These four-week expeditions involve three weeks in the jungle of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and a final week in the picturesque Caribbean marine site of Akumal Bay. During your first week in the Mayan jungle, you will complete an introduction to the ancient Maya and Mayan jungle ecology course alongside practicals in survey techniques. For your next two weeks you can travel to different forest camps to assist with biodiversity surveys or remote biodiversity surveys. You could therefore opt for two weeks of standard surveys, two weeks of remote surveys or one week of each. Mist net surveys including morphometric measurements of captures are used to monitor birds and bats and the species captured varies considerably across camps. Large mammal surveys involve recording primate sightings (distance sampling) and terrestrial mammal tracks (patch occupancy sampling) encountered along forest transects during morning surveys accompanied by an afternoon session analysing camera trap data. Herpetofauna are surveyed using line transect surveys and timed searches of aguada habitats. Frugivorous butterflies are surveyed using baited traps in different forest types. Forest structure is an essential dataset for the project and you will also assist with carrying out quadrat samples.
For your last week you will be at the Opwall Akumal marine site to complete a PADI Open Water dive training course. If you are already dive trained or just wanting to snorkel and not dive, then you will complete the Caribbean reef ecology course with practicals by either diving or snorkelling. Diving and snorkelling in Akumal provides an excellent example of the Caribbean reef with an abundant population of sea turtles
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (CBR) in Mexico is an UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture and Nature and is part of the largest expanse of neotropical forest north of the Amazon, filled with ancient Mayan ruins and supporting one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. The CBR is also an extremely important wildlife corridor that is crucial for migrating
birds and mammals with extensive ranging patterns such as jaguar and Baird’s tapir. Over the last 10 years the reserve has experienced a notable reduction in rainfall. Monitoring data on birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, ungulates, felids and primates are being used to evaluate the impact of climate change and changing rainfall patterns on the abundance, ranging and diversity of fauna to help determine when and where mitigation should be used to restore water sources. Data are also used to assess the efficacy of a range of sustainable development projects with buffer zone communities designed to minimise forest encroachment. In addition, there are specialist studies on jaguar and their preferred prey, behaviour of spider monkeys and population demographics of Morelet’s crocodiles.
In Mexico it is hot and humid. Temperatures rarely drop below mid 20s even at night. It is unlikely to rain much, but you do get occasional heavy showers during the season.
Fitness level required
Medium in the forest, low on the marine site. There are some reasonably long walks through the forest, terrain varies by camp with some being almost completely flat and others more undulating. On the marine site lower levels of fitness are required (although you will likely be very tired at the end of the day after the in-water sessions).
Facilities in the forest are basic (sleeping in tents or hammocks in a camp site), with a mixture of dry and trench toilets. There are freshwater showers but water conservation is particularly important to bear in mind. There are some limited opportunities to buy snacks at some forest camps and there is no phone signal at any of the sites. On the marine site the facilities are a little less rustic – you sleep in bunk beds in dormitories about 10 minutes drive from the beach. There is good phone signal and the site is well supplied with shops.