From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Costa Rica and Panama
Jan 4, 2013 - National Geographic Sea Lion
Barro Colorado Island and the Gatun Locks, Panama
On the last full day of our voyage, we awoke to the already familiar sound of National Geographic Sea Lion weighing anchor. The second Panama Canal pilot of our crossing was on board and he repositioned our ship into the Barro Colorado Island (BCI) docking range. We began our journey into one of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute´s stations – their most important in the Neotropics, BCI. This island has been a biological reserve since 1923, shortly after the area was isolated from the mainland by the creation of the Gatun Lake. That same year, a new era of biological exploration and research began; BCI has become one of the most studied sites in the New World Tropics. This island has interested scientists since then and publications about the island´s biota now number in the thousands. This site will continue to fascinate and awe researchers because of the bewildering and complicated interactions they are able to study in its rainforest.
This morning we had the chance to take a Zodiac ride on Gatun Lake or walk the trails of BCI; we were led by the island´s certified guides and off we went on our adventure of choice. Crocodiles, birds, edge-of-the-forest giant trees and monkeys were the reward for those who chose the Zodiac ride. For those who chose the trails, the rewards were very similar: white-throated capuchin monkeys, mantled howler monkeys, toucans, trogons, crested guans, leaf cutter and army ants. Never mind how many species of animals; BCI has an incredible list of 1369 species of plants in an area of barely six square miles. The diversity of biota to which we were exposed surpasses the biota found in Canada and U.S.A. put together.
As if the island experience was not enough to make our day worthwhile, we still had the second half of our last day filled with the final crossing of the Gatun Lake and Locks into the Caribbean Sea. Joshua, our naturalist, narrated for us the transit and inserted his knowledge and experiences as a Panamanian to make this crossing a personal and unique one.