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Community Service Trip

Amazon Riverboat Exploration: Aboard the Ayapua

with Dr. Richard Bodmer, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and University of Kent, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

January 1-9, 2011

Living in the rainforests of Loreto, Peru, are some of the most diverse species of mammals, birds, and fish on Earth. These forests are some of the last remaining true wilderness areas left on the planet, and if conservation programs are not implemented, they will not remain intact. Join other Bryn Mawr alumnae/i to observe and collect data on animals such as ungulates, macaws, wading birds, large-bodied primates, caimans, dolphins, giant river otters, manatees, river turtles, game birds, large cats, and other large mammals and fish. There will also be opportunities to explore wildlife use and community conservation plans in local indigenous villages. The project will result in all aspects of protecting wildlife conservation in the area, as well as help determine the impact of global climate change on the Amazon rainforests.

Project Overview:

The rainforests of Loreto, Peru are situated in the western Amazon basin and harbor some of the greatest mammalian, avian, floral and fish diversity on Earth. Indeed, these forests are one of the last remaining true wilderness areas left on the planet. However, these pristine forests will only remain intact if conservation programs are successfully implemented. The Earthwatch Scientist and his team have been conducting research in the Loreto area since 1984. The vision of these studies, which are now being supported by Earthwatch Institute as part of the Amazon Riverboat Exploration project, is to set up long-term biodiversity conservation through community-based work, and to develop protected areas and landscape strategies based on wildlife conservation.

You will be part of research and conservation activities that use an interdisciplinary approach to find a balance between the needs of Indigenous peoples and the conservation of the animals and plants in this region. The goals of this project are being implemented through action, promotion, research, and collaboration between a number of conservation groups, universities, government agencies, and concerned citizens. As an Earthwatch volunteer, you will participate in the monitoring of wildlife populations in the Samiria River in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

You’ll help collect data on ungulates, macaws, wading birds, large-bodied primates, caimans, dolphins, giant river otters, manatees, river turtles, game birds, large cats, other large mammals and large fish. You may be responsible for helping research staff to sight animals, determine animal group sizes and composition, determine distance parameters, record information on datasheets, weigh and measure animals and conduct dietary analysis.

You’ll also have the opportunity to explore wildlife use and community-based conservation plans in local Indigenous villages. Your contribution to this project will result in the advancement of community-based wildlife management, protected area management and wildlife conservation policies in the Peruvian Amazon. The information collected will also be used to help create new protected areas and will help determine the impact of global climate change on the Amazon rainforests.

The rainforests of the Amazon basin are virtually overflowing with a diverse array of plant and animal species. You’ll share this tropical environment with beautiful birds, flowers, monkeys, and more. You should also be prepared to share it with a few insects! Mosquitoes are most abundant just after sunset, but tend to stay away from the boat decks during the day and later at night. Sand flies can be bothersome on the decks and in the forest during daytime, but vanish when night falls.

The restored riverboat you’ll call home during your expedition will provide a respite from the heat and insects, with air-conditioned cabins, a dining hall and a library. During your expedition you’ll have the opportunity to interact with Indigenous people from a number of villages. The Earthwatch Scientist and his research team have formed very positive relationships with these communities over the past 16 years. These people have always accommodated visitors with openness and friendliness.

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Contribution* . . . . . . $2,875 (land only)

Through a unique method of funding, 100 percent of your contribution is used to support research and exploration sponsored by Earthwatch Institute. By balancing costs across our program, we are able to assist research that would not be self-supporting.

In the United States, Earthwatch Institute is a non-profit organization described under Section 501-C (3) of the Internal revenue Code. Because of this, contributions in the form of your project cost are 100% tax deductible. Also, volunteers may deduct reasonable out-of-pocket expenses including transportation to and from research sites.

As a result of this, if you or your parents itemize deductions on your tax return, your real cost to participate in the Earthwatch expeditions may be significantly lower.

Print and return registration form - PDF

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Meals and Accommodations


The entire expedition, including travel to the field site and accommodation at the field site, will be onboard a large vintage boat—a relic of the rubber boom. It was originally built in Hamburg, Germany in 1906 and brought over to the Amazon to collect rubber from the Purus, Japura, Jura, Putumayo and Yavari Rivers. More wealth was brought to the Amazon during the rubber boom than any other time period in history. The architecture of all major Amazonian cities, including Iquitos, is still dominated by the rubber boom period, which lasted from 1890 to 1920. People today still have the “rubber-boom philosophy,” believing that to make it rich, all you have to do is find the right natural resource. This project’s rubber boom boat offers an excellent insight into the importance of the rubber boom period, not only when it occurred, but how it is still influencing Amazon conservation today.

The boat is 33 meters long and six meters wide and is of steel construction. The main engine and generators are diesel powered. It has three decks and has been fully restored with a new reinforced hull. The boat offers comfortable accommodation with eight double cabins, one triple cabin and one single cabin. Each cabin has an en-suite bathroom with shower, conventional toilet and sink. Towels, soap, shampoo and toilet paper are all provided. The single room is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please contact Earthwatch to see if it is available during your expedition. All cabins have single beds (no bunk or double beds), air-conditioning, a desk and a wardrobe. Cabins and toilets are cleaned daily. Bedding is changed and laundry is done regularly (usually every couple of days). Note that limiting the amount of laundry done helps reduce soap runoff into the river and is more environmentally friendly. Please bear in mind that it may take a few days for laundered items to dry due to high humidity.

There is 220-volt electricity available in the cabins and throughout the boat, which is provided by a generator. Note that the generator is turned off between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. to conserve energy, except on very hot nights and during navigation to the site. The large air-conditioned dining room is used for meals, lectures and dances. A data projector is provided for lectures and movies. There is a bar on the upper deck where volunteers can purchase alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Snacks, coffee and tea are provided free of charge in the dining room. The boat has a well stocked, air-conditioned library that has most of the classic books on the Amazon. Major headlines of world news are downloaded daily and available in the library, so you can keep in touch with global issues if you wish.

In addition to the main boat, there are many auxiliary boats used for the field activities. These include large wooden motorized canoes (maximum capacity of eight people each), small aluminum canoes (maximum capacity of three people each), one 60-horsepower speedboat, one motorized dory and one vintage 10-meter long rubber boom launch.


Meals will be served buffet-style and will include breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. During navigation/traveling periods breakfast will be served from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., lunch will be served at 1:00 p.m., tea at 4:00 p.m., and dinner at 7:00 p.m. During field activities, meals will be available for longer periods of time due to activities beginning and ending at different times. Breakfast will be available from 6:30 to 10:00 a.m., lunch from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., tea from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., and dinner will be served at 7:00 p.m. Please note that packed food is provided for the terrestrial census, in addition to the hot lunches that will be served upon return to the boat.

Meals are prepared by a cook and assistant cooks and the buffet is serviced by a waitress. Complimentary wine is served at dinner. Meals are complete with starters, a main course and dessert. The boat has three freezers to accommodate all the supplies. All cooking is done with treated drinking water brought from the city of Iquitos. All porcelain, cutlery and cooking materials are sanitized in a chloride solution. All non-cooked foods, such as salads, are prepared using latex gloves. You will be supplied with ample treated bottled drinking water bought in Iquitos. The food services can accommodate vegetarian diets.

Below are examples of the foods and beverages you might expect during the expedition. Please be aware that variety depends on availability and meals can become somewhat repetitive, particularly toward the end of the expedition as fresh ingredients become less available. Your patience and understanding are appreciated.

Breakfast Fresh coffee, tea, milk, toast with jam and butter, cereal, yogurt drinks, fruit drinks, oatmeal, eggs, pancakes, fruits, ham and cheese

Lunch Main course of fish, beef, pork, poultry or pasta; salad, soup, rice, potatoes, bread and butter, fruits, fruit drinks, coffee and tea

Tea Freshly baked cake, tea and fresh coffee

Dinner Main course of fish, beef, pork, poultry or pasta; salad, soup, rice, potatoes, bread and butter, dessert (e.g. pudding, ice cream, fruit dishes), fruit drinks, coffee, wine and tea

Snacks Snacks (e.g. biscuits, chocolate wafers, crackers, chocolate bars) are provided at the coffee and tea table throughout the day

Note: The legal drinking age in Peru is 18. Team members under the age of 18 are not permitted to drink alcoholic drinks.

Special Dietary Requirements
Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g. diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut or other serious food allergies) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided on your volunteer forms. Accommodating special diets is not guaranteed and can be very difficult due to availability of food, location of field sites, and other local conditions.

Special note to vegans and strict vegetarians: Please be aware that it is often difficult to accommodate strict vegetarians and vegans. It may be possible to get meatless meals but vegans and strict vegetarians may have a problem avoiding animal products altogether. If this poses a problem, then participation on this Earthwatch expedition should be seriously reconsidered.

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You will be trained to collect data during monitoring activities, help sight animals, determine animal group sizes and composition, determine distance parameters, record information on data sheets, weigh and measure animals and perform dietary analysis. Full instructions will be given on the relevance of the research and the specific data being collected. You will also be given explanations on how the data collected by Earthwatch volunteers is used to help conserve the Amazonian rainforests. When possible, informal lectures and briefings using PowerPoint presentations, participatory practice exercises, and question-and-answer periods will be used to help volunteers understand the procedures for data collection, analysis and interpretation. Briefing sessions will be held between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. Some of the more general topics that may be presented are outlined below. The Earthwatch Scientist will give the team a more detailed onsite project briefing when you arrive.

  • Biodiversity, geography and ecology of the Amazon
  • History of the Amazon and of the research site
  • Population ecology of Amazonian wildlife
  • The importance of monitoring in the protected areas of Amazonia
  • Community-based conservation in Amazonia
  • Determining sustainable resource use in Amazonia
  • Socio-economics of wildlife use in Loreto
  • The Peccary Pelt Certification Program
  • Wildlife management in timber concessions
  • The future of the Amazon forests

During research days the team will split into small groups of two to four to conduct different activities. Volunteers will rotate activities each day. Some activities can be done on the same day, so on certain days you may be able to participate in more than one study. Each group will be accompanied by a Peruvian field biologist (see the Project Staff section) who will help with data collection to insure that quality data are recorded. Time required for data reduction and sample analysis will vary according to the different activities. In general, the daily schedule will vary and will depend largely on weather and research needs. Your flexibility is appreciated.

Volunteers will find that the field biologists are experts at spotting wildlife in the dense rainforest environment and may often see more animals than volunteers are able to. It is important to understand that this expertise comes with spending many hours in that ecosystem and volunteers should not be troubled if they do not spot as much as the biologists. Volunteers’ assistance with observing, monitoring and compiling data is a major aspect of this research and your help is necessary

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Earthwatch Scientists

Dr. Richard E. Bodmer

Dr. Richard E. Bodmer was born in England and spent his youth in Chicago where he worked with the Brookfield Zoo, first in the Children’s Zoo and later as a research assistant to Dr. George Rabb working on the Okapi project. His long-term research has been on the ecology, population dynamics and conservation of Amazonian wildlife in Peru and Brazil. He has been working in the Lago Preto Conservation Concession and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve for over 16 years in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and the University of Florida. During this time, he has conducted field courses at these sites with over 400 students joining his research expeditions over the years. Richard is very dedicated to finding real solutions to save the Amazon rainforest that include wildlife conservation, protected areas and the local people. He will be present for all of this season’s Earthwatch expeditions.

Tula Fang

was born in Iquitos and spent her youth in the Amazon where she learned about the forests and its wonders. Tula completed her B.Sc. in Biology at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon and her M.Sc. at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent, England. She began her research career working with primates in the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve, which forms part of the proposed Greater Yavari Protected Area. More recently, she has been involved with the Peccary Pelt Certification Programme in Peru, which is a joint program involving the Peruvian Government, CITES and numerous nongovernmental organizations. Tula will be in the field for teams IV and VI.

Pablo Puertas

Pablo Puertas was born in the Peruvian Amazon and spent his youth in a small rural community on the Yavari River. With help from his church he was able to study in Iquitos and went on to complete his B.Sc. in Biology at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon. He finished his M.Sc. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Pablo began his research career studying night monkeys for the World Health Organization’s Peruvian Primatology Project. He then coordinated the WWF projects in the Pacaya- Samiria National Reserve and is currently coordinating WCS’s Peru Program. Pablo is also President of the Management Committee of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. He has worked extensively with community based conservation and protected area management over the years. Pablo plans to be present for all of this season’s Earthwatch expeditions.

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Earthwatch Institute

Earthwatch Institute engages people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. We believe that teaching and promoting scientific literacy is the best way to systematically approach and solve the many complex environmental and social issues facing society today.

Earthwatch is a diverse community of scientists, educators, students, businesspeople, and resolute explorers who work together to get the fullest benefit from scientific expeditions. In addition to 150 dedicated staff in the United States, England, Australia, and Japan, Earthwatch supports more than 130 scientists each year and builds networks of hundreds of students and teachers.

The Earthwatch community also includes 20,000 global members, 4,000 eager volunteers each year, 50 collaborating conservation organizations, and 50 corporate partners, all of whom work together to make a difference. Below you will find out more about our leadership, employment opportunities, and contact information.

Earthwatch is one of the largest private funders of scientific field research. Each year, they support as many as 100 field research projects with grants, and provide as many as 3,500 volunteer field assistants to scientists conducting research around the world. Earthwatch support not only provides scientists with valuable people-hours of data collection, it also helps scientists communicate the importance of their work to motivated volunteers who in turn share their experiences with friends and family. Currently supported projects include everything from measuring the release of greenhouse gasses in the Arctic to preserving the ancient culture of Fijian seafarers to studying the crocodiles of the Zambezi River, and range across ecosystems as diverse as Brazil's Pantanal, the Greek Mediterranean, and the Mongolian steppe.

A Strategic Approach to research

Earthwatch supports research projects that address the world's most pressing environmental and cultural issues, and focuses its support on applied research where our citizen science model can most effectively make a significant difference in these central global ecological and cultural challenges:

  • Ensuring the sustainability of coastal, forested, agricultural and freshwater ecosystems through optimization of multiple ecosystem services.
  • Managing protected areas and species at the landscape and seascape levels to enhance biodiversity and provide local and regional ecosystem services.
  • Restoring, revitalizing, and conserving our global cultural heritage through a better understanding of socio-cultural links to natural resource use, environmental management and bio-cultural diversity.
  • Addressing the challenge of climate change and its threat to global sustainability.

Earthwatch is a respected leader in the field of experiential education, with programs ranging from improving the quality of geography instruction to "live from the field," web-based virtual expeditions reaching classrooms worldwide. To date, more than 3,500 students and 4,000 classroom teachers have received training and inspiration on Earthwatch expeditions.


Earthwatch establishes strategic international and community partnerships to support multi-disciplinary research projects in some of the world's outstanding areas of ecological and cultural value. By engaging communities in setting priorities and securing their investment throughout the process, Earthwatch implements an effective community-based conservation model.

The Earthwatch Model: 3 Steps to Conservation

Step 1: Plan conservation strategies with local stakeholders and communities
Working closely with community members, partners, local stakeholders, and non-governmental organizations, we help identify and prioritize important environmental problems and cultural issues that need attention.

Step 2: Conduct research to find solutions
Earthwatch zeroes in on critical research to create viable strategies for regional sustainability by finding the right scientists and moblilizing volunteers, who support the research and accelerate the collection of data required to find solutions.

Step 3: Engage people in conservation
Educators and students, business and conservation professionals, local landowners, artists and the members of the public lend their time by working side-by-side with scientists in the field. They learn by doing, finding solutions to local and regional issues and gaining tools to activate change in their own communities

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