Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Exploring Bocas Del Toro

Returning from our week long break, we headed to the ITEC Station in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  There, we deviated from our usual focus on tropical forests to look at the marine environment in the area, and particularly at Pete’s Reef, a coral reef only a short boat ride from the station.
            Snorkeling at several different locations around the station was definitely one of my favorite experiences of the semester.  While I have been snorkeling several times and have always loved marine ecosystems, I had never before had the chance to snorkel so much or to learn so much about the specific areas I was snorkeling in.
            On our first full day in Bocas del Toro, we visited three different locations.  The first was Starfish Beach, where there were massive yellow starfish throughout the area.  The second was a sea grass bed where we saw a lot more biodiversity – lots of little fish and even a ray.  The last visit of the day was to Pete’s Reef, the site where our faculty-led project would take place over the next two days.
            I really enjoyed getting to visit all these different locations, in part because of how different they were from one another despite their close proximity, but also because of how much more I got to see there than at other locations I have visited in the past.  Snorkeling at these reefs was amazing because we were so much closer to the reefs than I had been at other locations and we even learned how to free-dive to get a closer look at some of the deeper areas, something I had never been able to do before.  It was also cool to snorkel as a larger group because people found more species than I would have been able to see on my own.  Our professors and the lifeguard were also able to tell us more about the species that we saw, an experience I had not had during my previous snorkeling experiences.
            During the following days, my excitement for snorkeling and for participating in the faculty-led project did not die down.  It was a great experience to have such an educational experience on Pete’s Reef during the project.  I definitely gained much more appreciation for coral reefs as an ecosystem just by studying the behavior and impacts of the Threespot Damselfish for a couple of days.  I had never done research underwater and found it interesting that the ecosystem so accessible.
            During our week at Bocas del Toro, I learned a lot about the many types of ecosystems in the area and got to experience research of a kind that I had never encountered before.  It was definitely one of my favorite weeks of the semester.
Jessica Kuesel
Duke University

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