This expedition combines both of these important areas with a week working in the spectacular Krka National Park and a second week on Silba Island.
During glacial times the main biodiversity refuges of Europe were the Iberian, Apennine and Balkans peninsulas which managed to conserve tropical elements of the flora and fauna. For example the nocturnal Cat Snake, which is closely related to other tropical species, is still found in the Balkans. The most important biodiversity elements of the present day Balkan region are the short but very large river valleys through the karst limestone areas and the biogeography of the numerous Adriatic islands.
During this first week the groups will spend a day each working on the following projects:
Fish surveys – this will be done from boat and foot based electrofishing surveys and netting surveys of various habitats along the Krka River. There are a number of endemic species including two endemic trout species (Salmo visovacensis and Salmo obtusirostris krkensi) that are being investigated. All fish captured will be identified, measured and genetic samples taken.
Reptile surveys – these surveys are performed from checking under previously placed cover boards and completing standard search times in different habitats and heights in the valley. The Park authorities are keen to determine how the Four lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) which grows to 2.5m, the venomous Nose horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes) and the Leopard Rat Snake (Zamenis situla) separate their niches. In addition the surveys will be recording the distribution of the giant Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus), which grows to a length of 1.2m and tortoises (Testudo hermanni). Night surveys are also done for the Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) which is the only nocturnally active snake species in the region.
Cave surveys – these surveys will be led by cave biology specialists in caves not open to the public and will involve completing transects and quadrats within the cave systems to estimate diversity of groups adapted to cave living. In addition soil samples from different parts of the cave system will be sorted in the lab to estimate soil biodiversity.
Bird and butterfly surveys – these surveys will involve setting mist nets from 6am to 12 noon at different heights in the valley. In addition point count surveys will be completed either side of the mist net from 7am to 9am each day. Target species for the birds include the Natura 2000 important bird species. After lunch the group will complete pollard surveys for the butterflies.
Mammal surveys – the large mammal species are surveyed using camera traps and searching areas for footprints and faecal samples. Within the Krka valley and surrounding plateau there are 2 large wolf packs and these appear to be reducing the jackal and fox populations. In addition to emptying the camera traps and analyzing the footage these teams will also be setting and emptying small mammal traps and in particular looking for the endemic vole (Dinaromys bogdanovi) found in the Dinaric mountains.
Bat surveys – these surveys will involve setting mist nets from during the evening at different heights and locations in the valley. In addition echolocation surveys will be completed on alternating evenings in order to understand the species of bat present in the National Park.
In addition to the fieldwork, the group will have a series of lectures covering Mediterranean Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and including presentations on freshwater fish speciation and survey techniques, reptile communities and niche overlap, apex predators and food webs in Mediterranean mammal communities, cave biodiversity, bird communities of the Mediterranean and threats to Mediterranean fauna and conservation initiatives. There will also be a seminar session on how to pursue a career in wildlife conservation.
During their time on Silba Island, students will complete one of the following options:
PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives and open water dives to gain an official scuba diving qualification.
Adriatic ecology course: Lectures cover topics such as Mediterranean fish and survey techniques, management of Mediterranean fisheries, the ecology and survey techniques for seagrass beds, invasive species and conservation in action – examples from the Mediterranean. Each lecture is accompanied by an in-water practical (diving or snorkelling).
Students will also participate in the following activities:
The Krka Valley runs from the Dinaric mountains bordering Bosnia to the Adriatic and is only 77km in length. However, since the river runs through limestone there are some spectacular gorges and this is one of the most scenic river valleys in Europe. It is also important from a biodiversity viewpoint containing nine Croatian and three Krka endemic fish species and spectacular cave systems containing a number of potentially new species to science. Opwall together with Biota (a Croatian biodiversity research organisation) has built a research centre in the central part of the Krka valley with easy access to the whole park. The centre is based in a restored house and grounds within 100m of the park boundary and has access to all the habitats throughout the park and surrounding countryside. The National Park Authority have requested we perform baseline surveys to increase the known inventory for the Park, as well as collect long-term monitoring data to answer a series of their management questions.
Tourist visits to Krka National Park are heavily concentrated towards the lower stretches of the river and very few people visit the central and northern parts of the valley. The Biota/Opwall research centre is based within a rural community that has suffered from significant depopulation and land abandonment in recent years. The centre is designed to give benefits to the local community from the visits (e.g. provision of employment etc). Whilst the main research effort each year from this centre comes through the Opwall programme, the centre will remain open year round in an attempt to attract some of the many visitors to the Croatian coast further inland, increasing revenue for the Park and local communities.
Silba Island is in the northern Dalmatian archipelago and is a car and hotel free island. The island markets itself as a haven of tranquillity and much of the island is still covered by Mediterranean black oak and maquis. The objective for our partners on this island is to develop the first marine research centre for northern Dalmatia and they have a series of research projects on seagrass, sea urchins, protected species and fisheries, as well as marine plastics.
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.
Croatia is hot during this time of the year! In both Krka and Silba the daytime temperature rarely drops below 30 degrees and can reach 40 degrees.
Fitness level required
Moderate. Whilst there are not many steep hikes in the forest, the hikes are still quite long and the temperature can make them tiring.
At Krka we are in a renovated house in the countryside. You will sleep in dormitories with shared western style bathrooms and toilets, and in Silba it will be in dormitories, again with shared bathroom facilities. There is some limited phone signal in Krka (but not reliable for a data connection), but good phone signal in Silba.