Mona Island Amphibian Expedition | Field Projects International
 

Mona Island Amphibian Expedition

Program Overview

Situated in the heart of the Caribbean, equidistant from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Mona Island is often called the Galapagos of the Caribbean. Once just a destination for pirates and privateers, Mona is protected by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and special permits are needed to access the island.

The Island is home to 16 incredible species of amphibians and reptiles, of which 92% are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. The preeminent goal of this week-long expedition is to document as many of these species as possible, and compare records with those last collected in 2015. In lieu of climate change, and recent catastrophic weather systems, such as Hurricane Maria, this expedition will provide a much needed update on the conservation status of several species.

Stepping onto the shores of Mona is like taking a leap back in time, before modern human development played a role in species interactions and obstructed our view of the natural world. The island is an untouched heart of the Caribbean Sea. Records of Pre-Taino culture, potentially the Casmiroids, inhabiting the Mona Passage date back to 1000 BC. The Taino are descendants of the indigenous South American and Caribbean Arawak and named the Island after their Cacique or chief who was called Amona.

This program is ideal for those with interests in herpetology and a willingness to endure bare-bones field conditions. This is a special program that will not be repeated annually or even biannually. Should you apply and be selected to join, the sunset will be yours to share with only the island wildlife. With zero light pollution, the stars are abundant. You’ll fall asleep to the enchanting call of the Mona Coqui frog, and wake up to the roaming iguanas and majestic Caribbean sunrise.

This program appeals to people with an interest in Animal Behavior, Herpetology, Conservation Biology, Zoology, Environmental Science. Specific training is provided in animal handling, health assessments, morphological measurement, environmental data collection, spatial analysis, population surveys, and wilderness trekking.

Expedition Details

  • Highlights
  • Objectives
  • Trip Leaders
  • Eligibility
  • Documents
  • Food & Lodging
  • Travel
  • Program Costs & Student Aid

  • Experience an island untouched by human expansion
  • Learn from biologists who work with the endemic species on Mona Island
  • Assist in collecting invaluable herpetological census data 
  • Opportunities to snorkel in the warm, blue Caribbean water (equipment provided) around the beautiful reefs near Mona
  • Enter ancient caves and see first hand the communications and stories (pictographs) of the Taino people
  • Listen to the Mona coqui frogs (the only amphibian found on Mona) chorus as the sun is setting over the Caribbean
  • Stay up late and see stars as you have never seen them before, there is ZERO light pollution at Mona, the night sky is yours
  • Wake up early and catch the sunrise over the Caribbean, no doubt the Kings of the Island, the mona island iguanas, will join you to welcome the sun
  • Visit old San Juan before and after our Mona Adventure to enjoy the food, music, art, and history of Puerto Rico

  • Collecting demographic and habitat data on the coqui frog is the main objective of this expedition. You will work directly with the PIs of Proyecto Coqui.
  • In addition to the coqui frogs you will collect basic sightings data on other reptile and avian species present.
  • Refer to the program “highlights” for a list of additional activities that will be available to you throughout the expedition.

Jennifer Stabile began her career as the reptile keeper at the Central Florida Zoo (CFZ), and soon developed a long-term partnership with Dr. Rafael Joglar at the University of Puerto Rico to preserve the island’s emblematic coquí through the establishment of captive colonies, staff exchange programs, education, and outreach.  She also worked with the Florida Wildlife Commission Research Institute (FWCRI) on tracking emerging amphibian pathogens, and more recently she was Director of Conservation at the San Antonio Zoo where she helped develop their Research and Conservation Center. While there she also pursued research partnerships with the University of Texas and the Gladys Porter Zoo to assess the relative abundance of the Black-spotted Newt. In 2016, she accepted a role as editor of the conservation section of Herpetological Review, and has been elected to serve as president of the International Herpetological Symposium (IHS). Read her full bio here.

Louis A. Santiago Brevan has 9 years of experience in the field of environmental interpretation and education within natural protected areas and historical sites in Puerto Rico. As a biologist, he has collaborated with governmental, private and federal organizations in conservation projects carrying out invasive species management, reintroduction of endangered species, habitat restoration, among others. His professional and academic interest includes sustainable recreation, trails design and building and visitor’s behavior and associated impacts. 

For the last 32 years, Rafael L. Joglar has been working as a Professor and Researcher in the Department of Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. He is co-director and founder of Proyecto Coquí, a non-profit organization whose mission is the conservation of biodiversity, through scientific research, habitat protection, and environmental education. He is a founding member of RANA (Network of Research and Analysis of Threatened Neotropical Amphibians). He has published about 80 writings on the biodiversity of Puerto Rico Main interests include herpetology, conservation of threatened species, invasive species, and biodiversity in general as well as environmental education.

There are a few requirements to determine eligibility for this course:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the expedition.
  • You must have medical insurance, and provide proof of such insurance to us to complete your reservation.
  • We have no citizenship requirements. Anyone is welcome to apply. You must obtain visas to the USA independently, if necessary.
  • You do not need any training in biology – this program is structured to accommodate people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • The expedition has a maximum capacity of 10 participants. If you are concerned that you will lose your spot, please contact us to confirm how many places we have left.
  • Acceptance to the expedition is contingent upon your completion of the online application form and an interview with one the lead researchers

  • Program literature: Reading list to be announced in March 1.  These are intended to foster better comprehension and discussion of the trip objectives and census methods.
  • Download the brochure: HERE
  • Download our Sexual and Gender-Based Policy: HERE
  • Download our Student Policy Manual: HERE

For our brief stays in San Juan, the group will be lodged in a standard hotel and we will taste authentic Puerto Rican food in a nearby restaurant. Exact details on the hotel can be obtained 2 months prior to the start of the expedition.

On Mona, basic camping equipment will be supplied, and we suggest you bring your own light sleeping bag or a light sheet for additional comfort. A chef will accompany the expedition crew to Mona, and three meals a day will be provided, along with plenty to drink. Most dietary restrictions on Mona can be accommodated, so long as we have advance notice. 

Air travel: Getting to Puerto Rico is accomplished by air. We recommend using Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia to book your flights online. Please do NOT book flights until May 1. The expedition will be held from July 7th to 13th, 2019. This means that you should plan to arrive in Puerto Rico on July 7th or early. Your return flight should depart from Puerto Rico anytime on July 13th. 

Car travel: If you have never visited Puerto Rico before, this trip will be a real treat. To get from San Juan to our port of departure, Cabo Rojo, we will drive the entire island from East to West. The ride through the interior mountains and forests of Puerto Rico is particularly beautiful.

Boat travel: We will take a small boat to Mona Island, the trip can take between 4 and 6 hours depending on ocean conditions. No matter what, the trip will be wavy, and we advise you to carry something for sea sickness, unless you are already acclimated to small boat rides.

If you choose to stay on in Puerto Rico before or after the program, you may. We can provide hotel recommendations for you. Please note: For this expedition, there are no options to arrive slightly late or depart slightly early, as our boat to Mona will only make the round-trip journey one time.

As with all of our programs, a travel packet that contains information on when and how to book your travel, visas, vaccinations, and packing tips, will be made available to all participants. This packet is provided to students once registration and all fees have been paid.

The fee for this expedition is $3000 and must be paid in full by May 1, or 6 weeks after registration, whichever is EARLIER.

The fee includes the following:

  • Food and lodging for the entire program.
  • Transportation to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Mona.
  • Experienced biologists, field equipment, snorkeling gear.

This course fee does NOT include:

  • Travel to Puerto Rico.
  • Travel or health insurance (proof of health insurance is required for course attendance).
  • Personal field gear such as footwear, binoculars, flashlight and insect repellent (all of which are recommended for this program).

Participants may attempt to lower the cost of their participation in this program by joining our peer-to-peer fundraising platform:

  • FPI has an online platform that enables each participant to create their own fundraising webpage to share with their contacts and social networks. At the end of a fundraising period of 6 weeks from your date of registration, or May 1, whichever is earlier, FPI will issue a discount code to you for 100% of the funds that you have raised. You would then enter this code as you make your final course payment. If you accumulate enough to cover all (or part) of your initial reservation fee, you would be refunded that portion as well. Please note that funds raised over your program fees will be rolled into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the course at any time, your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those funds would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up this option, please register for a course, first, and then contact us at info@fieldprojects.org to set up your fundraising page.

Please read our cancellation policy carefully before applying to a field course:

  • $100 of your deposit made during registration is a processing fee that is nonrefundable under any circumstances.
  • If you cancel on or before May 1, you will be refunded 40% of the course fee, minus the processing fee of $100.
  • Course fees cannot be refunded for cancellations made after May 1.
  • If FPI has to cancel this course due to mitigating reasons, a full refund of all fees paid, including the registration fee, will be made available to all participants.


Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t find the answers you are looking for below, please contact us.

Can I get credit for participating in this expedition?

Participants must inquire of their own colleges or universities whether they can be awarded credit for participating in this program. This is a research expedition, and as such, some institutions may be able to offer research credit hours through faculty members. If you need additional information from FPI to pursue this option, please email info@fieldprojects.org. Note, you incur a small, nominal charge from FPI if your participation requires special evaluation or reporting from our program leaders

Why else join this expedition?

To list a few reasons:

  • Opportunity to conduct the first Coqui population survey since Hurricane Maria.
  • Exploration of an uncultivated and uninhabited Caribbean island
  • Downtime on pristine beaches, camping under a spectacular sky
  • Building new relationships with enthusiastic and expert herpetologists
  • Experiencing what island fieldwork is like

 

Do I need a visa?

Every country has different requirements for visitors, depending on their citizenship. Foreign nationals are required to have a valid passport, visa, or green card to enter the country.  To find out what regulations apply to you, please contact the US consulate in your home country.

What should I bring with me?

Download a packing list here. Please read sections below for explanations for each item as well.
What's the lowdown on footwear?

Hiking boots are required on this course.

A pair of sneakers or hiking sandals will come in handy during your travels and for use while at base camp. We strongly discourage bringing flipflops as they take up space and are useful in very limited situations.

What kind of luggage should I use?

Suitcases or duffel bags are fine, just make sure you are able to personally carry what you bring without assistance.

What do I need on the island?

The most important things you need in the field that will NOT be provided are your day pack, a water bottle, sunscreen that is “reef safe”, hat, sun glasses, swimsuit, rain jacket/poncho, flashlight. Additionally, binoculars, camera, and a digital watch can be useful. Check your packing list for more details.

You will not need warm clothing on Mona.

What about battery-operated equipment?

You will need a battery-operated headlamp, or flashlight.  Headlamps are convenient because they are hands-free. If you’re interested in seeing wildlife at night, bring a bright light. We also recommend a small battery or solar operated fan, as it gets very hot at night. You must bring your own batteries for your personal electronics.

Do I need a watch or alarm clock?

Yes, we recommend you have one, or both.

What is the weather going to be like?

Weather on Mona is HOT (temps can reach over 100F), and tropical storms may be present. It does not cool down much at night, so be prepared, you will be sweating. We do recommend trip insurance in case of a hurricane, which would result in a canceled expedition.

What medications should I bring?

The program does not provide any medication to participants. As such, you must bring what you might need.  These items could include:

– A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (ciprofloxacin is a common and effective one)

– A course of antibiotics for digestive trouble, and a small number of pills of Immodium (to be used in emergencies only)

– Electrolyte/rehydration packs (hint: the juice flavoured ones are much nicer than the medical ones)

– Anti-fungal cream/powder (effective on yeast), particularly if you are prone to these infections

– Anti-itch medication: over-the-counter lotions are ok

– Antacids to comfort your stomach

– Band-aids, tweezers

–  An Epi-pen if you have any serious allergies

– Antihistamines to be taken in case of mild allergies (something like Claritin/ Zyrtec)

What vaccinations do I need?

You will have to provide proof of a regular vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). There are no special vaccinations required for this expedition.

What about health and safety?

We take the health and safety of all participants very seriously.  We look out for each other and take care of our team. Our field sites have stringent protocols on safety procedures in the case of an emergency that we are obliged to follow. For specific emergency protocols, please contact us at info@fieldprojects.org.

Neither the field station nor Field Projects International will be responsible for costs associated with medical emergencies. Before being accepted to the program, applicants must submit a brief medical history evaluation. This is not meant to discriminate against people, but instead to protect them from being in a situation where they are at a severe or life-threatening disadvantage.

All participants must sign a participation contract, without which applicants cannot participate in our courses or research programs. We make special references to an alcohol policy in our participation contract – we have a zero tolerance policy at the field stations. You will also sign a sexual and gender-based misconduct contract (and so will all supervisors). This is not to suggest that this issue is, or has been, a problem at our field sites. However, there has been a large amount of reporting on these matters in the press of late, and we want to assure you that we take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our participants to be as safe and comfortable as possible.

Course Information
  • Location:Mona Island
  • Dates:July 7 - 13, 2019
  • Duration:1 Week
  • Deadline:March 1, 2019
  • Language:English
Itinerary
Day 1 Arrivals in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Day 2 Cross Puerto Rico by road, disembark from Cabo Rojo in time for afternoon arrival on Mona
Day 3-5 Expedition activities around base camp on Mona Island
Day 6 Boat travel back to Puerto Rico
Day 7 Program Departure

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