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

Part 1 – Training Course on Guiana Shield Forest Ecology and Survey Techniques

The first 3 days of the expedition are based at the Iwokrama Research Centre where the students will be completing a Guiana Shield forest ecology course comprising lectures on Guiana Shield geography and structure, survey methods and how the data are used to describe community structure of key taxa, examples of species likely to be encountered and how Reduced Impact Logging is carried out. Mornings, late afternoons and evening will be taken up with small groups of students joining the biologists demonstrating the survey techniques used to quantify bird communities, bat communities, dung beetle communities, amphibians and reptiles, and abundance of target mammal species (e.g. jaguars, tapirs, brocket deer etc) as well as how to measure forest structure and dynamics. In addition there will be short training sessions on forest survival skills such as how to live in field camps in hammocks, navigation and trekking skills as well as the main risks posed by animals and diseases in the forests and rivers and how to reduce those risks.

Part 2 – Biodiversity Surveys in Forest Camps

For the next 6 days the teams will be based in one of the forest field camps and will be completing the standardised surveys required to quantify the diversity of the various taxa. These sites will either be in areas that have already been selectively logged, are due to be logged, or will never be logged (control sites). These surveys include:

  • Bird surveys: Helping an experienced ornithologist with collecting data from mist net captures from dawn to midday. These surveys use standardised mist net hours help quantify the changes in understory bird communities.  All birds captured are measured, data taken on moult and breeding condition to determine breeding cycles, photographed and coloured rings attached to collect data on movements and longevity of the various species before the birds are released. In addition, soundscape recordings from a series of digital sound recorders at each site are collected and analysed in camp.  The software used for the analysis has been ‘trained’ to recognise many of the Guyana species which allows extensive recordings to be analysed for the presence of these species.  Point counts are also completed by the survey teams to provide comparative data sets.
  • Herpetofauna surveys: Assisting an experienced herpetologist with standard search scan samples for reptiles and amphibians. In the evenings transects will be completed to record the soundscapes and these recordings will be analysed by the herpetologist for amphibian diversity and relative abundance from the calls and by the ornithologist for nocturnal birds.
  • Dung beetle surveys: Helping with installing and emptying baited pit fall trap arrays to quantify the dung beetle communities since these are excellent indicators of forest changes.
  • Large mammal surveys: Helping to check and download data from camera traps that have been left for up to 12 months around the various camps.  The groups are involved in analysis of the images and these data used to assess ground based mammal abundance, including the big cats and herbivores such as tapirs, deer and agouti.  In addition the students will be completing transect surveys to collect data on primate abundance (e.g. Black Spider Monkey, Red Howler Monkey, Wedge-capped Capuchin, White-faced Saki) which will not be sampled by the camera traps.
  • Bat surveys: Mist nets run for standard periods of time are being used to quantify the bat communities. Volunteers who have had their rabies vaccinations will be able to help with processing of the captured bats (identification of the species, photographing each bat, measurements, wing punctures for genetic sampling etc) and their release.  In addition soundscape recordings are completed to assess the bat species flying too high for the mist nets.
  • Forest structure and dynamics surveys: Helping a forest ecologist with quantifying the forest structure (age class structure of trees, amounts of understorey vegetation, sapling regeneration, canopy cover etc) of permanent monitoring plots. These data are re-used to quantify changes in the forest. In some sites though there are no permanent forest plots nearby so these surveys are working on smaller plots and quantifying the forest structure around the surveys sites for different taxa.

Part 3 – River Based Surveys

The last 3 days of the surveys will be spent on a river based survey along the Burro Burro River through the heart of the Iwokrama rainforest to complete annual monitoring of key wildlife indicators to the health of the river. These include Giant River Otters, Arapaima (a type of huge fresh-water fish), Caiman, Anaconda and many species of water birds. The teams will start at Surama village in the savannahs of the North Rupununi. For two days downstream drift surveys will be completed and the wildlife records completed. This is a deep forest experience and the teams will be setting up camp on the river bank in hammocks each night and helping the boat drivers and guides porter the boats around fallen trees. The teams will sleep at camps on the banks of the river each night and on the last day will motor back up to Surama.

Guyana Research Objectives

The Guiana Shield in South America is a massive granite dome that formed 2 billion years ago and now encompasses Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and parts of Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. Throughout most of this area there is a low human population density, and as a result, 2.5 million km2 of tropical rainforests still remain largely untouched, along with extensive savannahs and wetlands.

The Operation Wallacea expeditions are working in Guyana – an English speaking country with one of the lowest population densities and highest per capita forest areas on the planet, as well as incredible savannahs and wetlands. The expeditions involve trekking through undisturbed forests, where jaguar, tapirs, giant otters, harpy eagles and many other charismatic South American species are abundant.

Operation Wallacea has formed a partnership with the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC) and the Amerindian community of Surama. The IIC manages one million acres (371,000ha) of lowland tropical rainforest in the centre of the country. The IIC represents an international partnership between Guyana and the Commonwealth to demonstrate how tropical forests can be sustainably used in the interest of global scale climate change, local communities and biodiversity conservation.

Surama Village is a Makushi Amerindian community, which has a vision to develop, own and manage a community-based eco-tourism business by using the natural resources and their traditional culture practices. Protection of rainforests is a matter of ensuring that surrounding communities can have a financial benefit from conservation of those forests, and this is the basis of many of the REDD+ type data collection monitoring projects being run by Opwall, where funds are raised through preservation of the carbon content of the forests. However, an alternative approach is to sustainably exploit the timber in the forest using a reduced impact logging protocol developed by Iwokrama so that communities can have financial benefits, but the biodiversity of the forest can be maintained.

Just under half of the Iwokrama Reserve has been designated as a sustainable use area (SUA). Within this area a 60 year rotation has been agreed where approximately 1% of the trees in the blocks to be logged are removed with detailed planning so that the cut and skid trails to remove the timber have minimal impact. This level of cutting for the most part allows the canopy structure and overall age structure of the trees to be maintained even in the harvested blocks, but since the trees removed are the high value commercial species, it generates substantial income for the local communities. This is a very impressive harvesting system and if it can be demonstrated to have minimal impacts on biodiversity whilst at the same time generating much of the income that would have been achieved from much less sensitive ways of harvesting, then this approach may have much wider applications worldwide.

The Opwall teams are helping to provide detailed and verifiable data sets on target biodiversity taxa in the Iwokrama forests both to examine the impacts of selective logging but also to quantify long-term changes in the biodiversity of the forests.

An annual monitoring programme providing equal coverage of the SUA and wilderness preserve (where no logging is allowed), as well as the forests surrounding Surama Village has been initiated, and is being completed by the Opwall survey teams. The purpose of this monitoring is to provide long-term data sets on the abundance and diversity of key biodiversity taxa so that the impacts of sustainable use within Iwokrama and the forest surrounding Surama can be identified in comparison with the non-utilised wilderness areas.

  • Immersion in one of the most intact and remote rainforests left on Earth
  • Learn about Reduced Impact Logging as a revenue-generating method that also maintains the overall structure and diversity of the forest
  • Attend lectures/workshops on Neotropical ecology and conservation
  • Sleep in a hammock in sites only reachable by small boat and fall asleep to the sounds of the rainforest
  • Participate in surveys to sample herpetofauna, large mammals, bats, beetles, birds, and forest structure
  • Assist with river surveys along the stunning Essequibo and Burro Burro Rivers
  • Gain jungle and camp skills whilst working from small forest research sites

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.

Guyana is a remote rainforest expedition that begins for the first 2-3 days at the Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Centre, ends at the Surama Village Ecolodge, and otherwise rotates between a series of six survey field camps throughout the Iwokrama Forest.

Each survey camp is different, with some being very basic and without any permanent structures, and with others being more developed. About half the site have long drop toilets and bucket showers set up near the river, and the other half have outdoor showers and flushing toilets. Accommodation at all survey camps is in hammocks with mosquito nets and bashas, which are small tarpaulins. For the start and end of the project at the River Lodge and Ecolodge, accommodation is in simple dormitory-style housing, with showers and flushing toilets. As the particular survey camp order is only finalized a couple of months prior to the expedition, we can give an indication of where you may be going during the training presentation in April.

The weather is generally hot, humid, and rainy for most of the field season. Daytime temperatures averages around 30, with at least some rain common most days. Being in the rainforest during the wet season, you will get wet!


  • Guyana
  • Burro Burro River
  • Field Camps
  • Iwokrama River Research Lodge

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