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Coibita
Island

7.65°, -81.70°

In one of the wildest places
in Central America

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Panama’s Coiba National Park is renowned for its biodiversity on land and in the sea. The 500 square kilometer Pacific island of Coiba is the largest in Central America and has had relatively little human impact for centuries. Most of the densely forested island has never been logged and the park’s marine life is protected from industrial fishing. Coibita Island, also known as Ranchería, is part of the park and is home to a small field station in the midst of these incredible ecosystems.

Research

Located in Panama’s Coiba National Park in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Coibita Island (2,42 km2) is the third largest island. The CNP includes Coiba Island (503 km2) and 2,165 km2 of ocean.

To accommodate research needs, we are working to convert Coibita into a sustainable state-of-the-art facility in a location of unparalleled biodiversity. The 2020-2025 STRI Master Plan Strategy and Projects envisions Coibita Field Station as a base of operation and vantage point for advancing innovative, visionary and relevant tropical science and conservation in the future. Coibita allows access to a globally relevant laboratory for understanding how healthy ecosystems should function in an era when they have already undergone rapid deterioration. Located at a center of diversity and endemism as well as an important migratory route for numerous species, the field station allows STRI scientists to begin systematic studies of the natural history of this extraordinary region, making use of technical advances to study processes of adaptation and accommodation at multiple levels, from genomics to physiology, behavior, ecology and evolution, to better understand how organisms respond to changing environments, and which characteristics make them resilient to change.

People

Scientists interested in doing STRI-affiliated work at Coiba should contact our scientific affairs manager.

Juan Maté

STRI Manager for Scientific Affairs
matej@si.edu

Irving Bethancourt

Scientific Coordinator

bethancourti@si.edu

Services and Resources

At this time, STRI facilities on Isla Coibita are limited to a rustic dorm, kitchen and camping sites with solar power, and a small dive locker. All research supplies including boats must be brought in from the mainland.

Accomodations

There is a house that sleeps up to 20 people in three shared rooms with bunk beds (10, 6 and 4 people, respectively). Ceiling fans and air-conditioning units are available in all rooms. Currently, the fans and air-conditioning units only operate when the generator is in use. There is plenty of area to camp outdoors: the station has tents and air mattresses for 16 people (6- and 2- person tents). Users can bring their camping gear. The house has three shared bathrooms, and an outdoor, open-plan, furnished kitchen and dining area.

Scientific Diving Program

The Smithsonian Scientific Diving Program (SDP) is affiliated with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS). The Coibita Field station has a dive locker with a 16 ft3 and a 13 ft3 gasoline compressors, a triple cascade filling system, and a station to fill three tanks simultaneously. There are 50 scuba tanks available for large groups (10 are 100 ft3, the rest are 80 ft3). Divers will need to bring dive buddies and their own personal gear. Boat drivers can be hired to assist researchers with their work if requested in advance.

Laboratory Area

There is a 4x5 m no-see-um screened area that serves as a laboratory area to process samples. There are laboratory tables and a –20C, seven cubic foot chest freezer to store samples. All other laboratory equipment must be brought to the field station by the researchers.

Utilities

There is running water from a natural source for washing, cleaning and cooking. Researchers need to bring drinking water. The station operates with a septic tank system. A photovoltaic array of solar panels and storage batteries provide for basic electrical needs (up to 4500 W, 21 amps, with continued delivery of 16 amps) for day and night operation of kitchen appliances, lights and 120-volt outlets. A new 11.3 kW photovoltaic system will soon replace the old system. A diesel generator provides 15 KW (63 Amps with continued delivery of 50 amps, on 120 volts of electricity. Users in need of special equipment and who plan to use ceiling fans and air-conditioning operation need to bring 7 gallons of diesel per night to support generator operation.  Internet service is not available. There is cooking gas to operate the stove.

Food Needs

As Coibita is a remote field site, users need to stock up at a supermarket in Panama City or Santiago City before settling in. Catering staff can be hired if requested in advance. There is a refrigerator and freezer for the food storage.

Field Vehicles

The field station has one manual transmission 4x4 truck available. The vehicle is authorized for research activities and to carry cargo and equipment to/from the uphill housing/laboratory complex to the beach area for access to the boats (~400 m). Drivers need valid licenses, a U.S. government license (issued at STRI), and experience driving manual transmission vehicles in off-road conditions.

Research Vessels and others

The field station does not currently have research vessels and regularly hires trusted local boat operators with 25’ pangas to access scientific diving sites, terrestrial sites on islands around Coiba National Park and nearby sites within the Gulf of Chiriquí. Boat operators can be hired if requested in advance. As there is no dock on the island, boats are loaded on a white carbonate sandy beach. Two ocean kayaks are available to facilitate easy access to shallow coastal areas unreachable by motorboats.

The field station has a five mooring system set-up to protect the sensitive sea floor from anchor damage.

Maps and Directions

The Coibita Field Station is located within the Coiba National Park in the Gulf of Chiriqui. Access is generally by boat from Playa El Banco, Santa Catalina, Pixvae, and Puerto Mutis. Coibita has an elevated open area that is suitable for helicopter landings. The Coibita Field Station is reached from Panama City by a combination of vehicle and marine transportation in ~8 hours.  The recommended port of departure is Playa El Banco, a boat ride of approximately 90-120 minutes.

Coiba National Park

Contact us

Visiting Scientist

For information, facilitation of research and logistical support at Coibita please contact our scientific support staff

Juan Maté

STRI Manager for Scientific Affairs
+507 212.8253 or 6140-3847

Emergencies

Report all emergencies to STRI security

+507 212.8911
+507 212.8211
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