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.
Explore More
15 Weeks
18 Credits

Spring 2023

Jan 27 - May 9

In The Field

Fall 2023

Sep 1 - Dec 12

Filling Fast

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.
Explore More
04 Weeks
04 Credits

Summer 2023

Jun 2 - Jul 2


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 hotel, lies among the slender palms and warm waters of Isla Colón. You’ll live, study, relax, and enjoy communal meals with your cohort, here. Across the street, you’ll find a beach with waterfront access for swimming and paddleboarding. The laidback 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 ~4-person bunkrooms
  • Indoor/outdoor classroom and study space
  • Student lounge space
  • Casual al-fresco dining area and on-site cooking staff
  • Swimming pool, kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling
Click here to read stories from students, staff, and faculty on our blog
Panama Center


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

Program Partners

SFS is committed to providing robust learning and research opportunities for our students. One way we do this is through in-country collaborations with a variety of organizations, community groups, and government agencies. We support our commitment to these groups by sharing our research findings and contributing to shared goals.
Featured Partner: Ciudad del Saber (CDS)
Just a few minutes from Panama’s city center and across from the Panama Canal, the 120 hectares and over 200 buildings of the former Clayton military base have been transformed into the City of Knowledge. Here, entrepreneurs, scientists, thinkers, artists, community leaders, as well as experts from the government, NGOs, and international organizations work together to develop initiatives that trigger social change.

City of Knowledge is an innovative community that imagines, researches, learns, teaches, experiments, invents, creates and inspires; proving that a different Panama and a different world are possible. A private, non-profit Panamanian organization is responsible for leading this project: The City of Knowledge Foundation.

Learn more about CDS
Panama CDS Partner Logo HRS

Meet the Panama Team

Leon Mach, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values
Meet Leon

Holly Hummel, M.S.

Community Coordinator and Cultural Liaison
Meet Holly

Rosannette Quesada Hidalgo, Ph.D.

Lecturer in Principles of Resource Management
Meet Rosa

Dago Venera-Ponton, PH.D.

Professor of Tropical Costal Ecology
Meet Dago

Chelsea Archibold

Cleaning Technician
Meet Chelsea

Hugo Zambrano

Kitchen and Operations Manager
Meet Hugo

Sydney Rubinstein

Student Health and Wellness Manager
Meet Sydney

Adrien Perez

Garden Technician
Meet Adrien

Isidro Francis

Head of Security
Meet Isidro