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

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Forest Site

Research is completed at a series of forest camps across the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Arrivals on this programme first complete an introduction to the Ancient Maya and Mayan jungle ecology course alongside practicals in survey techniques. Following this you will be helping teams of field biologists completing standardised surveys on a series of key taxa. These surveys are aimed at assessing the importance of the unique aguada habitats for fauna (aguadas are the only water bodies in the reserve) and understanding the relationship between Ancient Mayan manipulation of the forest and current biodiversity. There are several thousand Ancient Mayan ruin sites in the reserve and the forest adjacent to these areas contains the remnants of 7th century agroforesty resulting in very high abundance and diversity of fauna. If you stay on site for multiple weeks you can travel to different forest camps to see how the forest changes and to assist with biodiversity surveys.

Key Activities:

  • Bats: Mist netting long into the night for bats, where morphometric measurements and measurements relating to body condition and reproductive status of captured bats are taken and species identified. Additional data for insectivorous bats that cannot be caught in mist nets will be collecting using acoustic recorders at mist net locations
  • Birds: Mist netting is also conducted early in the morning for birds to capture individuals so that morphological measurements and measurements relating to body condition can be taken and individuals marked for population studies. Student can also help collect bird recordings for development of the Calakmul bird vocalization library
  • Large mammal surveys involve recording primate sightings (distance sampling) and terrestrial mammal tracks (patch occupancy sampling) encountered along forest transects during morning surveys accompanied by an afternoon session analysing camera trap data.
  • Herpetofauna are surveyed using diurnal and nocturnal visual encounters surveys along line transect. As many herpetofauna aggregate around aguadas (the only water bodies in the forest) diurnal and nocturnal timed searches of for herpetofauna will be conducted at aguada habitats.
  • Frugivorous butterflies are surveyed using baited traps in the canopy and understory of different forest types. Forest structure is an essential dataset for the project and you will also assist with carrying out quadrat samples.
  • Habitat: Habitat plots will be carried out at set intervals along each survey transect to enable a better understanding of the forest structure and tree species composition across different locations in the reserve and to complement the data collected for all other taxonomic groups.
  • Guided tour of the Calakmul archaeological site
  • Maya forest ecology lecture series covering: Biodiversity monitoring in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Forests of the Maya and their importance for primates, Aguadas and their importance for herpetofauna, Birds, bats and butterflies as indicators of ecosystem health in the Neotropics, Felids and ungulates of Calakmul, and Conservation Management.

 Marine Site

The marine site is in Akumal, part of the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve. If you are not already dive trained, you can spend your first week at this centre completing a PADI Open Water dive training course, before moving onto the Caribbean reef ecology course in your next week. This course consists of lectures, morning and afternoon in-water practicals, and trains you in some of the survey techniques used in the marine environment to assess the status of reefs and their associated fish communities. If you are already dive trained or just wanting to snorkel your first week is on the Caribbean reef ecology course and the second would be spent working with different researchers on site. Projects you will join include monitoring of sea turtle abundance, sea turtle grazing of seagrasses and seagrass biomass in Akumal Bay.

Key Activities

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives and Open Water divers to gain an official SCUBA qualification.
  • Caribbean marine ecology course: This course consists of lectures and in water practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures cover an introduction to the Akumal and the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, marine survey techniques, diversity of coral reefs, threats to coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses, and the future of coral reefs
  • PADI Open Water referral course; For this option, students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components with PADI.
  • Seagrass quadrat surveys: a series of 1m quadrats are used to assess the coverage of the three different species of seagrass in Akumal Bay, assess turtle grazing and coverage of epiphytes growing on the seagrasses (indicators of water quality)
  • Turtle and tourist abundance transects: a series of belt transects are used to assess the distribution of sea turtles in Akumal Bay in relation to tourists

Mexico Terrestrial Research Objectives

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (CBR) in Mexico is an UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture and Nature and is part of the largest expanse of neotropical forest north of the Amazon, filled with ancient Mayan ruins and supporting one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. The CBR is also an extremely important wildlife corridor that is crucial for migrating
birds and mammals with extensive ranging patterns such as jaguar and Baird’s tapir. Over the last 10 years the reserve has experienced a notable reduction in rainfall. Monitoring data on birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, ungulates, felids and primates are being used to evaluate the impact of climate change and changing rainfall patterns on the abundance, ranging and diversity of fauna to help determine when and where mitigation should be used to restore water sources. Data are also used to assess the efficacy of a range of sustainable development projects with buffer zone communities designed to minimise forest encroachment. In addition, there are specialist studies on jaguar and their preferred prey, behaviour of spider monkeys and population demographics of Morelet’s crocodiles.

Mexico Marine Research Objectives

At the marine site, the research is focussed on assessing the efficacy of the newly formed Akumal marine protected area on the abundance and health of seagrasses and the impact of snorkel tours on the abundance, health and behaviour of sea turtles. Research also aims to monitor the combined impacts of water quality and turtle grazing on the abundance and health of the seagrass ecosystem. In addition, students will have the chance to work alongside our team at Akumal Dive Center to complete their PADI open water dive training and complete a Caribbean reef ecology course in which they will learn about the major conservation issues with Caribbean reefs and will participate in variety of techniques for coral reef monitoring.

  • Attend lectures/workshops on biodiversity and conservation
  • Learn about the biogeography of the region and the impact of the Ancient Maya
  • Multiple survey methods for bat, birds, butterflies herpetofauna and mammals
  • PADI Open water dive qualification
  • Participate in Caribbean marine ecology course
  • Marine surveys for seagrasses and turtles
  • Learn to adapt to team-work and experience its importance

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: The expedition will be running during the summer months in Mexico, so it will generally be hot and sunny with temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees on most days. Rain generally occurs in periodic downpours in the mid-afternoon, so it is rare that surveys are interrupted by bad weather. Temperatures only drop slightly at night.

Fitness level: Medium. The terrain is relatively flat at most of the terrestrial site, but hilly in the southern camps. You will be walking between 4-8km each day to cover the surveys, and this is more tiring than normal due to the heat. Fitness required for the marine site is relatively low.

Accommodation: Calakmul has shared tents with dry composting toilets and normal or buckets showers although these are not supplied with hot water. There is no phone signal in the reserve and no WIFI connection, only a satellite phone for emergency purposes. Akumal accommodation is in shared bunk beds in dormitory style rooms with shared bathroom and toilet facilities and air conditioning to cool the rooms at night. Shared bathrooms include normal flushing toilets and showers. There is mobile phone signal throughout Akumal and WIFI signal at the dorms and on the beach


  • Mexico
  • Akumal
  • Calakmul

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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