Defining key island systems, both natural and human, and how they interface is the focus of this marine and terrestrial program. Through field observations and research, students identify the pressures on the environment and social systems, and evaluate the responses by local stakeholders and policymakers. Interviews with residents reveal local livelihood strategies, approaches to surviving in a tourism-based economy, and use of natural resources, which help students to assess the sustainability of terrestrial and marine resource use. The program provides a foundational knowledge of the interdependence of the livelihood strategies of island residents, population structure of key species, and habitat arrangements and conditions. Equipped with this, students then apply sustainability principles to identify potential management strategies. Lectures by Panamanian and international researchers, government officials, and community stakeholders provide additional social, economic, and policy context for environmental management in the region.
Coursework is taught in English
One semester of college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies/science
Impacts of tourism on humans and the natural environment
Assessment of ecosystem health
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
Impact of policy enforcement on local communities and environment
Ecology of terrestrial and marine species important to tourism
Conservation and management strategies
What You'll Practice
Terrestrial, marine and coastal species identification
Insect and amphibian trapping for population monitoring
Quantitative & qualitative data collection and analysis
Environmental-impact and protected-areas assessments
Research design, implementation, and communication
Tourism impact assessment methods
Student Research Projects
Effect of disturbance as an indicator of rainforest species diversity and habitat suitability
Impacts of habitat and biodiversity loss due to human activities
Changes in marine species abundance and diversity in proximity to Bocas Town and the Bastimentos Marine Protected Area
Viability of poison dart frogs in fragile ecosystems affected by anthropogenic factors such as habitat loss, land-cover changes, and a warming climate
Knowledge about the tourism sector in Bocas del Toro and how it is supported and actively managed by local stakeholders
Livelihood strategies of residents, such as fisheries, ecotourism, agriculture, ranching, and forestry; and decision-making processes of families that extract natural products for subsistence and income generation
Students attending this program will be based at the SFS Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Click here to find out more about the Center and life at the field station.
Week 1: Introductions, orientation, classes begin in Panama City
Week 2: Classes and lectures in the field and classroom
Week 3: Field trip to Popa Indigenous Community and weekend away
Week 4: Field trip to Changuinola (examine banana cultivation and agro-tourism)
Week 5: Excursion to Dolphin Bay, ITEC overnight, nighttime hike
Week 6: Field trip to Islas Zapatillas (snorkeling, forest walk and interviews with stakeholders)
Week 7: Mid-terms and mid-semester break
Week 8: Understanding development, field trips to Red Frog, La Loma and Bahia Honda
Week 9: Multi-day excursion to the Pacific coast and Highlands of Panama
Week 10: Classes and lectures focused on climate change, Directed Research Proposal writing
Week 11: Exams and preparation for DR
Week 12: Directed Research fieldwork begins, second weekend away
Week 13: Field work continues, data analysis and research writing
Week 14: Research writing concludes, individual and community presentations
Week 15: Closing activities and final group excursion
Itinerary subject to change.
A Note about Program Costs
Includes all pre-program advising services, room and board at the field station and on excursions, park entrance and research fees, program-related transportation, emergency evacuation insurance, and official transcript processing.
Does not include international airfare, international medical insurance, medical costs, and personal non-program related expenses.
SFS 2070 Language, Culture, and Society of Panama (2 credits)
This course contains two distinct but integrated modules. The Spanish language module offers listening, oral, and written practice of the Spanish language at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of proficiency. Students engage in oral and written grammar and vocabulary exercises, and develop Spanish language skills and tools required for their research projects. The sociocultural module helps students to develop a more refined understanding of Panamanian culture and the various communities with which we work. Students participate in lectures, field exercises, and other activities—all of which teach them strategies and skills for working with people in a community-based research context and help them to assist with community extension projects.
SFS 3020 Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values - Panama (4 credits)
This course provides a critical look at the livelihood strategies of island residents, the land use and environmental regulations in place, and actual or recommended responses by society (including government, civil society, and individuals) aimed at mitigating pressures and restoring balance in the environment. Students gain an understanding of the local perceptions of conservation of natural resources and the pressure points between development and preservation. Students measure and examine the economic importance of tourism along with the habitat degradation due to tourism. Gauging environmental awareness and literacy of tourists helps students to understand their impact on the future of endangered island ecosystems that will be put under continuous pressure with the climbing number of visitors.
SFS 3740 Principles of Resource Management - Panama (4 credits)
This course examines terrestrial ecology and land-management principles and practices including timber and non-timber forest products. Students examine land use and land cover change—especially in regard to increasing pastureland and plantation land under cultivation (mostly banana) in close proximity to the ocean and important watershed habitats. Students also investigate how climate change is affecting natural resources and livelihoods on land, sea, and in forests.
This course introduces students to the ecology of coastal and marine ecosystems. Students learn to identify the major groups of dominant species in these habitats and understand the complexity of ecosystem functions in a delicate island-based marine context. The concept of island biogeography helps to frame the examination of the status of tropical island systems, especially those prone to perturbations related to climate change. Students conduct field exercises in many coastal habitats including reefs, mangroves, intertidal zones, grass beds, and estuaries.
This course prepares students to distinguish hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate fact from interpretation, cause from correlation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students learn specific tools including: experimental design; field techniques; basic descriptive statistics; and parametric and non-parametric quantitative analysis. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective delivery of oral presentations.