Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Early Morning Fight to Bocas del Toro

Today I’m on the Caribbean coast of Panama, at the Bocas del Toro Research Station.  As scientific director of the station I make frequent trips across the country from my base in the Naos Laboratories in Panama City.

The 6am departure makes
for a long day.
It is best to arrive before the rush.

The Monday morning flight is popular and there are often several STRI visitors or employees on the fight.  10 years ago when I first started to travel to Bocas you could arrive 15 minutes before the flight and you could get a coffee for 50 cents.  Now the airport is often packed and it’s hard to believe that the fancy coffee shops charge $4 for a small “large”.

Fort Amador on a hazy morning.
Islas Naos, Perico and Flamenco. 
For more about the Causeway and
The 50-minute flight passes directly over the Causeway and the Naos Labs, then crosses the country parallel to the Panama Canal (the flattest part of the country).  Sometimes the flight path takes you over the Canal.  

Coming into Bocas... 

An early morning, hazy view of mangrove islands 
around the large island of Solatre.

......offers a great view of the complex topography of the region.  Several large islands surrounded by numerous small cays are all fringed with mangroves. If you look closely you can see that the mangroves are taller around the edges of the small keys. You can’t tell from the air, but the trees in the center of these islands are dwarfs, reaching heights of only 3-4 feet.  Research at the Bocas Research Station has shown that this pattern is due to nutrient limitation.  Seawater brings nutrients to the outer trees but as the water penetrates the dense mass of roots the nutrients are rapidly depleted.  If you fertilize the trees on the inside they shoot up and begin to look like the outer trees. 

One of the Zapatilla Cays is the site of a long-term project on the biology and
conservation of hawksbill turtles.  The view from the plane is nicer on sunny days.

A very quiet early morning on a wet day.  You can hardly 
imagine this sleepy main street full of tourists.
The town of Bocas del Toro is a different world from Panama City.  Sleepy and, at the same time, a touristic hotspot, full of restaurants and bars.  I bypass what’s on offer and head in to work.

Arriving at the station before 8, I have a few minutes before the staff arrive and the researchers appear, ready for another day in the field or lab.

The BRS station building.  Peaceful in the early morning.
It's going to be a busy day.  Welcoming the students and instructors of a visiting course.  Meeting with my advisees, and discussing budget and administrative issues with the station staff.  If I’m lucky I’ll have time for a swim.  If... I finish before dark.... and it doesn't rain too hard....

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