Planning for this incredible adventure started about two and a half years ago, so to see it finally happen, and with such success, was amazing. The exhibition was run by Operation Wallacea, a registered conservation charity who have been working in Honduras for over 15 years, ensuring that the students experienced first-hand what environmental conservation is like. Many of our students are progressing to university to study Biology, Geography or related courses and spending time with research scientists in the field gave them a real insight into where this could lead them in future.
The first week was spent in Cusuco National Park. Students contributed to the conservation effort by conducting habitat and biodiversity surveys. The most important of the captured data was the carbon capture data, which enables scientists to calculate the amount carbon that is stored in the forest. This then equates to carbon credits, a sort of currency that polluting multi-national companies have purchase in an effort to become carbon neutral. This in turn will put money back into Cusuco National Park -listed in the top 50 most irreplaceable forest sites in the world- so that it can be properly protected in future.
In addition, the students undertook many different surveys that looked at the biodiversity in the forest. Because of the forest’s altitude, the species that live there are geologically isolated from other areas within Honduras. This means that the species in the forest have been evolving separately, leading to a high number of endemic species, found nowhere else in the world. These species need preserving, a task that can only be tackled if scientists can prove which species are there. To this end, the students carried out a range of surveys to capture data regarding the biodiversity of the forest’s fauna. They used mist nets to trap, measure, weigh and release birds and bats, light trapping to capture and record moths and pitfall traps to capture dung beetles which are good indicators of the health of the ecosystem. In addition they recorded all reptiles and amphibians they came across, which intriguingly included a species of snake which was unknown to the region and couldn’t be identified by the herpetology expert on site. The possibility that this could be a new species unknown to science is very exciting.
For those who favoured heights, students took to the trees in canopy access training with a company that took Sir David Attenborough himself into the rooftop of the forest. This took them high into the canopy in harnesses and was a truly jaw-dropping experience. Indeed, each day was a brand new and varied experience, with each activity providing a new skill or area of knowledge.
The students lived in two camps during their time in the forest. One was located deep in the core zone, which was in ancient primary cloud forest. Here the students had to live at one with nature, an experience that included showering in waterfalls. However, the importance of the conservation efforts hit home when the students were saddened to hear chainsaws in the distance- the reality that this park is currently protected ‘on paper’ only, became shockingly clear.
Week one could have stood alone as an experience of a lifetime, but the students were lucky enough to then spend their second week on an island off of the Caribbean coast called Roatan. Here they were able to learn in more depth about coral reef ecology and conservation. During their time they contributed to the coral watch survey to see the amount of bleaching and damage to the corals, while learning how to assess the reef.
Snorkelling and scuba diving brought the students up close to the wildlife they were there to protect. As the students stayed in a very well protected marine zone, they were amongst an incredible variety of wildlife, swimming with green turtles, hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays and a myriad of colourful coral reef fish during their time on Roatan. “It felt like being a child again,” began Lowenna Bradley, Programme Team Leader for science. “From the moment I looked into the water there was so much to see that was completely new to me… but throughout the course of the week we gained the knowledge and scientific vocabulary to describe what we saw and to identify individual species.”
“The students were amazing,” added Lowenna. “They got so much out of the trip. We are so proud of them. They grew a lot, not just in terms of the scientific understanding of the conservation effort but also in terms of their own personal development.”
Some of the students fundraised before the trip to help with trip costs, such as a Honduran themed evening at Spires. These fundraising efforts won them a bursary of £1000 towards the trip. This money could have been spent on anything for the trip but the students very kindly donated one third of it to the local school in Honduras which they visited during their stay.
It was clear to all that the trip was a monumental success, with everyone returning home with enough stories to last the year. We hope to continue these trips, available to students at Truro, Penwith and Callywith College, every year as they are an incredible opportunity to those interested in STEM and Biology in particular.