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Expedition with the first week in species-rich cloud forest working with biodiversity researchers and a second week diving at one of the Opwall marine research centres on Utila or Roatan.

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

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.

Forest and marine expeditions

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.

Week 1: Cusuco National Park

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:

  • Jungle skills training: Students will learn to work safely in a forest research site and about the survey techniques being used. In addition the students can partake in a short optional course on learning how to ascend into the canopy. Canopy access training costs US$170 or £110 extra for this additional course.
  • Forest measurements: Students will be working in teams each completing measurements of 20m x 20m quadrats to collect data on the diameter at breast height of all woody species, canopy height, quantity of vegetation at different heights from a touch pole, light penetration to forest floor using a canopy scope, evidence of disturbance and sapling density.
  • Invertebrate surveys: A light trap is being run at each camp to monitor nocturnal invertebrates such as moths and jewel scarab beetles. Pitfall traps baited with dung need checking and emptying regularly as do other traps used to survey the genetic diversity of the invertebrate communities in the park. Other projects include the diversity of aquatic invertebrates in bromeliads and use of freshwater invertebrates to assess water quality.
  • Bird surveys: The students will be helping the survey teams with assessing bird communities from point counts and mist net surveys where the students will learn how to identify birds in the hand and take morphometric measurements.
  • Herpetofauna surveys: The reptile and amphibian communities will be assessed from standard search time surveys and pitfall trapping. Species are identified and GPS coordinates taken. The Cusuco Park is particularly important for amphibians and these small and unique populations are suffering from chytrid fungal infections which in most cases is fatal. The survey teams are collecting swab samples from all captured amphibians to check for the presence of the fungus using the on-site genetics lab.
  • Mammal surveys: This survey involves checking previously baited traps for small mammals, identifying any individuals caught and marking them before release (mark-release-recapture). Tissue samples are also taken, for stable isotope analysis, providing useful information on food web dynamics. In addition camera traps are being used to describe large mammal communities.
  • Bat surveys: Students will be shown how mist netting for bats can be used to monitor changes in bat community structure and/or abundance over time. Captured bats are removed, handled, identified and morphometric measurements recorded.

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.

Week 2: Marine week on Utila Island or Roatan

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:

  • A full PADI Open Water dive training course
    • combining theory lessons, confined water dives and open water dives to gain an official scuba diving qualification
  • Completion of a Caribbean coral reef ecology course 
    • teaching identification of common genera and species of coral and other macro-invertebrates, identification of the major reef-associated fish families and common species and introduces a variety of methods and practices used for scientific research in the marine environment

Honduras Terrestrial Research Objectives

The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America – which have 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.

Honduras Marine Research Objectives

In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of coral reefs, including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive predator (lionfish) originally from the Indo-Pacific that has spread across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two marine research sites in Honduras where these issues and many more are studied: 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 in reef community health, alongside novel research to address key conservation priorities and gaps in our current understanding of these fragile ecosystems. Honduras is also home to Opwall’s pioneering efforts to integrate technological solutions into the monitoring and study of coral reefs, including our 3D computer modelling method. Opwall’s team of marine scientists in Honduras helps to support not only international academic research and new method development, but also supports local non-governmental organisations with their efforts to improve marine conservation in Honduras.

  • Attend lectures on Neotropical forest ecology including research published from Cusuco National Park by Operation Wallacea scientists
  • Learn survey methods to sample birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, large mammals, habitat, and invertebrates
  • Learn how to live and work safely at a remote cloud forest research site
  • Opportunity to ascend into the canopy with Canopy Access Limited (additional cost)
  • Take swabs from amphibians for genetic screening of chytrid infections
  • Gain an internationally recognized SCUBA qualification
  • Dive or snorkel on a range of Caribbean coral reefs
  • Attend our Caribbean marine research evening lecture series
  • Complete a week-long training course on Caribbean coral reef ecology (if snorkeling or already dive trained)

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.

Climate
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.

Creature comforts
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.

Locations

  • Honduras
  • Roatan
  • Utila
  • Base Camp
  • Buenos Aires
  • Satellite Camps

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Preparation

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