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

The pink dolphin, Inia geoffrensis and grey dolphin, Sotalia fluviatilis are endemic to the Amazon rivers and function as indicator species for the general health of aquatic habitats. Dolphins make an excellent indicator species because they rapidly move out of polluted or degraded habitats and in turn quickly indicate changes in the condition of aquatic systems. Moreover, dolphin abundance directly relates to food supply and thus dolphins can be used to monitor the sustainability of fishing by local communities. The dolphins are also easy to count and observe since they frequently surface, are large-bodied and very distinctive. The river dolphin population in the Pacaya-Samiria has been monitored for several years using fixed-width transects along rivers, lakes and channels via small boats. During these surveys, all dolphin encounters are recorded noting the species, number of individuals, habitat in which the dolphins were seen and the dolphin behaviour. Dissertation topics could examine the health of the aquatic systems in the Peruvian Amazon by evaluating population trends of the two species of river dolphin over time, or could focus on habitat, behaviour and group size differences between the two species. Dissertations could also incorporate the long-term fish monitoring dataset to investigate changes to dolphin abundance over time in relation to changing fish stocks.

Extended Dissertation Summary

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).

  • Develop an independent research project and write a formal proposal
  • Complete a week-long training course on Amazonian biogeography and ecology
  • Visit a local Cocama village and learn more about Cocama culture
  • Work with local Peruvian staff and learn some basic Spanish
  • Visit a manatee rescue centre and learn more about grassroot conservation programme
  • Learn to identify the two dolphin species present Inia geoffrensis and Sotalia fluviatilis
  • Learn to identify key behaviours of the dolphins such as feeding and resting
  • Learn how to organise and analyse large data sets
  • Opwall fee
  • Cost of international flights in to and out of Iquitos.
  • Cost of internal travel – which includes transport to and from the start and end points of the expedition, plus any hotels you might require. This costs around £143 or $207 on average. Extra nights’ accommodation in Iquitos costs around £23 or $33.
  • Park entrance fees – £22 or $32.
  • Vaccinations and prophylactic medicines – cost can vary depending on your healthcare provider.
  • All prices in GBP or USD unless specified.

 

Climate
The temperature varies very little in the area where we are based in Peru. It averages between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius (70 and 90 Fahrenheit). The humidity will usually always be over 75%, which can make it feel quite hot and sticky. During the evenings, the temperature drops and it can feel much cooler but still usually stays around 20 degrees.

Fitness level required
Low. This survey is purely boat based and will therefore not be physically demanding.

Creature comforts
Facilities in Peru are on a research boat where you will sleep in bunk beds in a shared cabin. The bathroom is also shared and you can expect hand flushed toilets and cold showers. You will have no cell phone signal or wifi.

Locations

  • Peru
  • Rio Amazonas and the historical river boats

Want to get involved with this project?

Preparation

Want to get involved with this project?

Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4EX, UK
| +44 (0) 1790 763194 | info@opwall.com