will be helping with the biodiversity surveys but if there are medical consultations you may be involved as an observer. In the final week you will go to either Utila or Tela marine research sites and complete a PADI Open Water dive training course or a coral reef ecology and marine survey methods course with practicals by diving (if already trained) or snorkelling.
*This carries an additional cost. The canopy access course gives you the opportunity to learn how to ascend into the canopy using a rope access technique. The course is run by Canopy Access Limited who have worked with the BBC and National Geographic to take film makers and presenters, including David Attenborough, into the canopy for that unique footage.
In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the coral reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo-Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish which has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two monitoring sites in Honduras: 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 of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.
The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world, partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America which had 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.
Our marine sites are hot and usually dry, but with occasional storms.
Fitness level required
Low – Moderate. Some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.