The students spend their first week in a forest camp and will be on site with an international team of academics collecting data on the carbon, biodiversity and community benefits of the forest.
The second week will operate from one of two marine research sites run by Operation Wallacea – Utila or Roatan. The main research objective at these sites is to complete annual monitoring of the coral and reef fish communities so the effectiveness of the management strategies at the two sites can be assessed. These efforts are run alongside educational programs designed to give students a foundation in coral reef ecology.
The expedition can be structured so that both weeks are marine only.
Students will spend their first week between two remote forest camps in the montane cloud forests of Cusuco National Park, and will travel to one of the Bay Islands for their second week which will be focussed on dive training or completing a reef ecology course.
Students’ time will be split between two research camps. Over the course of the week the groups will participate in the many surveys and activities running at the different camps, including the following:
In addition to the above practicals the students will also complete a course (in camp) on Neotropical ecology including: rainforest structure and biodiversity, adaptations and co-evolution, amphibians and reptiles, cloud forest birds, cloud forest mammals and conservation synthesis.
During their marine week the groups will be based at either the Coral View Research Centre on Utila or Ecodivers in West End, Roatan, depending on availability. At both sites the students will be completing one of the following options:
The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world, partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America which had evolved separately. Many of these ecosystems have been badly degraded but there is a proposal to join currently discontinuous areas of forest into a continuous Mesoamerican forest corridor running from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (where there are other Opwall teams) to Panama. Part of this corridor will encompass the cloud forests of Cusuco National Park in Honduras – a site rich in endemics and endangered species yet threatened by unchecked illegal deforestation.
The Opwall survey teams have been working in Cusuco since 2003 and the data produced has resulted in the Park being listed as one of the top 50 most irreplaceable protected areas in the world (based on a review of 173,000 sites worldwide). As well as underlining the biological value of Cusuco, the datasets collected by the Opwall teams are also being used to make an application for funding through Natural Forest Standard (NFS). This will allow carbon credits from the Park to be issued, which can then be sold to multinational companies wishing to offset their carbon emissions and at the same time help protect biodiversity. Funding obtained in this way will then be used to manage and protect the park and the many unique species it supports.
In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the coral reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo-Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish which has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two monitoring sites in Honduras: one is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.
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 cloud forest of Cusuco National Park it can get warm in open areas (temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius) but much cooler in the shade of the forest. Overnight the temperature can drop below 10 degrees Celsius at higher altitudes. It rarely rains in the morning but it regularly rains late in the afternoon and overnight. Our marine sites are hot and usually dry, but with occasional storms.
Fitness level required
Medium – High in Cusuco. You will need to hike from camp to camp for up to 4 hours with your backpack over steep terrain. At the marine sites some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities in Cusuco are very basic (tents, hammocks, occasionally homestays, river showers, basic trench toilets). There is no cell phone signal in Cusuco National Park and very limited satellite internet available through a communal laptop at Base Camp. Marine site facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.