Guyana - School Expeditions - Operation Wallacea

Guyana – School Expeditions

Guyana Schools Booklet 2017

You can also find another film produced by Joshua See from Royal Ontario museum here.

Kind Edwards School, Birmingham put together a fantastic photobook from their Guyana school expedition. You can find that here.

Research Objectives

The Guyana research project is run in the heart of the vast Guiana Shield forests that make up Northern South America. This 2-week expedition gives students the opportunity to see much of the stunning wildlife of the Guiana Shield and to help with data collection for a biodiversity assessment survey. The Guyana expedition takes students into the heart of one of the last strongholds of intact tropical rainforest left on the planet.

Preservation of rainforests is a matter of ensuring that surrounding communities can have a financial benefit from conservation of the forests. This is the basis of many of the REDD+ type data collection monitoring projects being run by Opwall (e.g. Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico) where funds are raised through preservation of the carbon content of the forests. However, an alternative approach is to sustainably exploit the timber in the forest using a Reduced Impact Logging protocol developed by the Iwokrama International Center for Rainforest and Development so that conservation can pay for itself and communities can have financial benefits, while the biodiversity of the forest can be maintained. Just under half of the Iwokrama Forest Reserve has been designated for sustainable use.

Within this area a 60 year rotation has been agreed where approximately 1% of the trees in the blocks to be logged are removed, with detailed planning, so that the cut and skid trails to remove the timber minimise the impact. This level of cutting for the most part allows the canopy structure and overall age structure of the trees to be maintained even in the harvested blocks, but since the trees removed are the high value commercial species, it generates substantial income for the local communities. This is a very impressive harvesting system and if it can be demonstrated to have short term and minimal impacts on biodiversity whilst at the same time generating much of the income that would have been achieved from much less sensitive ways of harvesting, then this approach may have much wider applications worldwide. The Opwall teams are helping to provide detailed and verifiable data sets on target biodiversity taxa in the Iwokrama forests both to examine the impacts of selective logging but also to quantify long term changes in the biodiversity of the forests.

The teams will start at the beautiful Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Centre (IRL) situated on the bank of the Essequibo River and after 3 days will travel to one of the field camps in the Iwokrama/Surama forests where they will spend a week completing data collection. During the last few days, the groups will be completing a boat survey along the Burro-Burro River running from Surama Village through the centre of the Iwokrama Forest where there is a chance of encountering large animals such as anacondas, jaguars, and giant river otters.

Structure of the expedition

Part 1 – Training Course on Guiana Shield Forest Ecology and Survey Techniques

The first 3 days of the expedition are based at the Iwokrama Research Centre where the students will be completing a Guiana Shield forest ecology course comprising lectures on Guiana Shield geography and structure, survey methods and how the data are used to describe community structure of key taxa, examples of species likely to be encountered and how Reduced Impact Logging is carried out. Mornings, late afternoons and evening will be taken up with small groups of students joining the biologists demonstrating the survey techniques used to quantify bird communities, bat communities, dung beetle communities, amphibians and reptiles, and abundance of target mammal species (e.g. jaguars, tapirs, brocket deer etc) as well as how to measure forest structure and dynamics. In addition there will be short training sessions on forest survival skills such as how to live in field camps in hammocks, navigation and trekking skills as well as the main risks posed by animals and diseases in the forests and rivers and how to reduce those risks.

Part 2 – Biodiversity Surveys in Forest Camps

For the next 6 days the teams will be based in one of the forest field camps and will be completing the standardised surveys required to quantify the diversity of the various taxa. These sites will either be in areas that have already been selectively logged, are due to be logged, or will never be logged (control sites). These surveys include:

  • Bird surveys: Helping an experienced ornithologist with collecting data from mist net captures from dawn to midday. These surveys use standardised mist net hours help quantify the changes in understory bird communities.  All birds captured are measured, data taken on moult and breeding condition to determine breeding cycles, photographed and coloured rings attached to collect data on movements and longevity of the various species before the birds are released. In addition, soundscape recordings from a series of digital sound recorders at each site are collected and analysed in camp.  The software used for the analysis has been ‘trained’ to recognise many of the Guyana species which allows extensive recordings to be analysed for the presence of these species.  Point counts are also completed by the survey teams to provide comparative data sets.
  • Herpetofauna surveys: Assisting an experienced herpetologist with standard search scan samples for reptiles and amphibians. In the evenings transects will be completed to record the soundscapes and these recordings will be analysed by the herpetologist for amphibian diversity and relative abundance from the calls and by the ornithologist for nocturnal birds.
  • Dung beetle surveys: Helping with installing and emptying baited pit fall trap arrays to quantify the dung beetle communities since these are excellent indicators of forest changes.
  • Large mammal surveys: Helping to check and download data from camera traps that have been left for up to 12 months around the various camps.  The groups are involved in analysis of the images and these data used to assess ground based mammal abundance, including the big cats and herbivores such as tapirs, deer and agouti.  In addition the students will be completing transect surveys to collect data on primate abundance (e.g. Black Spider Monkey, Red Howler Monkey, Wedge-capped Capuchin, White-faced Saki) which will not be sampled by the camera traps.
  • Bat surveys: Mist nets run for standard periods of time are being used to quantify the bat communities. Volunteers who have had their rabies vaccinations will be able to help with processing of the captured bats (identification of the species, photographing each bat, measurements, wing punctures for genetic sampling etc) and their release.  In addition soundscape recordings are completed to assess the bat species flying too high for the mist nets.
  • Forest structure and dynamics surveys: Helping a forest ecologist with quantifying the forest structure (age class structure of trees, amounts of understorey vegetation, sapling regeneration, canopy cover etc) of permanent monitoring plots. These data are re-used to quantify changes in the forest. In some sites though there are no permanent forest plots nearby so these surveys are working on smaller plots and quantifying the forest structure around the surveys sites for different taxa.

Part 3 – River Based Surveys

The last 3 days of the surveys will be spent on a river based survey along the Burro Burro River through the heart of the Iwokrama rainforest to complete annual monitoring of key wildlife indicators to the health of the river. These include Giant River Otters, Arapaima (a type of huge fresh-water fish), Caiman, Anaconda and many species of water birds. The teams will start at Surama village in the savannahs of the North Rupununi. For two days downstream drift surveys will be completed and the wildlife records completed. This is a deep forest experience and the teams will be setting up camp on the river bank in hammocks each night and helping the boat drivers and guides porter the boats around fallen trees. The teams will sleep at camps on the banks of the river each night and on the last day will motor back up to Surama.


The first part of the expedition will be at the Iwokrama River Lodge on the bank of the Essequibo river. Accommodation is in dormitories with communal bathrooms. There is a well equipped research centre with a lecture room and restaurant overlooking the river. The second part of this expedition will be in a remote field camp where accommodation will be in hammocks with bashas and integral mosquito nets. There are temporary field toilets and washing will be done in the rivers, or from a bucket. For the river survey based week the groups will be in hammocks in temporary overnight camps. This is the most remote and toughest of all the expeditions but probably the one with the best sightings of forest based animals.

Travel information

The expeditions start on a Tuesday at 1700hrs at the Iwokrama Research Centre and finish on a Monday at 0800hrs at Surama Village.

Groups need to book international flights to arrive in to Georgetown on the Monday before the expedition starts and to depart Georgetown on the Tuesday after the expedition finishes.

The internal transfer package* between Georgetown Airport and the expedition start and end points will be arranged by our Internal Travel team and is not included in the expedition cost, unless you have chosen a fully inclusive expedition package. Additional guided excursions and day trips to be taken prior to and after your expedition are available upon request.

*Includes airport meet & greet, any required travel and accommodation and full representation.