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

Structure of the expedition

During the two weeks 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 late June until August are in the low water season (water levels falling from June to August). During their two weeks in the Amazon the students will be undertaking two main tasks: helping with the biodiversity surveys and completing an Amazonian wildlife and conservation course.

Weeks 1 & 2 – Yarapa river

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

  • 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.
  • Understorey birds: Standard length mist nets are set at replicate sites in a range of habitats (riverine forest, closed canopy forest, levees, liana forest, palm forest). All birds captured are identified and measured. Catch per unit effort data are compared between years to identify population trends.
  • 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 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 are 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, 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 Amazonian forests of Loreto, Peru are situated in the western Amazon basin and harbour some of the greatest mammalian, avian, floral and fish diversity on Earth. Operation Wallacea is joining a series of projects in this area that have been running since 1984 organised by FundAmazonia and various conservation groups, universities and government agencies. The vision of these projects is to set up long-term biodiversity conservation using a combination of community-based and protected area strategies. The research and conservation activities use an interdisciplinary approach to find a balance between the needs of the indigenous people and the conservation of the animals and plants.

The project is based in the 50,000 km2 Samiria-Yavari landscape as defined by the Wildlife Conservation Society and includes the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, the Yarapa river, theTamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve, the Yavari-Miri river and the Lago Preto Conservation Concession – see https://peru.wcs.org/en-us/Wild-Places/Mara%C3%B1%C3%B3n-Ucayali.aspx.

Our partners are working in all these areas and are establishing long term data sets on annual changes in key taxa from the Pacaya-Samiria reserve, Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve and the Lago Preto Concession.  In 2019 our partners would like the Opwall teams to establish a new long term data set but this time concentrating on the Yarapa river site, and will continue with the annual monitoring in previous locations.  As a result of this development, long term biodiversity data from 4 separate varzea and terra firma areas across the landscape will be available to compare how biodiversity is changing across the whole region.

The Yarapa study site will be on the landmass that connects the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve. These two protected areas almost touch each other, and the flooded forest habitat at the Yarapa site consists of varzea habitat with riverine, open understory, levee, liana, palm swamp and tree falls. These are high nutrient ecosystems with heavy sediment water flowing through the understory during the high-water season.

The flooded forests (várzea) of this landscape are particularly susceptible to global climate change which appears to be increasing the frequency of extreme flooding events and low water periods. During the height of the annual floods, much of the varzea area is flooded, but this can be as high as 98% in extreme flooding events, confining land-based mammals (agouti, deer, peccaries, armadillos and tapir) to small areas of land and thereby significantly impacting their population levels. In times of extreme low water, fish populations and their associated predators (dolphins, river birds and caimans) are under stress. The datasets managed by Fund Amazonia for this landscape, which is based on the annual surveys completed by the Opwall teams and others, are the most extensive in any of the Peruvian reserves and is showing the impact of global climate change on a range of taxa and on the livelihoods of indigenous people. This information is being used to make management decisions for the reserves and policy decisions for conserving the Peruvian Amazon including hunting quotas for the indigenous communities (see https://fundamazonia.org/peccary-pelt-certification.html).

  • Attend lectures/workshops on Amazonian biogeography and conservation
  • Learn survey methods to sample fish, dolphins, caiman, wading birds, macaws, understorey birds, 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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