We have spent the last few weeks learning about the coastal ecosystems of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago: its components and the organisms we can find within. A lot of our time was spent in the water identifying mangrove and seagrass organisms, corals and coral reef organisms and coral reef fishes. This also included some time discussing the ecology of our coastal environment and the challenges it faces today.

After providing an overview about techniques we can use in the field to quantify and evaluate marine habitats, we started our field techniques projects by analyzing herbivores and benthic cover in two sites in close proximity to our Center.

Our research took us to two idyllic islands called Cayos Zapatillas located in the Bastimentos Marine Park. A walk on the trails that meander through tropical forests gave us the opportunity to come in close contact with the fauna and flora of the island and to identify many different components and inhabitants of the forest.

Another part of the excursion was to collect data on coral cover and herbivorous coral reef organisms in proximity to the islands; we worked around large colonies of Elkhorn Corals, which have become very rare in the entire Caribbean. Within the corals numerous species of fishes were seeking shelter and we even saw an octopus rapidly changing colors for camouflage and blending in with its surroundings. This is definitely the best snorkeling spot we have visited so far!

After having a lunch break among palm trees, students hiked around the island interviewing visitors to find out more about their background, motivations to come to the park and their impressions on the visit.

After a day of great impressions of tropical island biodiversity and its management, each student is now compiling data for a poster documenting their findings which will help us better understand the current state of coral reefs in the area.

(Photo Credit: Dr. Cinda Scott)