Name: Rachelle Brown
School: Vassar College
Major: Biological Sciences
Program: Tropical Island Biodiversity & Conservation Studies, Panama
On our first full-day outing in Bocas del Toro, we went to Bastimentos Marine Park, taking two speedboats through the clear turquoise waters of the beautiful archipelago. The weather was perfect for the day trip: hot sun, blue skies, and calm waters. We met a delay at first when one of the boats had minor motors problems, but we took the opportunity to look in the waters around our dock and saw a flying fish and jellyfish. Some of the group passed the time by doing yoga on the dock, and soon enough the problem was fixed and we were ready to go.
Our first stop was to a mangrove forest, and we snorkeled among the prop-roots in the sheltering habitat. Many fish and crustaceans live between the roots, and we had fun both in looking at the creatures and identifying their Latin names with our new found knowledge.
After our first refreshing dip, we boated over to a restaurant set up on stilts in the water, where we could order smoothies to cool off, tan on the dock, get snacks, or jump back in the water to look at the many fish in the waters underneath. Many of my fellow classmates and teachers chose the last option, and we were rewarded with glimpses of parrotfish in all colors of the rainbow.
After this brief stop, we settled back into the boats to make our way to Cayo Zapatilla, where we enjoyed a packed lunch of sandwiches and watermelon before eagerly racing back into the water. We took photos of the group to memorialize this amazing day before we separated to snorkel around the beautiful island, making our way to the surf further out or to the small twin islands harboring a colony of crabs. The seagrass beds were full of life, as were the corals beyond, but they didn’t compare to the splendor of our next and final stop.
As tired as we were from the hours in the salt and sun, we rallied immediately when we saw the impressive branching prongs of the Elkhorn coral dominating the seascape. These corals provide a three dimensional habitat for the diverse wildlife hiding among them; I myself saw pufferfish, sea urchins, parrotfish, wrasses, spiny lobsters, feather duster worms, groupers, jellyfish, damselfish, and more in the relatively short time we stayed.
All too soon, though, it was time to head back to the STRI center so we could study for our test the following day — a reminder that this paradise was really a center for learning. However, the magic of the area wouldn’t be complete without one last reminder of its wonders. On the boat ride back, a dolphin surfaced alongside us, its grey tail signaling once more that whether or not we are looking, the sea continues to hold beautiful varieties of life just waiting to benefit those lucky enough to see them.