Women in Science

Gender bias?  Here in Panama, at Tranquilo Bay, not so much, but in many other parts of the world, yes.  When many people think of women in science they do not think of the same people who my daughter brings to her mind.  Why, well, we are blessed to live on a spot on this earth that brings many scientists to us.  And believe it or not, the majority of the scientists that we have met working here in Bocas del Toro, are women.

We welcome scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute out to our place to study whatever it is they are studying.  We figure it helps science, we learn something and our kids have an opportunity to meet new scientists on a regular basis.

We have naturalist guides who are on site to work with our guests who have both studied different sciences and who teach us about biology, nature and many different types of science on a daily basis.

We have group leaders who are scientists or naturalists of some form that visit us on a regular basis.

We have a family member who studied ecology and is working with TIDE so that she might become a marine biologist one day.

Why this conversation?  Well, one of the scientists we met in October 2015 is also a National Geographic Photographer.  Clare Fiesler contacted us to see about working with us on a kayak circumnavigation of Isla Bastimentos while she was studying at STRI.  She and her buddy, Becca Skinner, used two portable Orukayaks to complete this expedition.  They stayed the first night with us.  Both of them have shared some details about their adventure on Nat Geo’s blog and Instagram account.

Since then, Clare suggested that a group of students from UNC Chapel Hill spend some time documenting Bocas del Toro and she kindly gave them our name.  The result is this award-winning multimedia website created by the students under the supervision of a great group of professors and coaches.  Clare was one of the coaches.

Bocas del Toro Documentary

Several years ago, Clare worked on a  project:  “Outnumbered:  Portraits of Women Scientists.”  She explains a bit about the project in this video.  You can also get more information here:  http://college.unc.edu/2014/11/12/outnumbered/.

Most recently Clare used words to explain in An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries about the “death” of the Great Barrier Reef as well as obituaries as a genre.  We take writing very seriously around here as part of our school curriculum so when we find people who are skilled with this craft, we learn whatever we can from them.

My children have met a number of female scientists and a number of people named Clare, but only one female scientist named Clare.  So when I tell them that Clare is in Bocas del Toro working on another research project they immediately know to ask, “Mom, are you talking about the Clare that did the kayak project?”  They do this because to them, Clare isn’t the only female scientist they know so they have learned to identify her in a different way.  I wish that more people had the same perspective on life – we can work towards whatever interests us and it doesn’t need to fit a specific mold.  We can make it into what works for us.  Clare’s camera and her words are some of the tools she uses to expand people’s horizons and help tell people’s stories.  Many of those stories touch science in one way or another.

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Underwater Chorus

Snorkeling Bocas del ToroPhoto. Juvenile Caribbean Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus)

Historically birds have surprised and filled the life of humans with their calls.  In the past, mostly as pets in cages, where some species were more desired than others because of their songs or the ability to speak.  Parrots are very well know for the last skill.

Caged Bird Graphic

Source: http://krutishah0703.blogspot.com/p/caged-bird.html

More recently people are interested in enjoying these melodious creatures in their natural habitat.  Bird watching is growing around the world, year by year.

Golden-collared Manakin

Photo. Male Golden-collar Manakin (Manacus vitellinus) displaying on its lek

We (humans) always have related the songs in nature to the birds. What if I tell you fish sing? A few days ago I was reading an article about singing fish.  They have proven that fish do sing.  It make sense, living creatures need to communicate, animals as different as insects, frogs, birds, whales … do it, so, why not fish?

This study occurred in Western Australia, and during a period of 18 months they recorded and identified seven different choruses, from different species of fish, happening at dawn and at dusk. Those choruses are used by the fishes to regroup, settle territorial disputes or find food.

If you want to read the full article, visit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2106331-fish-recorded-singing-dawn-chorus-on-reefs-just-like-birds/

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Longsnout Seahorse

Snorkeling Bocas del Toro

One of the most intriguing, secretive and unknown species of the Bocatoranian marine wildlife is also one that occupies a privileged place in everyone’s personal wildlife universe: Seahorses. The Longsnout Seahorse, Hippocampus reidi is the species found in Bocas del Toro.

Many of us have enjoyed seahorse cartoon characters, bathroom stickers, pictures, and documentaries. We have seen them in aquariums or dried out in local market as souvenirs.   In some cultures they use them as a traditional medicine.

For many years I believed that they were just a Bocatoranian myth, but local neighbors remember the times where they were often seen under their docks or attached to sponges on the dock posts. I have never seen them on Isla Colon, yet I was lucky enough to find one some time ago. What makes it more incredible is that the one I found is within swimming distance of Tranquilo Bay’s dock.

In the very same area in which I found it, I continue to see it from time to time. One important thing that I have learned is that the times I have seen it are when I am choosing to have a very slow mode snorkeling experience. Because seahorses are not good swimmers they have an amazing camouflage system in the bony plates covering their bodies. This is their only defense against predators.

Panama Seahorse

There are many interesting facts about seahorses; I am just going to give you some of them that I believe curious enough to be shared.

Their unusual reproductive strategy is one of them, the males are the ones that will carry the eggs after the female lays them in a special abdominal pouch on the male (where they are fertilized). He will incubate them and 14 days later he will give birth by opening the pouch to the tiny (0.2 inches) young seahorses that are identical yet smaller than the adults.

They are generally believed to mate for life, but what scientist have confirmed through the data collected is that some seahorses do have monogamous relationships in which they stay together for several mating seasons in a row.

Seahorses are considered an important species in the aquarium trade. They are one of the most exported marine ornamental fish species in Brazil.

With all that interest and curiosity that seahorses awaken in the human mind, many sea horse populations are on the decline given that they have been collected as aquarium fishes, used in folk medicine, and sold as souvenirs.

Another important threat is that they are included in the by-catch of shrimp boats in the USA, Mexican and Central American ocean waters.

Even with all this pressure on seahorse populations, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the species are considered “data deficient” so they are not included in the IUCN red list of endangered species.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (C.I.T.E.S) includes our Longsnout Seahorse in their list as “Threatened”, in the Apendix II CITES 2004.

This is a good example of how important it is that scientists continue to study the Longsnout Seahorse in order todeterminewhether or not its population is stable and what conservation measures might need to be initiated. If we do not even know if there is a problem … how are we going to fix it?

Kayaking near Tranquilo Bay

panoramicocean

Due to Tranquilo Bay’s location in a nearly untouched forest area within the Bocas del Toro archipelago, and the fact that it is surrounded by protected waters that hold an incredible collection of coral and sponges, we have almost an unlimited range of things to do and discover right off of the dock.

One of things we can do is take a kayak into the Caribbean Sea.   We often do this directly from Tranquilo Bay’s dock. It is an excellent summary of Bocas del Toro’s many possibilities.

Panama Birding

We start early to avoid paddling under the harshest sun. We glide over calm waters into a mangrove channel. It is here that we can see some interesting wildlife: from cushion starfishes under our kayaks to the beautiful Snowy Cotinga flirting with the top of the trees; or a Keel- billed or Yellow-throated Toucans flying over our heads in the wider areas of the canal; or the Yellow Mangrove Warbler calling at the dense mangrove edge.

bluejeansfrog

If we feel like it, we stop at Isla Popa and check for different color morphs of the famous Strawberry poison dart frog, with their green and orange tones, to the light blue legged ones.

After experiencing the richness of our “over the water” world, on the way back we discover what the underwater world has to offer.

kayaksnorkel

Endless platforms of coral reef covered in life and color, playful shining fishes, countless brittle stars, mysterious feather-dusters, sponges, crustaceans, ascidians are all visible under the ocean. Each of these animals lets you witness their daily life. Textures and shapes curving underwater are a colorful live work of art.

snorkel

On the end of our kayak trip, it is a good time to compile and archive our memories of all the amazing things we saw within a kayak distance from Tranquilo Bay.

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How to: SNORKELING

Snorkeling PanamaIf we are planning on discovering Bocas del Toro’s underwater treasures, there is one important thing that has to be always on our minds … All the crazy shapes with strange textures and designs, in the brightest colors surrounding us while snorkeling, are life forms that belong to one of the most intricate and fragile ecosystems over the face of the Earth …. So, we have to be absolutely careful in our movements, and avoid touching anything while we are in the water.

If you haven’t ever experienced snorkeling, first of all … do not worry.  It is a very exciting experience and you can make it even smoother, by using some tricks.   At Tranquilo Bay our solution to make it easier is using a neoprene life jacket, as it will help to keep you afloat comfortably.  By not having to struggle to keep yourself afloat it allows you to calmly focus on enjoying the colorful fishes and coral in front of your mask.

Bocas del Toro Snorkeling

On top of using jackets, we also have the best grounds upon which to practice.   Tranquilo Bay’s dock is located in waters where the coral is deep enough so that beginners can enter the amazing world of snorkeling in a safe and instantly rewarding way.

Bocas del Toro reefs are often shallow. At a “flipper distance” from the surface of the water where we are floating may be home to the reef, but there will be always an edge where we can safely enjoy the underwater world. So, search for your comfortable depth on the edge of the shallow reef.

Biodiversity Temple SnorkelingTo fully enjoy the reef systems, I would like to suggest that snorkeling is a stress less pleasure.  It requires very gentle movements, very soft fin strokes, open eyes, and a lot of curiosity and patience to search with your eyes in the cracks and holes where many creatures hide.   If you move like a sloth, your chances of finding the most amazing creatures that inhabit the reef will increase immensely.   You might have a chance encounter between the different actors that inhabit these biodiversity temples (otherwise known as the Bocatoranian Reefs).

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How to put on a mask

How to Put on a MaskIt’s a few simple steps to put a mask on the correct way.  To have a successful snorkeling experience it is important choose the right mask and adjust it properly.  Today I am setting  together some simple tips to help you with mask selection and a proper handling.

Choosing the right mask

  1. Put the mask on your face and press slightly, don’t put the strap behind your head.
  2. Inhale a small amount of air through your nose and release your hands.
  3. The mask should stay on your face.

If it does, that means the seal of the mask is good, and you are using the right type of mask for your face shape. You can also try this when you put the snorkel in your mouth, move some face muscles to help to see how well mask seals.

It is very important to push your hair away from your face. If you are already in the water, and is water leaking in to your mask, a little bit of hair can easily be the reason why is water getting in to your mask.

The strap

  1. A common mistake is to put the strap directly on your ears; the proper place is behind/around your head. What holds the mask is a good seal, not how tight you put the strap behind/around your head.
  2. Masks have different adjustment mechanisms, check, when you have it in your hand how it works, to know, in case you need to adjust the strap, how to release it or tighten it.

Keeping the mask from fogging

  1. Spit into the inside face of the mask when the mask is dry.
  2. Move it around your fingers a bit.
  3. Rinse it in the ocean and you ready to go!

Snorkeling PanamaWell, I hope some of those simple tricks are useful for your next snorkeling experience. I hope you get your snorkeling gear on and get in the water to enjoy the underwater world soon!

Reef beauty – Spotted Drum

A few weeks ago, I saw, what it is for me one of the most amazing fishes of the reef: the Spotted Drum (Equetus punctatus).

Snorkeling Panama

It is an uncommon species of fish that can be seen snorkeling on Caribbean reefs so of course It is always a nice surprise to find one.  I met this one near the dock, on top of a big red coral near the mangroves. This magnificent fish stayed for days, I know this because every day I went to snorkel I checked to see if it was still there.

Mangrove SnorkelingThe day before I wrote this post the pretty Spotted Drum was still here, I will keep checking every time I get in the water around the red coral, to know if our spectacular neighbor is still here.

Several guests here at Tranquilo Bay got to see this stunning animal. I hope it will make of the big red coral his permanent home. Before this set of encounters, I had seen this fish twice, once was a young one (which it looks very different from the adult) and the next time was an adult.

Camoflaged 2

The animal that was on the picture I posted two days ago, in the bottom of the water, was a very well camouflaged Sand Diver (Synodius intermedius).  This species really blends into its environment.  It has a behavior that helps with its strategy to remain unseen: it stays at the bottom of the water, in a specific spot, that looks very much like its coloration and does not move at all.

Snorkeling Panama

Snorkeling Panama

 

Edited to change photo 12/13/15.

Camoflaged 1

A very common strategy in nature used by wildlife is camouflage, basically: “if you don`t see me, you cant´ eat me”.  Well, based on that premise I have a picture to share with you all. This picture is a small area of the bottom of the sea, near the dock, where there isn’t much coral and it is mostly sea grass on a sand bed with a lot of sea urchins.  Do you see something else, besides what I just describe?

Wildlife Panama