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  • Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

2025 Dates

2 weeks: 1 week terrestrial & 1 week marine – 16 June – 29 June 2025
2 weeks: 1 week terrestrial & 1 week marine – 30 June – 13 July 2025
2 weeks: 1 week terrestrial & 1 week marine – 21 July – 3 August 2025
4 weeks: 2 weeks terrestrial & 2 weeks marine – 16 June – 13 July 2025
4 weeks: 3 weeks terrestrial & 1 week marine – 30 June – 27 July 2025
4 weeks: 2 weeks terrestrial & 2 weeks marine – 30 June – 27 July 2025
4 weeks: 2 weeks terrestrial & 2 weeks marine – 7 July – 3 August 2025
5 weeks: 4 weeks terrestrial & 1 week marine – 30 June – 3 August 2025

For those booking onto the 4 week course beginning on 30 June, please email expeditions@opwall.com to indicate if you would like to do 2 or 3 weeks terrestrial.

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve Forest Site

Research is completed at a series of forest camps across the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Arrivals on this programme first complete an introduction to the Ancient Maya and Mayan jungle ecology course alongside practicals in survey techniques. Following this you will be helping teams of field biologists completing standardised surveys on a series of key taxa. These surveys are aimed at assessing the importance of the unique aguada habitats for fauna (aguadas are the only water bodies in the reserve) and understanding the relationship between Ancient Mayan manipulation of the forest and current biodiversity. There are several thousand Ancient Mayan ruin sites in the reserve and the forest adjacent to these areas contains the remnants of 7th century agroforesty resulting in very high abundance and diversity of fauna. If you stay on site for multiple weeks you can travel to different forest camps to see how the forest changes and to assist with biodiversity surveys.

Key Activities:

  • Bats: Mist netting long into the night for bats, where morphometric measurements and measurements relating to body condition and reproductive status of captured bats are taken and species identified. Additional data for insectivorous bats that cannot be caught in mist nets will be collecting using acoustic recorders at mist net locations
  • Birds: Mist netting is also conducted early in the morning for birds to capture individuals so that morphological measurements and measurements relating to body condition can be taken and individuals marked for population studies. Student can also help collect bird recordings for development of the Calakmul bird vocalization library
  • 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 diurnal and nocturnal visual encounters surveys along line transect. As many herpetofauna aggregate around aguadas (the only water bodies in the forest) diurnal and nocturnal timed searches of for herpetofauna will be conducted at aguada habitats.
  • Frugivorous butterflies are surveyed using baited traps in the canopy and understory of different forest types. Forest structure is an essential dataset for the project and you will also assist with carrying out quadrat samples.
  • Habitat: Habitat plots will be carried out at set intervals along each survey transect to enable a better understanding of the forest structure and tree species composition across different locations in the reserve and to complement the data collected for all other taxonomic groups.
  • Guided tour of the Calakmul archaeological site
  • Maya forest ecology lecture series covering: Biodiversity monitoring in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Forests of the Maya and their importance for primates, Aguadas and their importance for herpetofauna, Birds, bats and butterflies as indicators of ecosystem health in the Neotropics, Felids and ungulates of Calakmul, and Conservation Management.

 Marine Site

The marine site is in Akumal, part of the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve. If you are not already dive trained, you can spend your first week at this centre completing a PADI Open Water dive training course, before moving onto the Caribbean reef ecology course in your next week. This course consists of lectures, morning and afternoon in-water practicals, and trains you in some of the survey techniques used in the marine environment to assess the status of reefs and their associated fish communities. If you are already dive trained or just wanting to snorkel your first week is on the Caribbean reef ecology course and the second would be spent working with different researchers on site. Projects you will join include monitoring of sea turtle abundance, sea turtle grazing of seagrasses and seagrass biomass in Akumal Bay.

Key Activities

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives and Open Water divers to gain an official SCUBA qualification.
  • Caribbean marine ecology course: This course consists of lectures and in water practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures cover an introduction to the Akumal and the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, marine survey techniques, diversity of coral reefs, threats to coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses, and the future of coral reefs
  • PADI Open Water referral course; For this option, students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components with PADI.
  • Seagrass quadrat surveys: 1m quadrats are used to assess the coverage of the three different species of seagrass in Akumal Bay, assess turtle grazing and coverage of epiphytes growing on the seagrasses (indicators of water quality)
  • Turtle and tourist abundance transects: a series of belt transects are used to assess the distribution of sea turtles in Akumal Bay in relation to tourists
  • Reef monitoring: skills learned during the reef ecology course are used to monitor reef ecosystem health using transect surveys for coral, fish and invertebrates. For this option students need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course

Mexico Terrestrial Research Objectives

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.

Mexico Marine Research Objectives

At the marine site, the research is focussed on assessing the efficacy of the newly formed Akumal marine protected area on the abundance and health of seagrasses and the impact of snorkel tours on the abundance, health and behaviour of sea turtles. Research also aims to monitor the combined impacts of water quality and turtle grazing on the abundance and health of the seagrass ecosystem. In addition, students will have the chance to work alongside our team at Akumal Dive Center to complete their PADI open water dive training and complete a Caribbean reef ecology course in which they will learn about the major conservation issues with Caribbean reefs and will participate in variety of techniques for coral reef monitoring.

  • Attend lectures on Mayan forest ecology course
  • Learn survey methods to sample birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, large mammals and forest structure.
  • Visit the Calakmul archaeological site
  • PADI Open water dive qualification
  • Coral reef ecology course
  • Opwall fee.
  • Cost of international flights into and out of Cancun.
  • Cost of internal travel to and from the start and end point of the expedition, plus any hotels you might require. The standard package costs around £289 or $376.
  • Extra nights’ accommodation in Cancun costs around £72 or $93 (breakfast included).
  • Park entrance fees are £20 or $26 for the terrestrial site, and £20 or $26 for the marine site.
  • Dive equipment rental – $75 per week or equivalent in pesos for a full dive kit. If you only wish to snorkel and want to hire snorkel equipment, the cost is $38 per week. Please note that wetsuits/rash vests cannot be provided – you should bring your own.
  • PADI manual and PIC card (if you are completing your Open Water qualification) – £69 or $89 approx.
  • Mexico charges a tourist tax, currently approximately $14 before leaving the country to travel home.
  • Vaccinations and prophylactic medicines – cost can vary depending on your healthcare provider.
  • All prices in GBP or USD unless specified.
  • Standard travel insurance – cost can vary, for 2 weeks it can range anywhere from £40-80 or $40-150.

Most of our volunteers fundraise for their expedition costs. Find out more.

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).

Creature comforts
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.


  • Mexico
  • Akumal
  • Calakmul

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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