I have to admit, this paradise is like nowhere I’ve ever been before. From the snowy northern Michigan woods to the cornfields of Illinois, I’m a stranger to palms and salt water. Also to humidity, and there is quite a lot of that in Bocas del Toro! My body is adjusting slowly while I jump in with both feet, literally if you consider all of the snorkeling and swimming we’ve been doing here daily. In the past few days we’ve been studying coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grass beds; in particular their importance in the global environment. Snorkeling on a coral reef earlier this week, we saw amazing rainbow parrotfish, sea cucumbers, spiny lobsters, jellyfish, and most exciting were some squid that, when we approached, changed from clear to brown an attempt to camouflage.

This week we’re focusing on mangroves and seagrass beds in our Tropical Coastal Ecology class, and we’ve been snorkeling around Isla Solarte. Yesterday we saw a spotted-eagle ray glide under the boat—the spots looked like stars on its deep-blue back. We also saw many cushy sea stars and urchins, but our intern Emily was unfortunately stung by a jellyfish!

In Natural Resource Management, we’ve been learning the common species found around the archipelago, including birds, mammals, and plants. We saw sloths in the trees when bird watching! Today we did species counts in plots of the rainforest; it was tough to move around in the thick underbrush, but we got it done. It’s hot and sweaty here, but you can’t beat the view and we know it’s all just part of the adventure here on Solarte!