Exploration of the beautiful and diverse Bocas del Toro archipelago continues during our third program week. Besides visiting the locals in their communities and getting to know the forest on Solarte Island, we started to explore the coastal ecosystems which border the island at the interface of land and sea and continue underwater.
We have now explored a good part of our surrounding areas; most of the organisms we have learned about are right around our Center: rainforest, mangroves, seagrasses, and even coral reefs are only a two minute boat ride away! Students are compiling lists of organisms which they find in each ecosystem.
To become aware of the challenges which coral reef ecosystems in Bocas del Toro and the Caribbean face, we focused on learning about invasive species last week, particularly the Red Lionfish, which has spread over the whole Caribbean and is considered a growing problem. After an introductory lecture and a discussion of management practices we decided that it was time to delve deeper into the problem and “get our hands dirty”: we held a lionfish workshop in which students were introduced to a standard protocol on data collection on those invasive predators. In small groups we took data on the fish and its ecology, dissected it and looked at its stomach contents. Lionfish are voracious eaters and can expand their stomachs to 30 times its normal volume; we found up to three fishes inside one lionfish!