The Bay Islands expedition is a marine only project based on either the island of Utila or Roatan. Students who are not yet dive trained will spend the completing their Open Water SCUBA diving certification supervised by qualified PADI dive instructors, and participating in the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecology lecture series. Those who are already qualified to dive, or opt to snorkel, will complete the same Caribbean Coral Reef Ecology lectures series, which will be supplemented with a variety of land and water-based practicals designed to introduce students to coral reef biology and ecology and the survey techniques used by coral reef scientists.
Throughout the week, students will meet regularly with Operation Wallacea scientists who will give talks about the specifics of their research projects. Alongside the educational courses the students will be expected to complete an independent research project over the course of their expedition and will present their findings to the group.
The Bay Islands region is made up of eight large islands and 53 smaller islets found at the southern extent of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (MAR) in the Western Caribbean. The MAR is the second largest barrier reef in the world and stretches 1000 km along the coast of Central America from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, through the coastal waters of Belize and Guatemala, and down to the Bay Islands, which lie 15-60 km off the coast of mainland Honduras. The three main islands of the region are Utila, Roatan and Guanaja, and after a long and complicated history of settlement, they were assimilated into the British Empire under the protection of British Honduras (now Belize) in 1852. After being pressured by the United States, who were worried that Britain had too much control over the region, the Bay Islands were surrendered to the Republic of Honduras in 1861. The Bay Island’s colourful history has created an ethnic and linguistic melting-pot, and has left most of the local population speaking an English-Spanish hybrid decorated with smatterings of local dialects.
The economy of the Bay Islands is reliant on the burgeoning tourist industry, and annual visitor numbers have increased from about 15,000 in the early 1990s to >800,000 in 2010. Annually, tourists are estimated to bring ca. $55 million to the region, which is not only important for the local economy of the islands, but also for the rest of Honduras. The coral reefs of the Bay Islands are among the healthiest found in the Caribbean today, and most visitors to the area are attracted by the prospect of diving and snorkelling among healthy corals, and large and diverse fish populations. While the Bay Islands have enjoyed an economic boom in recent years, increased tourist numbers, coupled with a resident population currently expanding at a rate of 8% per year, have put a large ecological and environmental strain on the area’s coral reef systems.
Operation Wallacea research teams have been working in the Bay Islands since the mid-2000s, establishing an annual monitoring programme to assess patterns of decline in ecosystem health and identify drivers that may be mitigated through the implementation of conservation management strategies. There are many core environmental and conservation issues affecting reefs throughout the Caribbean including the decline of sea urchin populations which has stimulated increased macroalgal growth and associated decreases in hard coral cover, the invasion of the non-native lionfish which has expanded throughout the region and is wreaking havoc at lower trophic levels, and the catastrophic overharvesting of fish populations by local communities. Over the last few years, the Bay Islands has become Operation Wallacea’s flagship site in the Caribbean and researchers have been working on the development of new technologies, such as stereo-video surveying of fish populations and 3D modelling of reef architecture, which have the potential to revolutionise our understanding of coral reef ecology, not only in the Caribbean, but also on a global scale.
The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.
You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.
If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.