Location: Utila, North Honduras
Duration: Minimum 3 weeks, maximum 6 months
Start Dates: Project is open from February to September – exact start dates are flexible.
Cost: from $1,050 USD for the first 3 weeks – see ‘Costs’ tab for further details
- Work closely with resident scientists and support staff to develop and implement initiatives.
- Hands-on fieldwork, monitoring, observation and data analysis.
- Ideal for those studying entomology, zoology, ecology, conservation.
- Opportunities for individual dissertation research projects.
- Keywords: wildlife research and conservation, professional conservation work, environmental education, zoology, biology.
During your time at our project, you will be undertaking field research projects on Utila. You are able to get involved in all on-going projects listed in the following tab, however it is also possible to concentrate on one specific project. You will learn all of the required skills to participate in the research once on the project, maximising your time in the field.
The whole expedition is flexible, and you can decide exactly what interests you most. There are also opportunities for individual research supervised by our in-house team. We will help you design and implement your own personal research for your thesis.
There is also plenty of opportunity to schedule in some time off from research, so that you can enjoy the other activities that Utila has to offer, for example scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking.
The primary goal of this study is to identify the species present in Utila. There have been over 100 species reported on the Honduran mainland however there have never been any studies of the bat population of these unique Caribbean islands.
Bats play a crucial role in the pollination of neo-tropical plants and are also extremely important in forest regeneration through seed dispersal. They are also important natural controllers of the insect populations, many of which are responsible for disease transmission.
Previous research has shown that 50% of all endangered species of bats are island dwelling. Island bats are the source of considerable concern for conservation as they are essential to the health of the natural world. Unfortunately few people appreciate the importance of bats and many do not distinguish between the ‘vampire bat’ and other species, often resulting in wanton destruction of shelters and unnecessary pursuit of these beneficial and harmless animals. Bat reproductive rate is low compared to mammals of similar size so populations are slow to recover from losses.
Identifying the species present is the first step in understanding these mammals’ role in the island’s eco-systems and evaluating any threats present to them. The conservation of these fascinating creatures requires public education, so as well as the fieldwork, this project also includes developing our Bat Educational Outreach program for the schools and local community.
Utila spiny-tailed iguanas, (Ctenosaura bakeri) are endemic to the island of Utila. This species has been listed as critically endangered, mainly due to its limited geographic range, increased habitat changes and destruction as well as over-harvesting of adults and eggs.
This highly threatened species has been the focus of many conservation initiatives, including a captive breeding program and education program for schools. Despite all these efforts the population is still in decline. Utila has experienced extensive development associated with the tourist industry, threatening native species through habitat destruction, pollution and the introduction of invasive mammals and plants. This development has had a dramatic effect on the beach and mangrove areas, as these are the most residentially desirable. Unfortunately these areas are also the nesting grounds and daily use areas for C. bakeri.
Another serious threat is the ongoing hunting for the iguana as a source of protein, a practice for many generations on Utila. Unfortunately while it is illegal to hunt the C. bakeri there is no active means of protection or enforcement.
Very little is known concerning the basic biology of this species. The primary aims of this project are to examine:
• Sexual size dimorphism across the islands.
• Differences in demography throughout the islands and across the study period.
• Differences in body condition index across sites and years.
• Habitat use.
This information is vital in understanding the status of the species and in the construction of a comprehensive conservation and management plan.
Iguanas will be caught measurements taken, transects will also be walked by scientists and volunteers to estimate abundance. DNA samples will be taken from the Iguanas for a hybridization study at a university in the UK. These projects are in conjunction with the IUCN Iguana Specialist Group.
Entomology Biodiversity Research
The entomology fauna of Utila is very poorly known. Therefore there is a real need to identify areas of high insect diversity. The knowledge of insect diversity will helps us define which areas of Utila should be protected. The island is being deforested at a rapid pace to make room for the construction of homes, hotels and roads. By protecting the forests we are also able to protect other species that depend on this habitat and avoid the type of unsustainable tourism that is threatening the fauna and flora of Utila.
This study aims to understand the theory of island biogeography, dealing with the distribution and abundance of species on an island. The value of insects as experimental animals provides an excellent window to understand how different populations, species, ecosystems and landscapes respond to inevitable changes.
Pollination is a widely understudied topic in Central America. Habitats are being continually fragmented at a rapid rate. Island populations are incredibly different from main land populations and the aim of the current study will be to determine what species of hymenoptera are here on the beautiful island of Utila, with Orchid Bees being the main focus. Volunteers will get a chance to run around with insect nets, catching up all the hymenoptera they can find! They will also learn different entomological preservation techniques and some different types of traps for various insects.
Field assistant activities will include helping set up and empty insect pitfall, daily checking of the traps, insect catching, insect preservation and identification.
13 species of snake have been reported on Utila, however apart from these reports, no other research work has been done to determine whether or not other species are present on the island and whether all previously reported species are still present. There is also a gap in our knowledge as to where each species can be found on the island. It is important to investigate this to assess the possible impacts of the extensive development currently taking place on Utila. If some species that occur are particularly rare, it could take only minor development of a small area of the island to eradicate the population. Establishing more concretely which species occur on the island and where each of these populations can be found will be the primary aim of the study.
It is important these populations of species are identified and distributions mapped to prevent any catastrophic loss of snake diversity on the island. Plotting the distribution and abundance of various species across the island is a primary research focus with the resulting maps being invaluable for considerate future development. This will be done through methodical and systemized searches within predetermined sections of different habitats helping us to determine species habitat preferences
Utila has very little in the way of true map resources. Therefore a new project has been launched to map the island using GIS software and tools. The aim of this project is to produce a map with several different layers. The main layer will be a general map of the physical island, detailing paths, tracks and sites of general interest. These maps will be made available online and accessible to the general public.
The other layers will hold more detailed information such as species’ locations and locations of various study sites. This is environmentally sensitive information and will only be available to people with a legitimate reason after a formal request and will be used to further aid current and future research projects on the flora and fauna of Utila. This project is currently on hold, but may restart again in the near future.
Environmental Education Project
Tourism is exploding on Utila, bringing much-needed income to maintain and improve the island’s infrastructure and social institutions. Unfortunately, it also creates a high potential for tourism development to take on socially and environmentally unsustainable practices.
This project aims to enhance existing science education on Utila, engage students in environmental conservation and hopefully inspire the future generation of working Utilans to protect their local ecosystems while developing tourism and other industries responsibly. Increasing the awareness of the youngest generations about conservation issued on the island could contribute to an improvement of general behaviours and attitudes of all islanders towards their environment.
We will also provide opportunities for students to work with Kanahau scientists and develop research skills that may help them secure employment in the future
The project will be delivered in collaboration with other NGOs present in the island (BICA, WSORC, Iguana station) to provide a fully comprehensive environmental program.
Researchers are those wishing to conduct their own studies and already have a project to propose.
We can provide support and expertise for a whole host of projects from areas such as education programmes to genetics and radio telemetry. If you are looking for a research project but need some ideas, please contact us; please keep in mind that projects different from what we are currently running have the additional cost of issuing the research permit.
Interns are those wishing to assist on all current projects. You will get a taste of each study and aid in data collection of different types, broadening your field research experience.
You do not need to have prior experience to join this programme, you will be trained in research methodologies, receive lectures on island flora and flora and assist researchers in the field as well as take part in the education and community outreach programmes, forming a well rounded conservation experience.
Travel & Accom.
You will be living in shared accommodations at the research centre, 2-3 people per room with a shared bathroom. There is a communal kitchen and three basic meals a day are included in the project fee.
The island of Utila is a modern diving mecca and if you would like to do some diving or a PADI dive course we can arrange this for you too (we get discounted rates) and schedule it into your stay with us. We can also arrange trips to the mainland to go river rafting in La Ceiba, visit national parks and expeditions into the Moskitia Jungle. If you are interested in either the diving or visiting the mainland please indicate this when booking with us.
- Minimum age 18.
- Minimum 3 weeks commitment.
- A good level of general fitness and stamina.
- Determination, self-motivation and ability to work in a team environment.
- Must be of sound physical health and able to work long hours in a hot climate.
- Good spoken English or Spanish language skills.
- Necessary Flights, Visas, Vaccinations, Insurance – Assistance available with Premium Support
* Places are secured with a 50% deposit. The balance is due 6 weeks prior to your arrival.
** All payments incur a 5% bank transfer fee.
Researcher/Dissertation Student $350 per week for the first three weeks and $300 for any additional week.
If you would like to conduct your own research on topics that we do not cover, we can facilitate the process of obtaining a research permit. This can be very time consuming so keep this in mind when applying. The added costs for a permit to be issues is of $825.
Project Fee includes all food, accommodation, in-country support, project activities and research support.
What’s Not included
Flights, insurance, airport pickup, ferry costs, visas (if applicable) and vaccinations. Full assistance will be provided in getting all these arranged if you choose our Premium Support.
If conducting your own study you will need to apply for a special permit. It is possible to apply for it yourself, however it can take several months and you will need to travel to the capital several times, requiring a lot of time and effort. Alternatively we can arrange this for an extra fee – please contact us for further information.
Premium Support Upgrade
We understand there’s a great deal to plan and organise for your trip. When booking a Placement, many of our participants choose to purchase our Premium Support Upgrade to benefit from the expertise, knowledge and experience of our Project Coordinators. We can provide the personal advice you need to ensure your trip is organised with excellence and planned with efficiency; ensuring the very best experience possible. Read more about how we can help you.
Note: Map coordinates are approximate