The last weeks we spent learning about the ecosystems of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, its components, and the organisms we can find within. Most of our time was spent in the water identifying mangrove and seagrass organisms, corals and coral reef organisms, and finally reef fishes. This included some time of discussing ecology of our coastal ecosystems and challenges they are facing today.
After getting an overview about techniques we can use in the field to quantify and evaluate marine habitats, we started our field techniques projects analyzing herbivores and benthic cover in two sites in proximity to our center.
Our research took us to two idyllic islands called Cayos Zapatillas within the Bastimentos Marine Reserve where all students listened to an interesting talk with one of the park rangers describing his work and providing details about the park. A walk on the trails which led through tropical forests gave us the opportunity to come in close contact with the fauna and flora of the island and identify many different inhabitants.
After a lunch break on the beach, which included swimming in the clear tropical waters, one group hiked around the island interviewing visitors while the other group of students was taking measurements on the coral reefs surrounding the two little islands. We encountered a large colony of Elkhorn Corals which have become very rare in the Caribbean and within it many species of fishes were searching shelter.
After a day of great impressions on tropical island biodiversity and its management, each student is now compiling data and findings for a poster documenting their studies which will help us lead to conclusions on coral reef ecology.