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

Steve Ingraham’s Review of Tranquilo Bay

Photography Panama

Honestly, I have never been anywhere as photographically engaging as Tranquilo Bay Lodge on Bastimentos Island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the Caribbean side of northern Panama.    Steve Ingraham

Steve Ingraham was here visiting us last month.  He did a complete review of the lodge on his point and shoot website.  You can see the entire review here:  He plans to lead a group of six or so photographers to come down and capture some birds and other wildlife on digital film this fall.

You can also see his review of Tranquilo Bay on TripAdvisor.

We are grateful for his kind words and are looking forward to his next trip here with his group.



Sea Slugs

In the post I wrote about Nudibranchs I explained that they are also called “Sea Slugs”, which defines a group of marine invertebrates that resemble terrestrial slugs, including Echinoderms, Platyhelminthes and mollusks such as Nudibranchs or snails.

These marine invertebrates can be used as a good example to understand why common names are often shared by animals from very different taxonomic groups.   The common name may give you an idea of the kind of shape, size or coloration of the animal, but they are not useful for a precise taxonomical identification because the name is not accurate nor specific. Snorkeling Panama

Other species that could be called “Sea Slug” in Bocas del Toro are the different sea cucumber species like the Five-Toothed Sea Cucumber (Actinopygia agassizii) or species of flat worms like the one called Thysanozoon raphaeli.

Sea cucumbers are, as Nudibranchs, benthic organisms, meaning, they are found on the ocean floor or over reefs, or mangrove roots.  They look like a terrestrial slug because of their soft body, their shape and their movements. Sea Cucumbers are part of the Phylum Echinodermata.

Panama Snorkeling

Thysanozoon raphaeli can be found swimming in a salt water column at mangrove lagoons near Bastimentos Island.  In the pictures you can observe how similar it is to the Nudibranch, and to a terrestrial slug (even though almost all Nudibranchs are benthic organism and this flat worm is always found “swimming”).  T.raphaeli belongs to the phylum Platyhelminthes also known as “flat worms”.

Snorkeling in Bocas del Toro

The Flamingo Tong (Cyphoma gibbosum) belongs to the Class Gasteropoda as does the Nudibranchs but it is in the subclass Prosobranchia, which means that is considered a Snail. The mantle in this species is covered completely by the reduced shell it has, so it makes it seem like a slug.

As you can see in the pictures, they look alike and that is the reason they share a common name, but that common name could never be accurate if we were trying to identify a single specie, not even to define the taxonomic group that a particular species belongs to.

Kayak Snorkeling trips

Jungle Kayak

If you want to have a mixed experience and you are not focused solely on snorkeling, kayaks are a great tool to “get” everywhere and always give a different perspective of whatever you are going to see.

With the kayaks we can go from finding toucans or the beautiful Snowy Cotinga, to visiting a calm water secluded beach. We can take it as we choose, snorkeling in different spot in our way over or on our way back. We can jump off the kayak for a refreshing swim in the clear Caribbean waters any time we please.

Kayaking Panama

Their versatility makes kayaks a great way to have fun:

  • Kayaks allow you to reach so many interesting and otherwise inaccessible places
  • The quiet, relaxing sound of the kayak gliding in the pristine protected waters of the Bocatoranian Caribbean.
  • You are so close that you become part of the event you are observing.

Kayak Bocas

But a kayak also allows for a once peaceful use in the “observers mode” to become a fast wet race. Many times on the in the way back we “race,” to see who might be the first one to enjoy an ice-cold drink from the dock´s cooler.

Bocas Kayaking

There are as many ways to have fun in the water as there are people, and we all have our particular ways but, in a kayak, you can have them all at once.

Snorkeling: Nudibranch

Snorkeling Panama

Two Forms of Lettuce Sea Slug

Some of the most striking animals that inhabit the Bocatoranian reefs and waters are the Nudibranchs which means “naked gills”.

They belong to the Phylum Mollusca in the Class Gasteropoda subclass Opisthobranchia which includes Sea Hares, Sidegill Slugs and Sea Slugs.  Sea Slug is also used to refer to animals from other taxonomic groups like sea cucumber (Echinoderm), Snail (Gasteropoda Subclass Prosobranchia), or flat worm (Platyhelminthes) because of their shape and texture which reminds one of a slug.

Bocas del Toro Snorkeling

Ragged Sea Hare

Some facts: Nudibranchs are found all over the world’s oceans even Antarctica, from the shallow reefs or mangrove lagoons to the deep ocean waters. Their lifespan can be from some weeks to a whole year based on food abundance, which depending on the species, can be coral, sponges, sea anemone, hydroids or even fish eggs.

These pictures are for you to enjoy Nudibranch’s striking colors and shapes, and to give you an idea of their diversity. All of these pictures were taken in snorkeling excursions directly from Tranquilo Bay’s dock.


Warty Sidegill Slug

Snorkeling at “kayak’s distance”

Kayaking Panama

At the end of September I was talking about the beautiful snorkeling you can enjoy right at the dock and its surroundings but, that is just one of the “very many” options, so if you feel a little more adventurous we can get in the kayak and go!

Blue-striped Grunt

Tranquilo Bay’s site is fortunate because it is in a relatively secluded area.  Historically this means the place has a very low population density that allows us, today, to enjoy well-preserved coral reefs in a “kayak’s distance” from the dock.

Moon Jelly and Snorkeler Bocas

The kayak can get us to the reef where we can jump in, enjoy as much as you want and then, change the scenario by going to other coral reef, or a mangrove lagoon.  Or we can check the mangrove roots while surrounded by glass minnows and schoolmasters, colorful sponges, and coral heads, that the juvenile fish use for their protection.

Tranquilo Bay Dock

Different coral formations, fish, sponges, echinoderms, and many other creatures inhabit the shallow flats covered in soft coral whereas, the animals inhabiting a coral covered underwater cliff, mangrove lagoons and roots, and deeper coral heads are another set of animals all together.  Both sets of animals are all in a “kayak’s distance”.

Year Round Snorkeling Opportunities

Snorkeling Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro archipelago’s interior waters are calm throughout the year.   Tranquilo Bay is located in a very calm mangrove bay where waters are clear and snorkeling is a “must do” year round.  September and October are the months that you have the best chances to get the best snorkeling conditions.  These two months usually have extremely calm water and dry and sunny weather that give the great light and visibility to enjoy the vibrant colors of the reef creatures.

Panama SnorkelingStarting at the dock, you may surrender to these underwater creatures’ beauty. Featherduster worms, crabs, snappers, glass minnows, angelfish, and many other colorful fish will surround you as you enjoy the perfect temperature of Caribbean waters.

Tropical Fish Bocas

Underwater Panama