Biodiversity Hotspot

This excursion of 9-10 days duration is typically to the Algarve in southern Portugal, one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots”.  As an example, in 2015 the first three days will be spent in Sagres in the south-west corner of Portugal.  The first day we have a guided walk with a local botanist in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park who will point out plant life and environments unique to the Mediterranean biome and explain why these plants thrive in these areas.  There will also be training in survey techniques specific to these vegetation types.

One the second day there will be excursions on a 12-seat rigid inflatable boat (RIB) to take water samples from various depths and  collect plankton samples.  We’ll use an Aquameter instrument to produce a profile of water salinity, oxygen content, temperature and turbidity down to 20m.  This data indicates the status of water currents at that particular time and determines the productivity of the coastal waters.  If we’re lucky we may see bottlenosed or Rizzo’s dolphins.  We also visit the Alvor nature reserve centre where we see a bird ringing demonstration and are shown the features measured on captured birds to assess their health before and after migration. On day 4 there will be more sampling and analysis at the small lab facility before we move on to our second base located right on the beach near Faro.

Next we travel to Spain to take a guided tour of the access-controlled area of the Donana National Park in Spain.  With our 4WD Mercedes Unimog bus we’ll go far offroad to see the wildlife of one of Europe’s last great wildernesses and learn how how conservation there is managed.   We then survey a salt marsh and dune system bordering the lagoons of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, mapping how vegetation changes with height above low tide level and soil salt concentration.  We carry out a bird survey walking along an elevated trackway, highlights being flamingoes, storks, purple gallinules and hundreds of other wading birds and ducks at amazingly close range.

Teamwork is the key as student groups carry out a mini-project over 8 hours to monitor water flow in and out of a tidal lagoon, comparing freshwater inflow with rates of evaporation and assessing risks of “eutrophication” – overloading of nutrients leading to toxic algal blooms. The last day of work is a guided walk with our expert botanist where you’ll map the structure of the cork oak forest (yes, that’s where corks come from!), evaluate land use changes and relate vegetation to geology and soil types by analysing pH and nutrient levels.