Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies


Lush rainforests, hundreds of mangrove islands, and coral reefs teeming with diverse marine life, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is a vibrant living laboratory for studying tropical biodiversity. This island chain is populated by everything from hummingbirds and howler monkeys to stingrays, dolphins, sloths, and brightly colored poison dart frogs.



Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies

Spend a semester in the dynamic community of Bocas del Toro, where you will experience everything from underwater ecosystems to rich green rainforests. Go behind the scenes of this “paradise” as you study the impacts of tourism and development on the unique habitats of this island system. Evaluate local and national environmental policies and study the principles of sustainability and conservation as part of an in-depth field research project.
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15 Weeks
18 Credits
Spring 2021

Jan 25 - May 7

Filling Fast

Fall 2021

Aug 30 - Dec 10


winter session

Foundations of Tropical Coastal Ecology

WINTER 2021 PROGRAM UPDATE: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, SFS has suspended all Winter 2021 programs. Students interested in this program are welcome to apply now for Winter 2022 or consider a spring or summer program. Check out the
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03 Weeks
03 Credits
Winter 2021

Dec 28 - Jan 15


Winter 2022

Dec 27 - Jan 14


summer session I

Tropical Island Ecosystems: The Human Impact

On this summer study abroad program, snorkel and hike through the diverse environments of Bocas – from coral reefs and mangroves to beaches and rainforests – and study human impacts, such as tourism, on the island’s ecosystems and communities. Meet the local residents who depend on both tourism and natural resources and learn about current approaches to sustainable development in the archipelago.
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04 Weeks
04 Credits
Summer 2021

May 31 - Jun 30


What Students Are Saying:

“My semester in Panama was awesome! It was so cool to have the ocean, rainforest, and archipelago as a whole as our classroom. All of the professors and staff at SFS are amazing and passionate people who truly make the program as special as it is.”
– Bronya, Colby College

“Studying with SFS was a unique experience that I couldn’t have received from any other provider. I was lucky to collaborate with beyond-amazing instructors who inspire students to get involved and be the change that we want to see. They were supportive in making space for me to speak my truth and express my passion for social and environmental justice.”
– Olivia, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“SFS provided me with an educational and personal experience that was even better than I had anticipated. I didn’t expect to leave with such a sense of accomplishment in the research we did, the impact we had on the community, and the vast amount of knowledge I gained and applied throughout the semester.”
– Sam, University of Massachusetts


Where You'll Be Living

The Center, once a beachfront hotel, is nestled among the slender palms of Isla Colón. You’ll take your classes over the warm waters of the Caribbean and amid the surrounding rainforests and reefs. The laid-back tourist hub of Bocas Town is a short taxi ride away, with access to shops, restaurants, and a vibrant culture that is as unique as the mix of people who live here.

  • Dorm living in four-person bunkrooms
  • Classroom on a sheltered dock above the ocean
  • Air-conditioned student lounge and lab
  • Casual al-fresco dining area, and on-site cooking staff
  • Swimming pool, kayaking, and paddleboarding
  • Volleyball, spikeball, and beachfront hammocks
Click here to read stories from students, staff, and faculty on our blog


Program Costs

Study abroad is an investment in yourself – you’ll return home with new experiences, skills, knowledge, and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life. SFS program costs cover a variety of expenses, including:

  • Pre-program advising and on-site orientation
  • Tuition and research fees
  • Housing at the field station and on excursions
  • Daily meals and snacks
  • Airport transfers (for arrival/departure)
  • Field excursions and cultural activities
  • Student success and wellness team on site
  • 24/7 mental health and well-being support
  • Emergency evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Official transcript processing

View Panama Program Costs

Financial Aid

We know cost can be one of the biggest barriers to studying abroad. At SFS, we’re committed to making our programs accessible to students which is why we award more than $650,000 in need-based financial aid each year. Our Admissions Team has worked with thousands of students and are here to answer your questions about the SFS aid process, aid available through your home school, and funding from external sources.
SFS Financial Aid: Need-based aid packages typically consist of a combination of scholarships, grants, and zero- and low-interest loans. SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.

Home School Aid: Be sure to ask your home school study abroad office or financial aid office what financial aid resources might be available to support your study abroad experience.

External Funding Opportunities: Organizations such as the Fund for Education Abroad or the Gilman International Scholarship Program award scholarships to students going abroad. These can be a great opportunity to reduce the cost of your program even more.
Learn More about Financial Aid




Research at the SFS Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies focuses on environmental conservation, tropical ecology and natural resource management approaches in the face of threats like climate change and impacts from increasing tourist activity. Students and faculty engage with Indigenous entrepreneurs, NGOs, fishers, farmers, and business owners as they explore sustainable tourism models and the future of these fragile ecosystems and the surrounding communities.
Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:

  • Rainforest and marine biodiversity
  • Tourism impacts
  • Ecosystem health
  • Community livelihoods and perceptions
  • Climate change impacts
  • Marine protected areas

Environmental Issues

Our Centers are strategically located in regions facing critical environmental issues. Students and faculty study these issues and collect data to help facilitate sustainable responses. In Panama, we’re currently investigating the following issues:

Climate Change
Biodiversity Conservation
Land Use Change
Tourism Impacts
Environmental Policy
Pollution & Waste Management
Learn More About the Issues


Bocas del Toro, Panama

SFS is an active part of the Bocas del Toro community, where we have been based since the early 90s.

We have built long-term, collaborative relationships in the communities around the Center, and developed our research plans based on the environmental issues they and the surrounding ecosystems face. Throughout the program, students organize a snorkel and swim club for children, work to help support local Indigenous entrepreneurs, and take part in other projects such as urban birding festivals and educational talks. Students attend area events and festivals, frequent the shops, markets, and restaurants of Bocas Town, and compete in a local volleyball match.

At the end of each semester program, we host a Community Research Night where select students will present their research findings to the community. SFS research data is shared with the community, local NGOs, and the Panamanian government.

Read stories about our community in Panama