From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Costa Rica and Panama
Dec 7, 2012 - National Geographic Sea Lion
Barro Colorado Island & Gatun Locks
Our ship slowed and then dropped anchor by a darkened forest beneath billowing orange clouds lit by the rising sun. Our path had turned away from the Panama Canal's regular shipping lanes across Lake Gatun, and into a quiet embayment alongside Barro Colorado Island. This forested island was originally a hilltop until 1914 when the damming of the Chagres River for the Panama Canal isolated it within the rising waters of Lake Gatun. Barro Colorado Island became a protected reserve, and many pioneering studies of tropical rainforests have been conducted from a field station on the island managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
With special permission we were able to visit this famous island today. So hikers tucked their pants into their boots, and then headed off into the interior forest with a local guide. Others chose to view the island's edges from our fleet of Zodiacs, marveling at monkeys, toucans, and colorful blossoms adorning the rainforest. The earliest research on any Neotropical primate was conducted here in a long-term study of mantled howler monkeys. There are still many troops of howler monkeys on Barro Colorado Island, and we were fortunate to get good views of them foraging among the trees. The hikers also found army ants swarming across the forest floor, being followed by specialized antbirds known as slaty-backed antshrikes.
By midday, we raised anchor and then rejoined the marked channel for the canal leading us to Gatun Locks. Roberto again provided us with interesting commentary as we negotiated our way through the final series of locks. He explained that the name "Gatun" was originally that of a former town here that was completely flooded during the formation of the lake and the canal. At Gatun Locks our ship was lowered 85 feet in three stages from the level of the lake down to that of the Caribbean Sea. After finally completing our transit of the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic, our ship came to anchor by the port town of Colon on Panama's Caribbean shores, bringing our memorable voyage to a tranquil close.