After a day of driving and crossing the Costa Rica/Panama border, our bus finally reached its destination, a small port town on the Atlantic coast. Our group exited the bus, and we loaded into a small motorized boat. We started our thirty-minute boat excursion through a picturesque setting; the sea was clear blue, the coast was visible in the distance, the sun radiated and reflected off the water, and mangroves were scattered throughout. We passed by numerous tranquil beaches, and eventually our boat slowed. The boat entered what appeared to be a man-made tunnel in the mangroves, and we reached a secluded dock on Isla Colón, one of the islands in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. I looked out and saw a large pastureland flanked by dense forest in the background. As far as I was concerned, we had reached a tropical paradise.
We emptied the boat and started across the pastureland, avoiding numerous cows and a lone horse until we reached a fenced off area. Within the fence was the biological station; it included a two-story living quarters, library, laboratory, dining hall and lounge area, and even a volleyball court. Peter, the man in charge of the station, gave us a quick introduction of the haven he called home. In the dining hall, a dart board hung on the wall, a hammock spanned across two pillars, and the room was furnished with multiple tables and a couch. I could not imagine more calm and ideal living conditions.
The next morning, we set out for our swimming and buoyancy tests, followed by multiple hours of snorkeling, an activity we would become quite familiar with the next few days. Bocas del Toro has a considerable amount of living coral reef, especially relative to the rest of the highly bleached Caribbean reef system. The marine biodiversity we encountered was incredible; we saw numerous moon jellies, a group of squids, multiple sting rays, and various families of corals and fishes. As well, we studied the habits of damselfish, a territorial herbivorous fish, using planted sea grass. The fish would chase away any fish that neared their food source, even to the point that one nibbled my finger when I attempted to collect the sea grass for examination.
The incredible biodiversity of Bocas del Toro was not limited to the marine life. On Isla Colón, a three-toed sloth appeared at the station. To intimidate us, the assumed predators, the sloth stood up and spread its arms wide. Despite its best intentions, the pose simply made the creature look adorable. Also, we came across a Boa constrictor in the leaf litter. As well, the forest was dense with a plethora of frogs, especially yellow Oophaga pumilio with black spots. We even stumbled across a Diasporus diastema, more commonly known as a dink frog, a species that is quite difficult to find.
Our quaint research station on the secluded Isla Colón is a great example of an island left highly-undisturbed by human interaction. In contrast to the other islands of Bocas del Toro that had been highly impacted by tourism, Isla Colón has retained much of its natural beauty. Despite the great economic advantages of tourism, Isla Colón is an example of why many of nature’s beauties must be protected.