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

Structure of the expedition

During the one week of this Amazonian expedition the students will be based on research ships in the Yarapa river varzea forests which lie between the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve and the Tamshiyacu Community Reserve and is a truly exceptional wilderness area. There are two main objectives of the research programme;

  • To collect data on the sustainability of forest resource use by the indigenous people
  • To provide information on the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance in the Amazon.

The second objective will be made possible by developing long-term datasets at this new site that are gathered using standardised methods and effort as has already been completed for many years in the Pacaya-Samiria and Lago Preto reserves within this same landscape. Having data from three different sites across the Samiria-Yavari landscape will enable trends in the varzea forests in different parts of the landscape to be compared. Flooded forests are more sensitive to climate change than non-flooded forests, because very high water levels reduce the amount of dry land available to around 2% thereby affecting population levels of species such as agouti, deer and peccaries, whilst very low water levels cause problems for the fish populations and consequently dolphins.

Dolphins, wading birds and fishing bats are being used as indicators of the aquatic hydroscape. Macaws, small primates and understorey birds are used as indicators of the terrestrial landscape. Fish are used as indicators of the impact of fisheries, primates and other terrestrial wildlife as indicators of wildlife management of bushmeat, caimans as indicators of the recovery of species after excessive overhunting and turtles as indicators of intensive restocking management.

Expeditions from December to March are in the high water season, and expedition from April to November are in the low water season. During their week in the Amazon the students will be undertaking two main tasks: helping with the biodiversity surveys and completing an Amazonian wildlife and conservation course.

One Week Itinerary

Students will be split into small groups and will have the opportunity to take part in some of the following research projects over the course of the week. Each student will be expected to join one of the morning and one of the afternoon/evening activities alongside assisting with data entry.

Please be aware, the specific surveys students undertake on-site will vary depending on water-levels and weather conditions. The list below gives an indication as to some of the surveys students will take part in. Some years we have visiting academics and external scientists who will carry out additional surveys not listed below e.g. entomological surveys.

  • Primates, large mammals and game birds: Distance based survey transects will be completed by the students for these groups along 2 – 3 km trails. The method and theories behind DISTANCE sampling will be explained to students and they will be taught how to recognise different species and the main identification features. These data are then combined with the camera trap data to estimate abundance of the main species and using time-space analyses to estimate densities. The density data are then used to calculate whether hunting levels are sustainable.
  • Macaw Surveys: Boat based point counts are used to monitor macaws with each sampling site separated by 500m. Fifteen minutes will be spent at each point with censuses carried out twice a day. Within the fifteen minute counts, all macaw species either perched or flying are noted and the time of observation and distances of the birds from the observer estimated.
  • Wading bird surveys: These surveys include 5km river transects divided into 500m subsections where all river edge bird species are recorded. Line transects are conducted along the river for 5km where all shore bird species are recorded. The abundance of bird species is calculated and is used as an indicator of the aquatic ecosystem, especially fish production.
  • River Dolphin transects: 5km transects at each site are travelled downstream using a boat with the engine turned off or set at minimum. Information collected on sightings includes: species, group size, group composition, behaviour (travelling, fishing, resting, playing), time and position at first sighting. During these surveys students will be taught how to record the distribution and behaviour of both pink and grey river dolphins. Expeditions later in the survey season (depending on water levels being low enough) may also include turtle monitoring. The turtle monitoring method consists of registering the number of individuals sighted, either sunbathing or swimming. Students will be taught how to differentiate between the two turtle species found in the reserve.
  • Fish surveys: Students will be able to work with a team who are setting standard gill nets to quantify the catch per unit effort (CUPE) experienced by the Cocama Indians. The students will learn how gill-net surveys are implemented and will help with measuring, weighing and identifying all fish captured. They will also take part in surveys using fishing lines.
  • Butterfly and moth surveys: This is a new project using standardised baited catch-and-release traps. Students will learn how to set-up the traps and handle butterflies and moths. The diversity of butterflies and moths along transects and in different forest types will be examined.
  • Habitat surveys: These surveys are designed to produce quantitative data on the various forest habitats (size structure and biomass of trees, levels of light penetration and ground vegetation, regeneration rates).
  • Night time caiman surveys: This survey involves spotlight surveys of the river after dark to locate and identify caiman species in order to estimate population size and distributions. Noosing is sometimes used to capture caiman to obtain data on morphological measurements, sex and age.
  • Fishing Bat surveys: This river survey involves travelling along the river for a 1hr period during dusk recording the number of fishing bats seen flying over the river. The students will also use a batbox (ultrasonic bat detector) to help detect and identify the bats.
  • Night-time amphibian floating meadow surveys: An auxiliary boat is driven into a raft of floating vegetation and students spend 15 minutes searching for amphibians within 2m around the boat. Upon detection individuals may sometimes be captured and morphological measurements taken. Amphibian species are used as biological indicators and the survey identifies species using the floating vegetation as breeding platforms.

Amazonian Wildlife and Conservation course

The students will also be completing an Amazonian Wildlife and Conservation course, which comprises of lectures and related activities/discussions on Amazon geography and biodiversity, flooded forest and upland forest ecology, conservation strategies in the Amazon, survey methods, Samiria-Yavari landscape birds, mammals of the Samiria-Yavari landscape, Amazonian fish, amphibians and reptiles, wildlife monitoring and calculating sustainable hunting levels, and examples of best practice conservation management in the Amazon. During the course the students will also get the opportunity to visit an indigenous Cocama community.

Peru - Amazonian Research Objectives

The primary study site is an area of seasonally flooded forest that connects the Pacaya-Samira National Reserve and the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve. Surveys are conducted in the forest and white-water systems of the Lower Yarapa River from the confluence with the Amazon upriver towards its origin in the Ucayali river. A secondary field site extends from a base within an Amazonian community in the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Community Reserve, surveying the black water system of the Tahuayo River and surrounding forests. The overarching goal of this project is to help conserve the Peruvian Amazon through field research that provides the science base for biodiversity conservation. Community-based conservation dominates the landscape of the western Amazon with large community-based reserves, community co-managed reserves and indigenous territories covering 98,800km². Opwall teams work closely with local communities, with particular areas of focus studying sustainable use of fish and bushmeat to support community management, and monitoring the recovery of endangered species such as giant river otter and jaguar populations. The flooded forests (várzea) of this area are particularly susceptible to global climate change which appears to be increasing the frequency of extreme flooding events and low water periods. Research will be conducted into how wildlife and people have been impacted by recent historic floods and droughts, especially in the flooded forests where effects have been devastating for terrestrial mammals, such as tapir, peccaries, armadillos and large rodents. Opwall teams contribute to one of the most extensive datasets in the Amazon and this information, managed by our Peruvian partners Fund Amazonia, is showing the impact of climate change on a range of taxa and on the livelihoods of indigenous people. It is being used to inform management decisions for community reserves and protected areas, and policy decisions for conserving the Peruvian Amazon.

  • Attend lectures/workshops on Amazonian biogeography and conservation
  • Learn survey methods to sample fish, dolphins, caiman, wading birds, macaws, bats, butterflies, large mammals and game birds
  • Visit a local Cocama village and learn more about Cocama culture
  • Work with local Peruvian staff and learn some basic Spanish
  • Participate in an Amazonian ecology course
  • Visit a manatee rescue centre and learn more about grassroot conservation programmes

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.


  • Peru
  • Rio Amazonas and the historical river boats

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Want to get involved with this project?

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