2 weeks: 1 week terrestrial & 1 week marine – 24 July – 6 August 2024
4 weeks: 2 weeks terrestrial & 2 weeks marine – 12 June – 9 July 2024
4 weeks: 2 weeks terrestrial & 2 weeks marine – 19 June – 16 July 2024
6 weeks: 3 weeks terrestrial & 3 weeks marine – 26 June – 6 August 2024
Click Here for Expedition Dates
You will begin your expedition in the spectacular cloud forests of Cusuco National Park, Honduras, which is ranked in the top 50 most irreplaceable biodiversity sites in the world and is therefore a major conservation priority. You will spend time in both our main base camp, but also our more remote forest camps where you will get a real jungle experience! As well as learning about the ecology of the cloud forests and their conservation importance, you will work alongside a large team of scientists on projects including forest structure and carbon storage capacity, butterfly trapping, amphibian and reptile transect surveys, bird point count and mist net surveys, fungi surveying, large mammal surveys from camera trapping and bat surveys from mist netting and soundscaping. This is the most published team of forest researchers from all the Opwall sites, so a great place to learn a range of forest survey techniques and how to analyse these data sets.
For the marine component of your expedition you will be based either at the Tela Marine Research Centre or on Utila Island where the focus will be on Caribbean coral reef ecology and conservation. You will have the opportunity to complete a PADI Open Water dive training course if you would like to learn and aren’t already qualified, as well as a compulsory Caribbean reef ecology and marine survey techniques course with practicals done by diving or snorkelling. These are Opwall’s largest marine research sites and are home to our pioneering efforts to integrate technological solutions into the monitoring and study of coral reefs, including our 3D computer modelling method, use of robots to survey reefs beyond the limits of SCUBA diving, and stereo-video fish surveys to estimate biomass. Once you have completed your training, if you are staying longer you will join these projects and work alongside the teams of researchers leading them, giving you hands on experience collecting valuable data from coral reefs.
Note: During the forest component of your expedition there may also be the opportunity to learn how to access and undertake surveys in tree canopies. This is an optional extra course costing $170 provided by Canopy Access Ltd and you can do this half day practical instead of one of the other practicals being offered.
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 a carbon credit scheme and for a UK govt grant for conservation of this region. 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 4 hours with your backpack over steep terrain. At the marine sites some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities in Cusuco are very basic (tents, hammocks, occasionally homestays, 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.