Week 1: Amazonian Forest Week
During this week the groups will be split into smaller teams and will rotate between the following activities:
- In addition to these surveys the groups will also be completing an Amazonian wildlife and conservation course which comprises lectures and related activities/discussions on: Tropical rainforests biogeography and ecology, plant life in the Neotropics, fish of the Amazon, evolution, classification and birds of the Amazon, amphibians and reptiles of the Amazon, forest mammals and conservation challenges in the Amazon.
- Bird surveys: The lowland Amazon is hyper-diverse for birds (500+ species) and the list of birds seen in the Sani reserve is extensive. However, there is no centrally maintained list or readily accessible information available to guests. Survey work will be done from point counts in the forested areas and from transect surveys along the water course areas. Birds will be identified from both sightings and calls. A call library may be available on site of all the likely species to be encountered. In addition, mist netting will be used to sample some of the understorey species.
- Large mammals and primates: This team will be retrieving the images from a network of cameras set up around the camping region of the Sani reserve. This involves trekking considerable distances so during these treks this team will also be completing standard searches for terrestrial, arboreal mammals and game birds to complement the camera trap footage. Camera trap footage from the 2017-2019 expeditions has proven the presence of several large cat species, giant river otters, short-eared dogs, giant armadillos and several game bird species amongst others and the 2020 data will be used to update the mammal guide to the reserve. We will also be adding to a primate behavioural study that was launched in 2019 to habituate and track the primate species in the reserve.
- Habitat and Vegetation Community surveys: These surveys will be linked to the large mammal and primate surveys and will involve collecting plant material for identification of key species. A flora of the reserve is being prepared and specimens of previously unidentified species will need to be collected and preserved for sending to an herbarium. In addition, forest quadrat surveys will be completed on previously established plots to characterize the dynamics of the forest (turnover, growth, recruitment etc) as well as the preparation of the forest for carbon sequestration and trading programs. Additionally, a phenology survey will be completed for all plots to analyze the availability of fruits and flowers for mammals and birds in the reserve.
- Herpetofauna survey team: The techniques for these surveys involve active searching at a fixed width of 5m either side of the transect line in the late morning when reptiles and amphibians are most active. In addition, pitlines and cover boards will be used to provide extra sampling effort. The output from this survey will be to update the digital guide to reptiles and amphibians found in the reserve with an assessment of the likelihood of encountering each species.
- Invertebrate team: This team will be completing surveys of the showy and large invertebrate species likely to be encountered in the reserve. A variety of capture methods will be used including sweep nets, flight intercept traps, pitfall traps and light traps. The main groups being surveyed are the butterflies, moths, beetles, spiders, scorpions, bees and wasps, snails and slugs. All species captured will be identified and photographed.
Week 2: Galapagos week
During this week groups will complete a Galapagos Island ecology course which will cover the following topics: Introduction to the Galapagos Islands, vegetation zones and how species arrived, introduction to the Galapagos marine environment, fish and invertebrates of the Galapagos, endemic species of the islands, marine megafauna of the Galapagos, adaptive radiation and conservation of the Galapagos. Alongside the lecture series, students will also complete associated land and marine based practicals.
- Diving: One day of the course is dedicated to gaining a diving experience. For those with no previous diving experience they will be completing a Discover Scuba dive. Since not all students will be able to dive at the same time, those not completing skills or doing their Discover Scuba dive will be snorkeling with a Dive Instructor in the water with them who will be teaching the identification of some of the fish species encountered. For the qualified divers their first dive will be a check dive with a Dive Instructor whilst the second dive will be concentrating on learning some of the fish species encountered. For those who have completed the referral elements of the PADI Open Water dive training course (ie the theory and confined water skills), there will be two dives with a maximum of 8 students and 2 Dive Instructors in the water with them at any time. Both of these dives will concentrate on learning the skills needed to complete the full Open Water course. The dive location used for these dives and snorkel practicals has huge shoals of fish, sealions, turtles, sharks and marine iguanas so should be interesting.
- Guided Visits to the Transitional and Humid Zones: These two half day practicals will be based in Highland View and consist of guided walks with an experienced naturalist explaining about the vegetation changes across the reserve and the birds and other animals encountered.
- Guided Visit to the Coastal Arid and Mangrove Zones: This full day practical with a professional local naturalist guide is in the Tortuga Bay National Park. The first part of the visit is through the arid coastal zone and here the guide will be showing the students the typical Opuntia cacti, spiny bushes and small trees including Manzanillo tree (poison apple tree). Then there is a walk along a 1km long beach and a chance to snorkel next to the mangroves. This is an excellent site for marine iguanas and the guide will explain about their ecology and the students will complete some scan and focal sample behavioural observations on the marine iguanas. The final session explains about the mangroves and some of associated species such as the bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs and Lava Herons.
- Geology Guided Visit: This is a visit to the lava tubes with a specialist guide who will explain about the geology of the islands and the formation of the lava tubes that the students will be able to see.
- Visit to Santa Fe: This will involve a day trip by boat to another island in the Galapagos called Santa Fe or Barrington island. Here the group will have the opportunity to travel by zodiac near the sea lions roosting on the beach and look for the endemic Barrington Land Iguana. The Barrington Leaf-toed Gecko is another endemic on this island.
Much of the Amazonian forest in Ecuador is under threat from oil extraction. In the Amazon, oil extraction has traditionally been followed with deforestation of the areas of extraction and has often been of little benefit to the native people on whose land the oil extraction is occurring. The Kichwa Amerindians have managed to protect their forests against proposed oil extraction. In essence, the Kichwa Indians are foregoing income from the oil industry in order to protect the forest, and that income needs to be replaced by an income of the same level or greater in order to ensure the long-term protection of the forests. Sani Eco Lodge, an Ecuadorian ecotourism operator, has been working with the Kichwa community to develop ecotourism income that provide sustainable jobs and income from leaving their forests intact. They have constructed a high-end ecotourism lodge in the centre of the 40,000 hectares that encompass the Sani Reserve, and a separate field research camp that is being used by the Opwall survey teams, and as a camping experience for the high end ecotourist visitors. In 2017 the first teams of Opwall scientists completed a detailed habitat and vegetation communities map of the reserve, compiled a photographic guide to the fish and amphibians of the reserve and gained initial distributional data on the birds and large mammals. In 2018 further teams of specialists will be developing the information on the biodiversity of this site yet further during the Opwall season. and specifically:
- To produce an illustrated guide of the distribution, habitat preferences and relative abundance of the bird community in the Sani reserve.
- To update the guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the Sani Reserve with any new records made.
- To produce an illustrated guide to some of the larger invertebrate species found in the reserve
- To continue the collection of botanical samples to complete an inventory of the flora
- To re-measure the permanent forest plots so that data on forest dynamics (eg turnover, growth, recruitment) can be quantified
- To update the mammal and primate guide to the reserve with new records and data on distribution and relative abundance
- To extend the range of ecotourism activities involving the Sani Community
The Galapagos portion of the expedition focuses on environmental education and training rather than research.
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.
In the Amazon Rainforest at Sani Camp, the climate is hot and humid during the day (25-30 C) although it can feel much cooler in the shade. Heavy rainstorms can come up suddenly (that’s why they call it a rainforest!) and long sleeves are generally recommended to protect from insects. At night, the temperature drops to around 22 C and is rarely cold. The Highland View camp in Santa Cruz can be misty and overcast due to the “grua” fogs in the Galapagos highlands. Puerto Ayora and other marine areas are hot and dry.
Fitness level required
Medium – High in Sani. You will sometimes be walking 5-10k in muddy conditions or rowing canoes in and out of camp. At the marine sites some fitness is required for in water activities (diving, kayaking, etc) as well as some longer walks but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities in Sani are comfortable but basic. You will stay in shared tents with access to flushing toilets and showers. There is no cell phone signal in the Sani Reserve and there is no internet available at camp. Facilities at the Highland View are also shared tents with flushing toilets/showers available. There is phone signal and potential for limited Wifi in Puerto Ayora. Conditions at the Pelican View hotel are comfortable shared hotel rooms.