9 September 2015
Over the summer 14 fifth and sixth form students travelled to Honduras with Mr Dempsey and Mr Taylor to study the endemic fauna of the country's cloud forests and to scuba dive on its coral reefs. Working alongside Operation Wallacea's research scientists the boys had a really hands-on experience, helping to sample and collect snakes, salamanders, bats, birds, beetles and moths. The tough conditions and hard hiking of the forest week were followed by a more relaxed week on Utila island. Here the boys had the privilege of learning to scuba dive and getting up close to dolphins, rays, eels and all the other colourful inhabitants of the reef.
Report by Nicholas Orr Burns:
Situated in Mesoamerica where South America meets the North, Honduras is an interesting country with an amazing diversity of flora and fauna; an ideal place for a Biology field trip (despite the slightly scary travel advice from the foreign office!). This summer a group of us took the chance to visit Honduras to work with an organisation called Operation Wallacea, a network of academics from European and North American universities who have been researching the biodiversity and ecological condition of Honduras’s cloud forests and coral reefs.
Squashed like sardines we travelled deep into the forest in the back of pick-up trucks to a small town located in the buffer zone of Cusuco national park. Buenos Aires is situated at an altitude of about 1,500 meters above sea level and is surrounded by cloud forest. We spent several nights here, living with the locals and familiarising ourselves with bucket showers, re-fried beans and cockroaches. Here we started our field work: getting up early to count birds, conducting detailed habitat surveys to help Operation Wallacea measure the amount of carbon locked in the forest, heading out on night walks to see snakes, salamanders, frogs, tarantulas and bats. Working with the scientists allowed us to get much closer to the animals (measuring parrot snakes, weighing vampire bats, pulling hummingbirds out of mist nets and swabbing salamanders for Chytrid fungus!). We also did an exciting canopy access course which allowed us to climb our way to the top of a 30 meter high tree and view the forest in all its glory.
We spent the second half of that week much deeper in the forest, trekking for several hours to reach the Capuca satellite camp, a small, never-used-before camp in the middle of the core zone (where development is prohibited) at an altitude of 2,100 meters. Thanks to the unique type of cloud forest found on the mountains of the Cusuco national park there are many interesting plants and animals to see that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The mud in camp was horrendous, and soon everything was filthy, but the opportunity to find unusual, endemic species in this patch of cloud forest was worth it. Giant dung beetles, enormous Atlas moths, pit vipers and jewel scarab beetles. This was certainly the hardest part of our trip, but the experience was amazing.
The second week of our trip was spent on the small Caribbean island of Utila, where we stayed in a dive research centre. This week was spent scuba diving and studying Caribbean reef ecology, learning how to identify fish and coral and finding out about their importance in the reef’s ecosystem. Being 18m underwater is a really unique experience, affording the time to get up close to all sorts of weird animals, from giant fan corals to viscous looking 8ft moray eels. There were many successful sightings on the reef, a few of us were lucky enough to get close to a whale shark or swim with a pod of spinner dolphins, and there were a seemingly endless variety of brilliantly coloured angel fish. This week was thoroughly enjoyed by all and made for a great ending to a great trip.
On behalf of the boys, I would like to thank the Mr Dempsey and Mr Taylor for making this such an enjoyable and unforgettable trip!