An SFS staff team representing academics, admissions, and research visited Panama last month to advance development of the Tropical Island Biodiversity and Conservation Studies pilot program launching this fall and spring in Bocas del Toro. Ellen Reid’s photographs from the trip give us a glimpse into the relationship between the delicate ecosystems of the archipelago and its dynamic human inhabitants.

A group of local boys entertained us on a dock in the Saigon neighborhood of Bocas del Toro town.

The dock at Bocas del Drago on Isla Colon close to the ITEC field station.

Starfish Beach, named for the copious cushion stars found in the water there, used to be a quiet place, but now it is a very popular day trip destination for tourists.

Shallow fringing reefs are common in the archipelago.

Much of Bocas Town is built out over the water and the docks are lively hubs of activity.

Cacao is grown in Bocas del Toro and produced mostly for local consumption.

A local Ngobe boy paddles through the Saropta Canal in a traditional dugout canoe.

On Saropta Beach we could see all the way to Punta Mona in Costa Rica and were likely the only people on that beach for miles.

Sloths are commonly sighted in Bocas del Toro.

Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos is a great place to learn about the tension between conservation and development as locals battle the construction of a mega-resort there.

A typical sight in Casco Viejo, the colonial center of Panama City: molas (a traditional handicraft of the Kuna indigenous group) are displayed against a backdrop of renovated and run-down buildings.