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Exeter College Students Visit Honduras for Conservation Project

A group of Exeter College students recently returned from Honduras after working with conservation research organization Operation Wallacea.

A Level students travelled to Cusuco National Park in Honduras after their exams to work with scientists collecting vital data for use in their research on biodiversity and climate change.

Students gained hands-on experience of monitoring biodiversity within the rainforest, as well as a real life an insight into many of the topics they had studied at college.

Cusuco National Park is one of the most important national parks in the world when it comes to rainforest biodiversity. The national park is home to a number of endemic species which can only be found in there and it has been cited as the 25th most irreplaceable place in the world, being particularly important for amphibians and mammals.

The scientific research Exeter College students have carried out with Operation Wallacea will help to secure funding to prevent deforestation and further biodiversity loss as well as help to support the local community to develop eco-tourism.

Programme Leader for Geography at Exeter College Tom Cooksley said, “Biodiversity in that rainforest is at its richest and most of it hasn’t be researched so far. Our students were helping to gather the information needed to access funding that will secure the rainforest and the community around it for years to come.”

As well as taking part in research activities in Cusuco National Park, students also received masterclass lectures from PhD students working on the project to gain a genuine insight into the type of work going on at the park.

After spending the week around 1,200 feet above sea level in the rainforest, the students then spent a week on the Honduran island of Utila, working with Operation Wallacea’s marine biologists on their coral reef conservation project. Students also got the chance to gain a PADI qualification in open water diving, as well as the chance to take an ecology course, further advancing the knowledge students had picked up during their studies.

Tom added: “The students loved their time there. They found the rainforest was challenging at times but to get that real-life experience is incredible for them. They’re not just learning about climate change, biodiversity and globalisation; they’re actively seeing the impact of it on another part of the world.”

Accompanying the students on this year’s trip was Fleur Blackett, an Environmental Science lecturer at Exeter College. She said, “The students have been very lucky to have had this opportunity. Cusuco National Park is truly outstanding and without support from schools and colleges like ours, the special biodiversity has a very uncertain future.

“Students have made a positive contribution to conserving the park, met and worked with professional scientists and taken memories away that will last a lifetime.”

Student on the trip Daisy Parsons said, “The trip was an enriching experience and it was exciting to be involved in life-changing research in the rainforest that will transform the way locals and people all across the world will understand and use Cusuco.

“I’ve learnt so much about my ability to work with others in a challenging and rewarding environment and I’ve developed my classroom-based knowledge whilst exploring a new country.”

This was the second time the trip has run, with further visits planned for students 2020 and 2021.

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