Our group headed south to spend a week in Bocas Del Toro, Panama and, so far, I think this has been my favorite week studying abroad with OTS. Not only did we get to study in beautiful weather, we spent the week snorkeling and learning about coral reef and mangrove ecology.
At this location, we participated in a faculty-led project that dealt with territorial damselfish, the aggressive behavior of Damselfish and herbivory. At Bocas Del Toro, we also had many lectures about the threats to coral reefs, as well as threats to mangroves - salt tolerant trees. Before our lectures, I never realized how important mangroves are and why so many have been destroyed. About 50% of mangroves are gone, due to reasons such as coastal development, shrimp farming, and over-harvesting for use as firewood and charcoal. Mangroves are not only important for the habitat of many species, they are also a carbon sequester, food source, nursing habitat for juvenile fish, and they help maintain water clarity by trapping fine particles and sediments. Mangroves are also important because of their shoreline protection from storms, hurricanes, waves, and flooding. At Bocas, the most prominent mangrove species are the red mangroves, known for their impressive prominent root system.
The station we were located at was surrounded by mangroves, and we were lucky to view them every day as we left the station by boat to go snorkel for our faculty-led project. After hours in the water observing damselfish behavior for our project, it was soon time to swim back to the boat. Unfortunately, we seemed to always run into jellyfish, and I experienced my first four jellyfish stings, which in all reality, was less painful than I thought it would be. In the water we were lucky to also see some Caribbean manta rays, an octopus, and a lot of stoplight parrotfish. Being out in the sun and ocean for the day drained everything out of us. Each day we would come back to the dining area at lunchtime and after eating, everyone would pass out and fall asleep, no matter where they were sitting, or what they were doing. Soon it was time to go back out into the field. By 9:30pm, when the station generator was turned off, we would happily go to sleep after an exhausting day.