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Operation Wallacea- Mexico
Operation Wallacea Operation Wallacea

Operation Wallacea- Mexico

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    10

Research assistant

Where to begin.... It started in Mexico in 2013 I arrived in Calakmul to spend my first 3 weeks in the forest site before heading to Akumal for another 3 weeks. Calakmul is a amazing site to visit it is a biodiversity hotspot for many mammal, bird and herpetofauna species. The large expanse of forest is home to spider and howler monkeys too. The forest is a special site due to the history and Ancient Mayan Ruin sites found within the forest.
My visit to Calakmul was amazing I saw so many species and learnt a lot about different survey methods and the importance of collecting data for this reserve.
My experience with Opwall and Calakmul has been amazing so much that I returned in 2014 and 2015 as habitat staff and 2017 as volunteer coordinator.
I would recommend this site to anyone who wanted to learn about a wide range of biodiversity.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    10

Operation Wallacea Mexico

Operation Wallacea was an incredible experience and I am honoured to have been apart of such a positive and forward thinking organisation. It taught me valuable skills that i can take forward in both my personal and professional life. Can't wait for my next adventure with Opwall!

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    8

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    9

  • Day to Day Life

    9

Spider monkeys disseration

Opwall provided me with one the best opportunities I could have asked for so I could carry out both a unique and complex dissertation for my undergrad. The support I received from the beginning was great, and in the field, the staff provided me with all the help and assistance I needed.
Opwall offer brilliant opportunities which are fun and rewarding, but most of all, educational. They are a bit pricey, but anyone who is interested in conservation and ecology (no matter your degree pathway), should consider it, the friends and the memories you come home with make it worth it.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    8

  • Program Administration

    7

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    7

  • Health & Safety

    7

  • Day to Day Life

    9

Jungle dissertation

My expedition to the Mexico forest site was absolutely unforgettable.

I spent 6 weeks around some of the most incredible volunteers, staff members, scientists and local people I could have hoped for, which is just what you need to make the expedition perfect. All of the people I worked with were hugely supportive and motivating, just what you need after a long day running around the forest!! A Special shout out to all of the local guides on site who are INCREDIBLE, knowledgable people who can put a smile on your face even through a language barrier!

The two forest sites I visited were both well managed, organised, clean and happy places to study and to enjoy your surroundings. Food was always good in camp, although now spicy food just isn't the same back home!!

Academic support was good before and during the trip, I always felt like I knew what I needed to do or achieve to continue with the research for both myself and for the ongoing conservation efforts.

One of the most important aspects for me, was feeling like I really made a difference to the expedition and conservation as a whole, I was not just a student collecting some data, more a respected member of a team of conservationists.

For me, my opwall expedition was amazing and I really wouldn't have wanted to do my dissertation anywhere else!

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Community Engagement

    7

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    9

An amazing experience

My experience has definitely changed my life! I spent 6 weeks in Mexico, 3 weeks forest, 3 weeks marine. The Forest was definitely my favorite as we had much more freedom and immersion into the culture than the marine site. The forest site offered much more choice and freedom in choosing your daily routine. However, it was an amazing experience and in the grand scheme of things, the marine site was still incredible.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    9

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    9

  • Health & Safety

    8

  • Day to Day Life

    9

4 weeks in Mexico

I feel like I've come away a new person. I've experienced a month so jam packed with new experiences that there is no doubt it was worth the money. From the spider monkeys to the red-eyed tree frogs, learning to scuba dive to being beaten at basketball by local Mexicans, sleeping in a hammock to trekking through the jungle- Operation Wallacea was incredible.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    6

  • Health & Safety

    9

  • Day to Day Life

    8

An unforgettable experience

I took part in the 4 week expedition (2 weeks forest and 2 weeks marine) in Mexico.
The forest site was brilliant in terms of flexibility and variety of projects available to take part in - the staff were also all extremely friendly and approachable. Any issues were quickly taken care of by site managers such as tent leaks, not enough food, etc. The day trip to the Calakmul Ruins were a huge highlight during my time in the jungle.

I was in my element in the marine site. Being a keen diver already, I felt I was really making a difference in helping with the coral reef and working with Jenny was amazing. The majority of the staff there were incredibly helpful and got on well with us students, however, I felt I couldn't approach some of the more senior staff with any issues as it felt like they didn't want to hear about it.
Some issues I had with the marine site included the very late schedules that let us know what we were doing the following day - most nights I was asleep before they went up. The other issue being that I don't believe that we were researching what was advertised when we signed up. Many of us were under the impression we would be doing turtle surveys - which we did not do at all. Instead we helped with coral restoration, which luckily I ended up loving anyway, however it would have been beneficial to know that this is what we would be doing before we arrived.

Overall I had a fantastic experience with Opwall. I met a lot of inspirational people and made some great connections with like-minded people.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    9

  • Program Administration

    7

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    9

  • Day to Day Life

    8

Opwall Mexico 2017

This was a unique and educational insight into conservation, and the importance of monitoring the area and biodiversity within it. We learnt s lot about the calakmul forest, species, surveying techniques and Mayan ecology. We were also given the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive which has opened a lot of doors for me. I have now co sidered conservation as a career option and am looking for similar placements like that of opwall. Highly recommend!

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    9

  • Program Administration

    7

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    8

  • Health & Safety

    8

  • Day to Day Life

    6

Very good overall experience, would both recommend to others and return again

Everything was very good. The only improvements would have been better communication between pre departure departments, and more freedom when on site. More excursions or chances to leave the site. The price of living (e.g. extra transport costs and laundry costs) was expensive and were costs which had not been outlined before arriving on site, many participants felt that they were being a little scammed after paying so much money up front for the trip, and then being asked for further money for extra costs.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    8

  • Program Administration

    6

  • Living Situation

    7

  • Community Engagement

    7

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    9

A thrilling introduction to tropical fieldwork and conservation!

Overall, volunteering with OpWall in Mexico has been one of the greatest things I have done. I would highly recommend going on expedition with them if you are interested in field biology, particularly in the tropics, and want to know whether day-to-day life in the field is for you. And do it early in your university career, don't wait until your last year! This is a fantastic springboard opportunity that allows you to try out working with numerous different groups (bats, birds, large mammals etc.) and find out what you enjoy most. From here, you gain lots of contacts and an idea of what you will want to do more of in the future.
You also feel a great sense of value for the work you do, you are not simply a paying voluntourist. The data can not be collected without the students, and you become fully immersed in the daily organisation of this, leaving with a hearty sense of contribution towards very noble causes. OpWall's data achieve real conservation management changes, and though you are important for their data, in my experience in Mexico you were valued as an individual first.
Your health is prioritised: if you did not feel up to doing a survey you did not have to
Your wants are listened to: you could spend more time doing surveys you enjoy more
You are treated fairly: though likely a newbie, your opinions on logistics and scientific organisation are valued (when given appropriately), and the atmosphere with staff was very relaxed

Criticisms: Mexico is not the best OpWall site for marine research. The local coral biologist Jenny is incredibly hardworking and I gained so much through working with her, however the management staff at the marine site were a massive letdown. The organisation of the schedule is very poor: routine going up late each night for the next day, often changing through the day. Meals immediately before dives so you couldn''t eat much to avoid cramps, and then there would be massive gaps between meals with no snacks. Food is also unhealthy; burgers, chips, pasta, salad... many of us had to buy our own. Situations improved if we brought it up with them, however they were often not keen to hear criticism. Also I have heard from dissertation students that the lack of any scientific advisers for their studies at the marine site left them feeling unguided. There are lots of opportunities for extra days out, which is great but remember to set aside money for them. Akumal is lovely, but very touristic and you could not easily immerse yourself in the Mexican culture here.
As you can see, the marine aspect was not as I had hoped and had many more flaws than the forest, which was incredibly well-run. I believe with the amount of feedback we gave (it was the marine site manager's first year) there will be large improvements and likely you will have a better experience than I. But despite giving all these criticisms, which I did to hopefully help and not scare you, I thoroughly enjoyed both the terrestrial and marine sites. The wildlife you see is surreal, the surveys are incredibly fun and you learn loads! Once you look past the irritating logistical aspects of the marine site, diving every day was so fun, and the day trips on weekends to cenotes, beaches and bars made for a great time. There were also so many turtles!

Tips: if you in it for the marine, probably go to another site as they sound more remote and better organised, though as a forest+marine project Mexico is amazing!
Bring sturdy water bottles and really good boots for the forest! Also plenty underwear and clothes will make for a more comfortable time, though the washing system was surprisingly good!
Go for 6 weeks! Any less and I would have missed out on depth of experience.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    8

  • Program Administration

    8

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    9

Mexico research assistant 2017

I was in Mexico for 6 weeks (3 weeks terrestrial and 3 weeks marine) and can honestly say that I had the time of my life! I am a Jungle girl at heart so I absolutely loved the terrestrial work, spending 2 weeks at the super remote camp Dos Naciones which was absolutely amazing - my favourite place I've ever been, surrounded by more or less untouched Jungle! Honestly can't fault any aspect of the terrestrial side of things in Mexico. The marine site suffered slightly due to organisation faults and food issues (had to fight to get some decent veggie food) and we found ourselves spending a lot more money than anticipated there. In addition the marine sight is super touristy so personally for me I would go to a more remote site next time and be able to fully immerse myself in local culture, however the dive staff were absolutely incredible and so much fun! The diving itself is incredible and the diving experience that you gain whilst with OpWall is amazing - 2 or 3 dives a day (including cenote dives)! The work at both sites is hard and your 6 weeks are by no means a holiday however the hard work is totally worth it for the amazing life that you see (especially at the marine site where life is pretty much guaranteed - so many turtles, rays, tropical fish, even the odd shark) and the invaluable experience that you gain.
Whilst I can't deny that there were some major organisation issues at the marine site that sometimes impacted mood , looking back I only remember the incredible times I had in Mexico and I miss it every day (especially Dos Nac)!

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    6

  • Living Situation

    7

  • Community Engagement

    9

  • Health & Safety

    9

  • Day to Day Life

    8

An experience I'll never forget (for good reasons)

The overall trip to Mexico for 4 weeks was amazing! I learnt a great deal about a range of different animals with the help of a great understanding and caring team. The project is fundamentally based on a low impact to the environment and being sustainable, with aims to educate locals with the help of another NGO. The coordination of the trip could be improved as at times staff and students were not told where they would be heading next until very late and confusion arose to what was happening on several occasions, such as staff not being dropped off at the correct place.
All in all though, definitely worth the money and I would highly recommend!

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    7

  • Program Administration

    6

  • Living Situation

    6

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    9

  • Day to Day Life

    9

Opwall Mexico 2017

First of all, this trip was AMAZING. I can only fault minor things such as cost and a few organisation issues, but other than that I had the experience of a lifetime! I learnt so much, made tonnes of new friends and even realised how much conservation was important to me. Definitely going to do similar expeditions in the future.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    8

  • Program Administration

    7

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    6

  • Health & Safety

    7

  • Day to Day Life

    8

Mexico 2017 expedition!

This was an amazing opportunity for biology students to learn valuable research skills in the field as well as have an amazing experience with amazing people abroad! I loved every minute of my expedition and would love to do one again next year!

Overall Rating

7/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    7

  • Program Administration

    1

  • Living Situation

    5

  • Community Engagement

    6

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    5

Dissertation Review: Dive into the Akumal Experience

So I did this for my dissertation project in mexico looking at sea turtle behaviour. This consisted of swimming with turtles for several hours a day.

Pros:

- Met some amazing lovely people. Both RAs and Dissertation students!

- Research was really fun and we had lots of help on site for most of the trip to help us plan our research.

- Accomodation was great. Love the pool at the site, loved the complex being in the jungle and the toilet facilities and air con and sleeping arrangements were great, rooms a decent size.

- Medical facilities were also great.

- The staff that were there were absolutely fantastic.

- The research is actually useful... Its not one of these places where you pay to volunteer and dont really help that much. Whether you are doing your dissertation or are a research assistant the work you do while here helps and goes towards someones research or dissertation. The RAs were a HUGE help collecting data for my project and it would not have worked without them.

-Wifi was great at the base as well.

-The few excursions (days and nights out) were really really good. We visited cenotes and had meals out once a week.

Cons:

- Quality of the food. If you are a vegetarian expect 6 weeks of rice and beans. They dont accomodate for food allergies or dietary requirements. Most of the food lacked real nutrition, some more vegetables would have honestly been great instead of salad or even more mexican food, instead of burgers and hotdogs which made people ill. Breakfast was rubbery pancakes and watermelon or cereal and warm milk. A toaster being installed would be a huge improvement to be honest as nearly everyone eats bread and the breakfast was not suffcient to keep you going 6 hours with physical activity until lunch.

- Lack of snacks on the site. You have to go 6 hours between meals often doing 2-3 dives or swimming for up to 3 hours before going for lunch. Apparently the jungle site in mexico provided free snacks whereas we were often supplementing our food out of our own pockets which is not ideal as students who have little money to begin with.

- We had a few excursions. None of which were paid for by Opwall. It would have been nice to go out at the weekend for a day and go to more cenotes and such without having to spend money to do so as we had to cover the costs of renting scuba gear and snorkel gear if you lacked the equipment which was around £75 for the week (cheap but having the days out covered for would have been great seeing as many people paid £3k for this!)

- As a disseration student, we had a very excellent head scientist for the first 3 weeks of me being there. Ian was FANTASTIC. However there was no head scientist towards the end of our project at the base when we needed it the most. This was quite frustrating and limiting at times when we had questions.

- Pre-expedition information needs to be changed on the website of opwall. The list of items to be brought didnt take into account the fact that some people will be only swimminhg and some people will be only in the jungle. Some of my team brought walking boots and we didnt even need them, nor did we need a waterproof coat. However these things were brought anyway as we didnt know what to expect. In hindsight I'd have saved space in my suitcase and brought a lot less unnessary items. I'd reccomend seeking out someone who'd done the expedition before to get an accurate kit list.

- Site was heavily understaffed.This is the biggest peeve of the entire trip. Research assistants were taking out groups of school students because we were so short staffed. The staff that were there were amazing (Owen, Lianna, Lucy, Nik, Joe, Filipa and anyone else who i missed) and honestly should be given so much praise for how great they were. But they need more staff. Any disorganisation was due to the lack of staff. Kudos to filipa for doing an amazing job at organising everyone. However, having more staff would make the running of the site so much smoother and more enjoyable and less stressful for everyone.

Overall it was a fantastic experience. Akumal is a beautiful place and the ocean is wonderful there. If you aren't a fan of working in hot conditions this site probably isnt for you as it was 30 degrees on average the entire time we were there. We had to deal with creepy crawlies coming into our rooms which was really fun at times. We had films nights at base and effcient washing facilities. The site was close to some nice resturants that we frequented in down time to get some nice food.

Its a work hard, play hard environment. You have to be prepared to spend long stays working and you will probably be tired all the time. But its worth it.

In regards to data collection most of the time we had the equipment needed. Would reccomend to bring your own go pro if diving or snorkelling instead of using the cameras provided for research. If you are doing your dissertation you will most definitely need a laptop to input data. Data input will be a large part of your project. We often spent hours doing data entry and would be up early to be at the beach for 7am, to swim till 1pm. Then we'd get out and do data input till the evening. Then on other days we'd be in the water at 1pm till 7pm and not finish the data until the next day at least for 6 days a week. Sundays are the day off at the marine site in mexico.

The wild life was amazing. Saw turtles, a huge variety of fish and corals, sting rays, eagle rays, grouper, barracuda. Snakes, spiders, scorpions, birds hanging around in the canopy of the jungle.

Overall Rating

7/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    8

  • Program Administration

    6

  • Living Situation

    8

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    7

An excellent experience but with some major let downs

Overall I really enjoyed my trip, I'll certainly look back forever on it as an amazing adventure and opportunity. I visited both the terrestrial and the marine site and stayed in Mancelona and KM20. The accommodation was good at both terrestrial sites, with Mancelona being the best due to the lifted tents, meaning no leaking. The marine accommodation was really good too. However the biggest let down of the trip was food. Although it's hard to get enough food in the terrestrial sites due to their locations and availability it is when we needed food the most due to the amount of exercise we were doing. At KM20 food was good in terms of proportion as there was rice with every meal and a large quantity was available, however at Mancelona there was not enough food for a while. This was eventually sorted after a long discussion with the cooks which I was grateful for because we were not getting the nutrients we needed. Food at the marine site was great at first after coming out of the forest. However my biggest problem was (and this occurred at both sites) if you weren't vegetarian you had little access to vegetables. Salad was available at the marine site but a bit of lettuce is not enough. This was worse at the terrestrial camps where if you ate meat and meat was available you would get meat and rice, we need veg as much as vegetarians. Another major let down was the last day as no one knew how it was going to work as we had no indication or talks about how the last day would work. We were on the coach without any Opwall staff which was fine because we are adults but no one knew what was going on other than we were going to the hotel and it turned out some people weren't. It would be great to give volunteers a heads up about how departure day works.
Overall the experience was very good although I would not take part in one again due to personal likes and dislikes. I would also like to give credit to the pre-departure team for ringing me and the other volunteers over the year to see how we were doing and progressing. I also think the on-site team were excellent they were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and many were approachable as someone to talk to rather than a teacher.