US $5,900*

Per volunteer

* Tax deductible in the US.
Eligible for employer matching to reduce participant cost. Single supplement $245

25% due upon booking

8 nights

6.5 activity days

A unique opportunity to advance tropical marine research in Honduras

MarAlliance invites you to immerse yourself in a once-in-a-lifetime experience among the incredible reefs of Guanaja in the Bay islands of Honduras. Join our team of marine biologists, guides and fishers for an unforgettable week helping to research critically endangered sharks, rays, turtles and other charismatic marine megafauna. You will be on the front line of marine megafauna monitoring and directly contribute to the conservation of these iconic species within Honduran waters.

Dr. Rachel Graham and her team will introduce you to essential marine research methodologies including longline captures for shark, underwater transects and Baited Remote Underwater Videos. You will work alongside our team of experienced biologist and fishers each day during our monitoring, while experiencing the stunning underwater world of Guanaja.

We are excited to have the opportunity to share our findings with you and the field work will be complimented with presentations by our research team to deepen your understanding of these iconic species and the threats they face.

The Details

What are marine megafauna important?

Sharks, rays, turtles and piscivorous fish (marine megafauna) are among the most charismatic species in our oceans. They play a vital ecological role within their marine communities, helping to maintain fish and reef populations. Sharks and rays (elasmobranchs) are top predators that are essential in maintaining healthy and resilient reefs. Given their life history of slow growth, late maturity and few offspring they are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and their numbers are rapidly declining due to fishing pressure.

MarAlliance’s work in Honduras

Honduras serves as one of MarAlliance’s Mesoamerican research locations, leading annual monitoring of the marine megafauna at several sites within Honduran waters, utilizing fisheries-independent methods. Our focus is on assessing the effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs), integrating fishers into monitoring activities for representative decision-making and improving the management of the shark and ray population.

Located in the heart of Central America, Honduras plays host to part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest reef system in the western hemisphere, stretching from the Bay Islands in Honduras to the tip of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. The reef surrounds the Bay Islands which include Guanaja – 43 miles off the north coast of Honduras, and 7.5 miles from the island of Roatan: Guanaja’s warm, clear waters support an extensive coral reef and diverse marine life. Guanaja is the second largest of the Bay Islands and most remote, with populations considerably lower than that of the other two islands. Guanaja was discovered in 1502 by Christpher Colombus. He named it Guanaja, meaning Pine Island, due to pine trees that covered the island at that time. Some remnants of Caribbean pine tree can still be seen on the island, giving it a feel unlike other Caribbean Islands. The majority of the Island is uninhabited, and most of its population is located on Bonacca, a cay on the southern band of the Island.

Although Honduras was declared a Shark Sanctuary in 2011, fishing of sharks persists and rays are not protected. Short and long-term information on elasmobranch diversity, abundance and distribution, current exploitation levels and value, habitat use, and movement during their lifecycle remains sparse in Honduras.

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Travel and accommodations

On April 7th you will arrive at Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport in Roatan, where you will spend one night enjoying the island. Feel free to book your flight to arrive at any time, however an earlier arrival is recommended so you can enjoy Roatan and explore. There are endless options for accommodations catering to all budgets; our recommendation is to stay in West End or West Bay, where you can find unique shops, restaurants and bars. Two recommendations are Splash Inn or Sea Breeze Inn, both in West End and both a short cab ride from International Airport. The following morning (April 8th) all expeditioners will transfer by bus to Barefoot Key, where we will sail aboard Impromptu, a 50ft catamaran to Hotel Guanaja on the island of Guanaja, our final destination.

Situated on the southern beach of eastern Guanaja, Hotel Guanaja was designed to be part of the natural environment; constructed by island residents. The hotel provides spacious accommodations that are cloaked in palm trees and carefully planted fruit trees.

You will stay in beachside Cabanas, which include bright, full baths, large vanity and custom tile shower. Other amenities include AC, hot water, wi-fi, private safe, microwave, coffee maker, mini-fridge and private balcony. The Hotel offers a wide variety of cuisine and can accommodate all special dietary needs and requests. All vegetables are home grown, beef comes from grass fed cattle sourced fresh from the neighboring farm, and the fish/seafood comes from the local fishers who deliver straight from their boats. In the evening prepare to be well fed, enjoy communal meals with the team, and enjoy good company discussing the amazing things you experienced during the day’ work.

Training

Your objective is to assist MarAlliance’s Honduras-based shark and ray research team to undertake the annual monitoring of marine megafauna at Guanaja. To prepare for your trip and help us collect the most valuable data we will provide you with materials in advance to assist you with species identification and size/distance estimation. On your first days at Guanaja, we will hold training sessions to review the methods and fine-tune your size and distance estimation skills (on land and in the water).

Activities

Species identification of sharks, rays, turtles and piscivorous fish

Identifying marine megafauna by species is an important part of assessing biodiversity. Species ID will be used during in-water visual transects and in analyzing Baited Remote Underwater Video recordings. We will further ask you to familiarize yourself with species prior to the trip to improve identification in the field.

In-water visual transect

Transects are a non-invasive method for assessing diversity and relative abundance of marine megafauna.

Each transect involves four swimmers positioned in the water and spaced 15 meters apart.

Each transect is 1km in length and throughout the transect each swimmer is responsible for recording species, quantity, distance estimation, and size estimation for the sharks, rays, turtles, and piscivorous fish they see within their area.

You will learn species identification and size estimation techniques to accurately record data. Following field work you can help to transcribe data to provide indices of species diversity, abundance, demographics, and size frequencies according to the different habitats sampled.

Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV)

BRUVs are structures made out of PVC pipe or metal that contain a GoPro camera and an extended arm with a bait cage.

BRUVs are deployed at various sites around the Bay Islands for at least 60 minutes at a time in order to record species that are attracted to the bait.

These videos are later analyzed to record the species and relative number of individuals and assess diversity and relative abundance. We will collectively review videos taken during the day and annotate these to record target species and frequency of occurance.

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Longline capture and tagging of sharks and rays

Scientific longlining is another method to assess shark and ray diversity and abundance, especially over long periods of time.

This technique involves setting a line of 50 baited hooks in order to capture individuals and collect more specific measurements, tag the animal with a marker that will identify them in future captures or sightings, and collect a tissue sample for DNA and contaminant analysis.

You will assist with baiting and setting the longline, collecting environmental data, and will learn proper handling techniques for safely tagging and releasing sharks and rays.

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OPTIONAL (price not included): Local 2-tank dive in one of Guanaja’s 45 dive sites, or a half day hike to the waterfalls on the island.

*Please let us know in advance if you will be interested in diving one afternoon during the expedition. Hiking can be arranged for the recreational time on Day 7 through Guanaja Island Tours, and we will be more than happy to arrange these activities for you once we arrive on the island. 

Guanaja, Honduras

April 2019

Day 1

April 7

International flight arrival at Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport, Roatan, Honduras. Taxi transfer to Hotel of your choice in West End or West Bay, Roatan.

19:30

Pre expedition dinner with Dr. Rachel Graham and overview of the research and the week ahead.

Day 2

April 8

6:00-7:00

Breakfast on own in Roatan

7:30

Transfer to Barefoot Key

8:00

Catamaran Sail to Hotel Guanaja

14:00

Arrival at Hotel Guanaja
Meet with researchers, fishers and get oriented with the Hotel

14:30

Lunch at Hotel Guanaja

16:00-18:00

Species ID instruction and/or review, instruction in survey methods and data collection.

18:30

Dinner with research and expedition team

19:00-20:00

Presentation by Dr. Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance

Day 3

April 9

7:00-8:00

Breakfast at Hotel Guanaja

8:00-11:00

Size estimation exercises on land and in water, Review of species ID, survey methods and data collection. (recap of previous evening’s presentation)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at the hotel or in the field

13:30-15:30

Training: in-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys, and shark monitoring

18:00-19:00

Dinner with team

19:00-20:00

Presentation by Gabriela Ochoa, Honduras Coordinator, MarAlliance

Day 4

April 10

Participants will be divided into three groups (A, B, C) to personalize the experience and to ensure space on the boats. Each group will get the opportunity to rotate through the different techniques.

6:00-7:00

Breakfast at Hotel Guanaja

7:30-12:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group A)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at the hotel or in the field

13:00-16:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays, and turtles (Group A)
Baited Remote Underwater Video Surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)

18:00-19:00

Dinner with the team

19:30-21:30

Review of BRUV videos, data entry

Day 5

April 11

6:00-7:00

Breakfast at Hotel Guanaja

7:30-12:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at the hotel or in the field

13:00-16:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)

18:00-19:00

Dinner with the team

19:00-21:30

Review of BRUV videos, data entry

Day 6

April 12

6:00-7:00

Breakfast at Hotel Guanaja

7:30-12:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at the hotel or in the field

13:00-16:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)

18:00-19:00

Dinner with the team

19:00-21:30

Review of BRUV videos, data entry

Day 7

April 13

6:00-7:00

Breakfast at Hotel Guanaja

7:00-12:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at the hotel or in the field

13:00-17:30

Recreational time

18:00-19:00

Final team dinner

19:00-21:00

Summary of the week’s activities by team leaders and participants, and wrap-up party

Day 8

April 14

6:00-7:00

Breakfast, check out

7:00

Catamaran sail to Barefoot Key, Roatan

13:00

Transfer to Juan Manual Galvéz International Airport

*To ensure you are not rushed, international flights out of Roatan should be booked late afternoon on April 14th or the following day.

If you wish to stay and enjoy Roatan or transfer to any other destination in Honduras or Central America, we would be happy to assist you.

Travel tips

  • The official currency of Honduras is the Honduran Lempira (HNL). The US$ is equivalent to approximately 24 HNL. Foreign exchange can be undertaken at any local bank although the rate is subject to change depending on the date and bank. An easy way to quickly access money while travelling is to use your debit or credit card in an ATM or cash machine in Honduras: you will receive Honduran currency and your bank will withdrawal the equivalent funds from your account plus a fee for the transaction. You will want to withdrawal funds in Roatan, at the airport or in West End, as there is only one bank on the Island of Guanaja. Many shops and restaurants will take US dollars, however it’s best to ask in advance.
  • Electrical outlets in Honduras supply between 110 and 120 Volts AC. If you are plugging in US or Canadian 120 volt appliance or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
  • Tap water is not potable in Honduras; drink only bottled water. In the field and at the hotel we will provide you with filtered bottled water.
  • Most of the local people are bilingual, so you will have no problem getting around the island.

Skills Requirement

  • Comfortable in small boats in open water
  • Confident swimmer
  • Comfortable snorkeling for 20-50 minutes at a slow-moderate pace

Safety

Safety is our top concern and MarAlliance has an emergency plan for field work conducted at all its sites in Guanaja. All boats carry basic first aid kits and a more comprehensive kit will be held at the hotel.

Emergency contacts for Roatan/ Guanaja

Emergency helicopter service
Ronald Shortis (pilot)
Tel: 9660 1356
Medical Center
Police
Tel: 2445 1080
Tel: 911

What to bring

If you need any of the below items, you can help sharks and rays by choosing MarAlliance as your nonprofit on Amazon Smile. Amazon donates a few cents from each purchase to help us to conduct research, education and conservation for sharks and rays and fight for these awesome animals. It all adds up and it really makes a difference. Thank you for your support!

For the sun and sea

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Sunscreen*

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Sunglasses**

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Hat

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Swim wear (at least 2 suits), for women: quick dry shorts

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Rashguard***

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Lycra bodysuit/pants

socks site

Water socks

water-gloves

Hand coverage

* Make sure your sunscreen is coral/reef safe and doesn’t contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-MBC and the common preservative butylparaben, all of which kill coral.
** Polarized are recommended as they cut down the glare on the water.
*** We will have these for sale too (The tropical sun is strong; full coverage is important)

Clothing

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2-3 T-shirts

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2-3 pairs of shorts

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One long-sleeved shirt and one pair of long pants *

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1 large regular towel (if you have space)

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Large quick dry towel

page_icon_pareo

Pareo or wrap

* To take out on the water in case you start getting too much sun

Equipment

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Mask, fins and snorkel (test equipment before arrival)*

page_icon_rain-jacket

Rain jacket/poncho (just in case)

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Underwater or splash-proof camera/GoPro

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Headlamp with rechargeable batteries

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Dry sack for keeping camera gear and other items water-free

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Re-useable water bottle

* this will also be provided by the resort, but you are free to bring your personal gear.

Health and wellbeing

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Bug spray

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Sea-sick? Dramamine or meclizine**

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Own medicines

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Snacks, e.g. hard candy‡

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Books to read

‡ Always good to have following the snorkel transects

**Bring a supply of Dramamine or meclizine to ensure you are comfortable while out at sea.

IMPORTANT: Enough money to cover your time before and after Hotel Guanaja. $300-$400USD is more than enough if you won’t be staying in Honduras after the expedition.

Can we invite others not working with our company (e.g., significant other, family member, friend)?

Yes! Note, however, that the quoted trip cost is made possible by your company’s 100% donation matching. Non-company employees would pay the quoted trip cost AND ask to make a donation for the same amount (in other words, their total cost would be 2x the company cost).

*A prospective volunteer pointed out that if he pays for both himself and his +1, then the entire payment is a donation and should be eligible for matching.

I’m confused by the pricing. Is our company covering part of the trip cost?

The price quoted are the prices that you would pay. MarAlliance is relying on your company’s gift match to cover its total costs, so if you were to sign up for Panama, for example, they are counting on $2990 from you + $2990 from company matching.

Employee $2990
Company gift match* $2990
Total Cost** $5980

*Due to the purely volunteer nature of the trip (not a tourist venture), the price you pay for the trip can be considered a donation to MarAlliance (a nonprofit) and is thus (a) tax deductible; and (b) eligible for 100% gift matching.

**Non-company employees whose companies do not offer 100% gift matching would pay the full, tax-deductible $5980. If you’re bringing a +1 and elect to pay for both trips yourself, the full donation should be eligible for gift matching.

I’ve already used my full company-gift-matching benefit for 2018. Can I hold a spot?

Yes, you can either elect to forego gift matching (and make a separate donation to cover the incremental match price). Or, you can work with MarAlliance to reserve a spot on your trip of choice and hold payment until January 2019, when you’ll once again be eligible for gift matching. Email expeditions@maralliance.org.

What are the main differences between the four expeditions?

  • Belize – Very remote, on a small island with no cell service or internet. Glamping accommodations in yurt style tents, private cooks, and the focus is on sharks and turtles.
  • Honduras – Located on a sparsely populated island, with all-inclusive (except alcohol) hotel accommodations. Our primary focus in Honduras is on sharks, rays and fish.
  • Panama – All-inclusive (except alcohol) hotel accommodations in a remote area of Isla Bastimentos. Our primary focus is on sharks, rays and fish.
  • Cabo Verde – Accommodations will be Guest house style with field work completed on a catamaran. Our primary focus will be Whale sharks, Manta Rays and sharks.

What is the day to day time allocation of volunteers during the expedition?

Volunteers will spend most of their days in boats, out on the water participating in one of three activities; typically, from 8am until sunset. Data entry & presentations will follow in the evenings.

What can I expect during my time on the expedition?

  • To work side-by-side with MarAlliance staff and local fishermen as part of the expedition team
  • To contribute to critical marine conservation and monitoring/research efforts
  • To learn new skills
  • Learn about marine animals, the reef, the countries culture, politics, and about the local fishermen’s livelihoods
  • Enjoy tropical island life for a week
  • To be well fed and enjoy good company!

What if I might be uncomfortable seeing animals in pain, such as tagging & taking samples of sharks?

The only way we can measure and tag sharks is if we catch them. We minimize our handling time and sharks have little to no feeling in their dorsal fins where we place the tag. By comparison millions of sharks are killed yearly and we are trying to reduce these deaths.

Will time be allocated for an optional dive?

Yes!

  • Diving in Panama and Honduras can be arranged during your free afternoon listed in both itineraries and will be organized through the resort (dive locations will be decided by the resort or tour operator)
  • Diving in Belize will be on day 2 of the itinerary with Amigos del Mar, who is also taking the team to Half Moon Caye. You may participate in their 3-tank package which includes, The Great Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye Wall and Long Caye Aquarium. We will be happy to make all arrangements for you!

Diving is an optional activity and at the cost of each volunteer. You can expect a 2-tank dive in Honduras and Panama to be around $50-$70US and the Blue Hole trio-$260US.

Can we do a night dive?

No, evenings comprise of data entry and presentations.

Can you accommodate vegetarian meals?

Yes! Most if not all dietary needs can be accommodated.

How many spots are available per expedition & how many spots are left?

Belize, Honduras, and Panama have 10 spots allocated to each. Cabo Verde has 8 spots.

We will update our website to list how many spots are left as they fill up.

Are teenagers welcome?

18+ years

Do I need to buy travel insurance?

Yes, MarAlliance does require participants to have travel insurance, however if your company provides travel insurance you may consider whether coverage is sufficient.

Note: Company provided travel insurance-things to consider

  • Does it cover medical (including evacuation)?
  • Does it provide trip cancellation insurance?
  • Does is cover me on paid leave?
  • Does it cover me on unpaid leave?

Are there other ways I can get involved?

Yes! Whether you join one of the expeditions or not, MarAlliance is always looking for donors to fund satellite tags that will track the migration patterns of sharks, rays and turtles.

  • Amount $3000 (covers 1 sat tag and a portion of the satellite transmission time). You’re welcome to go in on a tag with a group of friends!
  • Donors who fund tags will get to choose a name for the animal tagged and receive daily updates on its movements (tags may remain with animal for weeks, months, even years).
  • Donated tags may be deployed by MarAlliance and expedition volunteers during this years’ expedition.
  • Receive weekly updates

*Donated tags are also tax deductible

Price includes

  • On-site training from our team of expert biologists, fishers and research staff.
  • Donation, which provides all the resources necessary for our monitoring and research methods and local fisher and boat captain salaries.

Lodging

  • Double occupancy room with private bath for 6 nights at Hotel Guanaja.  *Private rooms are not available at Hotel Guanaja

Transfers

  • Round-trip Catamaran sail between Roatan and Guanaja (includes snacks).
  • Transfer from Barefoot Key to Juan Manual Galvéz International Airport.

Meals

  • 3 full meals daily, including arrival lunch/dinner, breakfasts to order, daily lunches, daily dinners accommodating dietary restrictions if needed. Meals include all non-alcoholic beverages

Other

  • Marine Conservation Fee
  • Swag bag!
  • Unforgettable, once in a life time experience and memories!

Price does not include

  • International air
  • Accommodations, meals, and transfers prior to arrival at Barefoot Key, Roatan, your departure point to Guanaja.
  • Travel, health or cancellation insurance
  • Personal items and incidentals
  • Alcohol and tips for hotel staff