Spring Break 2014: Wet and Wild in the Amazon


As students return to their classrooms following Spring break, many will share their stories of beaches with friends and family.  But for thirteen students from the Derryfield School in New Hampshire, the conversation will be very different:

“So what did you do on Spring Break?”

“Not much…just traveled to the Amazon, slept under mosquito netting, checked for bats in the toilets, braved torrential downpours in the rainforest canopy, and did research on tiny poison dart frogs.  How ‘bout you?” 

That is exactly what this band of intrepid explorers did – and then some!

Spring Break 2014:  Wet and Wild in the Amazon

Jack Sanford, a teacher at The Derryfield School in New Hampshire, led this group of amazing young explorers into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.  Their mission was to search for amphibians and monitor them for the chytrid fungus that is causing mass extinctions of amphibians around the world.  

Poison dart frog, Amazon

 With the guidance of Marcy Sieggreen, amphibian expert from the Detroit Zoo, the Derryfield students hiked along rainforest trails day and night in search of frogs.  Using international monitoring protocols, the students swabbed frogs of all sizes and colors to determine if chytrid is a growing threat in the Amazon.   

International monitoring protocols to explore chytrid fungus on frogs in the Amazon

Their samples will be analyzed by Sieggreen and contribute to the Detroit Zoo’s ongoing research in the area.  Additional data collected by Sanford and his students will be analyzed by Sanford’s advanced biology students as part of a year-end project.   

Researching chytrid fungus in the Amazon

Talk about applying biology to real world problems! These young explorers had a first-hand taste of what it means to be a field biologist in a very magical and yet challenging environment. The weather is unpredictable, the frogs do not always cooperative, and the variables of a research question are not easily controlled. This, my friends and fellow educators, is what real science is like! 

You may ask, “Why travel to the Amazon to do a project like this, when we can monitor frogs in our own community?” A good question!
Sanford and his students have done just that. They monitor frogs in New Hampshire as well, but wanted to make a personal connection to this global crisis. During their visit to the Amazon, they met with students from the Amazon Amphibians Protector Club. This small band of students from the village of Llachapa and their committed teacher, Carmen Shuta, regularly work with Marcy Sieggreen and submit their amphibian observations to her via field journals and digital cameras. Sanford and his students organized an exchange with Shuta’s students and shared information about the frogs of North America – including photos, fast facts, and even frog calls.  

Research in the Amazon - an information exchange among students

As a result, plans are being made to continue this type of exchange using skype and email. The hope is that the Derryfield/Llachapa exchange will serve as a model for student to student international collaboration and will build awareness and appreciation not only for environmental issues like amphibian decline, but also deepen cultural awareness and appreciation between US and Amazon students. 

So what’s next? Sanford and his students are in the process of adopting an Amazon school, and through their efforts they will provide school supplies and fresh drinking water to their peers in Peru. They are working on an amphibian photo book to share with their new friends in Llachapa and will continue to work with Sieggreen to identify the frogs they monitored in Peru and analyze the data they collected. Someday soon, we hope another group of Derryfield students will be back in Peru to continue what this wonderful group of intrepid field biologists began.

Many, many thanks to Jack Sanford, Marcy Sieggreen, and our guides Willy Flores Lanza and Luis Mayanchi Del Aguila for their incredible leadership. None of this would be possible without you!

Would you like to give your students an alternative spring break in the Amazon? You can! Click here for more info on Amazon Rainforest Workshops for Students.



Christa Dillabaugh is our Education and the Rainforest Editor.  A former middle school and high school science educator, she coordinates experiential field programs for educators and students in the rainforests of Central and South America.  She currently serves as education director for Amazon Rainforest Workshops and loves traipsing through rainforest mud in search of teachable moments!  You can read her Amazon field notes at http://amazonworkshops.wordpress.com/