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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.