Bocas del Toro Station

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  • Name
  • Location
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Incident Commanders
Meeting Places
Areas of Refuge
Portable Defibrillation Machine

The Bocas del Toro Station is the main Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute marine research laboratory in the Caribbean. It is located in Isla Colon and hosts a laboratory, dormitory, shops and other administrative buildings.

The main transportation links with Panama are by plane from Tocumen and Albrook airports and by boat from Almirante or Changuinola. The local airport mainly operates during daylight hours. The local hospital has limited medical equipment and staff and it is not capable of handling severe medical emergencies. Night emergencies pose special logistical difficulties with the civil aviation authorities and an expedited response cannot be counted on. Therefore, extra precautionary measures to avoid serious injury are needed in Bocas del Toro, especially at night.

The Station is located 3 km outside Bocas Town, on the road to Boca del Drago, adjacent to the Istmito beach area. Caution should be exercised when traveling between the Station and Town at night, especially on foot or by bicycle. In particular, security and safety precautions are needed in the area outside of town beyond the hospital and cemetery, called Saigon, which has experienced criminal activity.

On the Street

  1. Ask for references of the places you plan to visit and for the safest routes to take.
  2. Try to go in groups. Inform "someone" of your plans and estimated time of return.
  3. Do not carry large sums of money. Take only what you need for taxis, meals, etc. Limit the number of credit cards you carry.
  4. Do not catch a cab if the license plate number is not written on the doors.
  5. Be aware that car drivers do not usually respect bikers and you will need to exercise extra caution when riding bikes.
  6. If you drive a car, be aware of your location at all times. Use roads that you are familiar with.
  7. Observe the surroundings and the people when you get to your destination. Do stay at places that appear unsafe.
  8. Do not interact with people you do not know, nor accept drinks from them, when dining out or experiencing the night life.
  9. For females when at bars or discotheques use prudent judgment to avoid unwanted attention or harassment.
  10. If possible, do not go alone to public bathrooms.
  11. If you see someone or something that looks suspicious exercise caution and bring it to the attention of a responsible authority. You might also wish to enter an occupied building such as a restaurant or shop.
  12. Never accept the unsolicited company of unknown persons.
  13. In the event of a robbery, cooperate with armed assailants rather than resisting them.

Preparations for Cave Expeditions

  1. File a Cave Safety Plan with the STRI Safety Coordinator (perurenj@si.edu).

Preparations for Marine Expeditions

  1. Make Boat Reservations.
    • Check for availability with the Station administrators or a computer-based reservation tool.
  2. Register the trip following the installation requirements. You might have to file a Trip Plan with the person in charge of boats at your facility that requires you to provide the following information:
    • Boat Name
    • Boat Captain
    • Destination
    • Estimated time of departure (ETD)
    • Type of activity to be conducted (i.e. transportation, diving, collection, dredging, etc.)
  3. Pick up an Emergency Communication Pelican Case from the person in charge of boats at your facility. This case includes a cellular phone and/or SPOT device.
  4. Ensure you have enough water and food to deal with any unplanned incident that might require you to spend more time at sea than originally planned.
  5. Make sure to carry a personal flotation device for each person on the boat, fire extinguisher, bailing pails, anchor and line, first-aid kit, emergency flares, tools, a pair of oars and the boat's license for boats 26 and longer.
  6. Verify proper condition and operation of boat systems: radio, battery condition, bilge pumps, propeller, and navigational lights for boats 26 and longer (green, red and white).
  7. If diving, pick up diving safety equipment: oxygen kit, diving flag, diving weights.
  8. Upon return, the responsible party must:
    • Anchor the boat.
    • Return boat equipment to the issuer.
    • Return the diving safety equipment to the issuer.
    • Return the Emergency Communication Pelican Case to the person in charge of boats at your facility.

Additional Security and Safety Information for the Bocas Station

In addition to the security information about Panama in general and STRI's security and safety policies, the following specifics apply to the Bocas del Toro Station.

  • Criminal activities in the area - Isla Colón is a tourist center and offers an active nightlife. Some of the local bars and remote areas around town are not considered safe, especially late at night. The main types of crime are: robbery, drug and sex related incidents, and ATM card fraud have also been reported. Make sure not to leave valuables unattended anywhere including beaches, and other public places. There are many so-called "tourist guides" that are not to be trusted. Visitors should be suspicious of unknown overly "eager-to-help" people.
  • Swimming - Swimming around Isla Colón can be hazardous due to strong underwater currents that tend to change direction with tides and other weather-related influences. If you choose to go swimming, ask locals for advice and do not swim alone. Be especially cautious at Red Frog Beach. Beaches are seldom posted with warning signs or monitored by lifeguards. Visitors should always assess the conditions and exercise caution.
  • Diving - Scientific diving activities must be coordinated with the STRI Diving Officer (6616-8997; ochoae@si.edu). Recreational diving is not permitted in the station.
  • Medical facilities - Isla Colón is considered a remote area in Panamá with limited capabilities for emergencies. The local hospital has limited medical equipment and staff and it is not capable of handling severe medical emergencies. Keep this in mind and exercise caution in your work and recreational activities.
  • Drinking water - Water at the station is safe to drink; however; tap water outside the Station is not always safe to drink. Drink only bottled water outside the Station.
  • Dangerous fauna - Consult with the station administrators about dangerous fauna that could be encountered.
    • Dangerous marine creatures - Lion fish, sea urchin, fire worms, sting rays, fire coral, seasonal jelly fish, etc. are in the coral reef and the sea-grass bed around the station. Be careful when swimming and snorkeling around the station.
    • Snakes Bites -
      • Stay calm. (There are cases when the snake bites but it does not inoculates venom).
      • Call for help (212-8911 or 212-8211).
      • Avoid unnecessary movements (i.e. Do not walk, nor run, nor do any strenuous movements that will speed your blood circulation).
      • Wash the wound with plain water and cover it with a loose bandage to avoid infection.
      • You will need to get transported by stretcher (if in a remote area) or by ambulance to the nearest public hospital: Hospital de Changuinola (Changuinola 758-8295, 758-8232).
    • Sand flies - They can be annoying and can cause allergy if you are sensitive.
  • The Station's physical security and safety equipment/amenities include two private security guards on duty at all times, a fire alarm system, potable water, emergency generator, first aid equipment, communication via Internet, wired telephone lines, and GPS-SPOT and two Iridium satellite phones for emergency use.
  • High surf and dangerous currents are present at some beaches, especially those on the Pacific Ocean and those in Bocas del Toro Province, including Red Frog Beach. Beaches are seldom posted with warning signs or monitored by lifeguards. Visitors should always assess the conditions and exercise caution.
  • The province of Bocas del Toro is considered as a seismic area. Other threats include severe storms and tsunamis. Check the Emergency Instruction page.

Emergency Information

  • STRI Headquarters Security Guard Booth 212-8911/212-8211
    (from Bocas Station phones dial 28911 or 28211)
  • Incident Commanders
  • Meeting Places - Outdoor areas to retreat to in emergencies
    • Primary meeting place: Parking area near the laboratory ramp
    • Secondary meeting place (to be used if the primary meeting place is affected by the emergency): Dormitory Courtyard
  • Areas of Refuge - Indoor areas to use in case of external threats
    • Laboratory Building Basement Enclosed Storage Areas
    • Dive Air Compressor Room
    • Wet Locker
  • Tsunami Evacuation Areas
    • The IDAAN water tank hill
    • Any nearby hill or mountain
    • Other safer high place
  • Portable Defibrillation Machine
    • To the right side of the entrance door of lab 109

Safety and Security Related links

Facilities Related links