Undergrad Research Assistants
Forest training courses
HM001 Jungle Survival and Neo-tropical Forest Ecology (Weeks 1 – 7)
This one week course is a requirement for all research assistant and dissertation students who will be working in any of the forest sites. The course takes one week and comprises of two sections of three days each. The first section involves a series of lectures and practical exercises to provide an introduction to tropical forest ecology, conservation biology and biodiversity monitoring techniques for flora and fauna. The second section of the course involves trekking to and camping in a number of different forest locations. The course teaches participants basic jungle survival skills, such as how to select a suitable camp site with minimum impact on the environment, where to find food and water in the forest, how to build natural shelters and orientation skills. By the end of the week-long course, students will understand the research aims of the expedition, the ecology of the key taxa we are monitoring, be trained in the data collection methods they will use while assisting scientists with data collection and will know how to operate safely and healthily in remote forest areas.
Canopy Access Experience (Weeks 1 – 7; half-day additional course within your normal schedule)
The tropical forest canopy is the richest, least explored and most threatened habitat on the surface of the planet, providing a home to 40% of all life on earth. It is an incredibly beautiful and dynamic place but due to its inaccessibility, remains almost completely unexplored. Canopy Access Limited, the team that helped David Attenborough ascend into the canopy for Life of Mammals, Life in the Undergrowth and Planet Earth series, will be on site to provide access to the canopy for the science teams two days a week. For the rest of the time, the team will be at Base Camp running a half-day course on safe ascent into the canopy. Students opting to complete this course will do so during their time in Base Camp (most likely during their first week on site). This course carries an additional cost of $145 and gives you the opportunity to ascend high up into the canopy. You do not need to choose the Canopy Access Experience as one of your options when booking with Opwall – you can do this as an optional extra as part of your weeks on site. However, you will need to pre-book with Canopy Access Limited no later than 31 May in order to guarantee your place on the course. Please complete the online booking form to register for the Canopy Access Experience.
Marine training courses
HU004 Utila PADI Open Water Dive Training (Weeks 1 – 9)
HT005 Tela PADI Open Water Dive Training (Weeks 4 – 9)
This one-week course is a prerequisite to any diving project. Open Water dive training is free to Operation Wallacea volunteers except for the costs of the PADI registration card and the Open Water Crew Pack, both of which you need to bring with you. Completion of this course will give you an internationally recognised diving qualification and enable you to join general diving projects accompanied by a Divemaster. The course can be done on Utila (HU004), or at Tela (HT005).
Additional Dive Training (Weeks 1 – 9)
Additional dive training beyond Open Water level is available on Utila and can be fitted around your work on other projects so you do not need to specify the additional courses on your options list. Courses include Advanced Open Water Diver ($220), Emergency First Response ($150) or Rescue Diver ($400 – includes Emergency First Response). Note that these extra courses may not be available at all times and enrolment may depend on the number of people wanting the training.
HU006 Utila Divemaster Training (Weeks 1 – 4)
Divemaster training is available free to Operation Wallacea volunteers, but you have to set aside 4 weeks, and will complete your internship during that time. If you complete your DM training with Opwall then in future years you will be given the first option on available DM slots available at Opwall marine sites. Before booking this course you need to be a Rescue Diver and have at least 60 logged dives.
HU007 Utila Caribbean Reef Ecology (Weeks 1 – 9)
HT008 Tela Coastal Ecology (Weeks 4- 9: you need to be dive trained if you intend to dive for the practical elements of this course)
This one-week course is a prerequisite for joining many of the reef research projects and is free for Operation Wallacea volunteers. The course teaches identification of common genera and species of coral and other macro-invertebrates, identification of the major reef-associated fish families and common species and introduces a variety of methods and practices used for scientific research in the marine environment.
HM015 Expedition Medicine Experiential Course for Pre-Meds (Weeks 1 – 8)
This 4-week option in Honduras is aimed at giving Pre-Med students the opportunity to experience how to provide medical support to teams working on expeditions in remote areas. The first 3 weeks of the course are run in the Cusuco National Park cloud forest with the last week at the marine research centre on Utila Island. The Expedition Medicine experiential course provides formal teaching in the form of interactive lectures (core knowledge) coupled with mentorship by doctors working out in the field in various sites to gain experience in clinical diagnosis and treatment. The mentors will provide individual assessments for each of the students at the end of the placement. Note the course does not provide training in expedition medicine that can then be used as a qualification to practice expedition medicine. During week 1, the group complete the Jungle Survival and Neotropical Forest Ecology course so that they are accustomed to the forest conditions and the type of research being conducted. In week 2 the group will complete a training course in expedition medicine which will cover pre-expedition planning (eg how to identify risks, developing emergency evacuation plans), medical emergencies and trauma in the field (anaphylaxis, asthma, diabetic emergencies, heat & dehydration, gastroenteritis and hygiene), tropical infections (eg malaria, rabies, dengue fever and DHF), and snake bite and envenomation procedures. In week 3, the experiential medical students will be spread amongst the various core and buffer zone research camps in Cusuco Park in pairs to work alongside the medic at each of the sites. Generally, from a medical viewpoint there is not too much to do at these camps, so most of the time will be spent helping on the biodiversity surveys including emptying dung beetle pitfall traps, helping with point counts for birds, standard search times and spotlighting for reptiles and amphibians, tapir transects, etc. In week 4, the group will move to Utila Island where they will be completing a PADI Open Water dive training course or doing the Caribbean reef ecology course if already qualified. During this week, they will have the chance to visit a hyperbaric chamber.
HM101 Monitoring Biodiversity Change (Weeks 2- 8; need to have completed HM001)
This option is usually based in one of the remote field camps where you will be living in hammocks or tents and involves a lot of trekking over the steep terrain of Cusuco. Operation Wallacea has established an annual monitoring programme for the Cusuco National Park that includes standardised monitoring of a number of taxa from 145 sites across the Park to assess changes in the structure of the forest and how these changes are impacting the target taxa (dung beetles, Sphingidae and Saturnidae moths, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and large mammals). These monitoring data are combined with analysis of satellite imagery to produce an annual ‘State of the Cusuco National Park’ report. Volunteers can do multiple weeks of this option, which gives the opportunity to visit camps at different altitudes where the fauna are very different. Activities include helping to set up and empty invertebrate pitfall traps, light traps, performing timed searches for herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians), and point counts and mist netting for birds. In addition in any one of the field camps there will be some of the specialist scientists studies ongoing each week. These studies include projects such as the role of altitude and rainfall on leaf formation, completing inventories of dung beetle species, examining invertebrate communities in bromeliads and collecting data on the total diversity of invertebrates using DNA bar coding of samples from flight intercept traps set at different points around the Park and in the canopy. Other teams are looking at infection rates of chytrid fungus – a disease that has decimated amphibian populations elsewhere – in these tiny mountain top amphibian communities to determine the best strategy for their conservation. There are additional teams working on the trophic ecology of small mammals, running camera traps for large mammal surveys and mist netting bats to describe community structure, so there are always plenty of projects needing help. Note if you are only doing one week of this option then you would be based in one of the closer camps but if you are doing 3 or more weeks of this option then you would be helping with the teams trekking right across the whole Park.
HU105 Reef fish and benthic communities of Utila reefs (weeks 2- 9)
HT106 Reef fish and benthic communities of Tela reefs (weeks 4- 9)
(need to have completed the reef ecology course HU007 or HT008 and be dive trained)
Operation Wallacea has been conducting an annual monitoring program of the reefs around Utila for the last few years using the standardised Underwater Visual Census technique. This technique involves trained surveyors counting fish within an imaginary box 2.5m above the transect tape and 2.5m either side. However, this technique has a number of drawbacks: it relies on the surveyor’s ability to accurately identify fish encountered which varies annually, there is no record of the counts other than the documented numbers and the size estimates of all fish encountered are estimated and is very approximate with errors as high as 50%. In 2011, Operation Wallacea introduced surveys using a stereo video system developed by the University of Western Australia on Utila and in 2014 these surveys are being extended to the coastal reefs at Tela. This system allows surveyors to swim along the transects and video the fish encountered. Then in the lab, by playing back the two video images on a single computer screen using specialist software, not only can the images be freeze-framed to accurately identify all fish encountered, but also size estimation can be done to below 4% error. Benthic communities are surveyed by laying 50m tapes along depth contours and a surveyor swims along the tape holding it in his left had and filming with the tape and adjacent corals with a video. Coral cover and community structure of hard and soft corals are then assessed from lab based analysis of the video footage using the continuous method. In addition, invertebrate belt transects are used to monitor the populations of key species including sea urchins.Volunteers on this project will be helping with laying transects, collecting data in the water, and completing the video surveys, but will also be heavily involved in the analysis of the images in the on-site laboratory.
HU107 Research Assistant Pool (based on Utila weeks 2 – 9)
(need to have completed the reef ecology course HU007 or HT008 and be dive trained if you wish to participate in the dive-based projects)
There are several different research projects on Utila, including many at dissertation and thesis level. These projects involve studying a specific element of the marine environment in extensive detail, either through diving, snorkelling or kayaking. Projects include highly detailed coral reef benthic surveys focusing on interspecific interactions, sea urchin and conch distribution and ecology studies, seagrass and mangrove system ecology and several others. All these projects require extensive data collection and research assistants are always needed to assist with this. Research assistants joining this project can volunteer their time to help with projects they are interested in and will gain valuable insights into the specific research topic they cover.