Bocas del Toro, Panama
English instruction with 2-credit Spanish Language & Culture course
Fall, Spring
18 credits
Rolling admissions


The School for Field Studies (SFS) semester program in Bocas del Toro provides students with an exciting opportunity to conduct research and explore the rural Caribbean and the isthmus of Panama. Students assess the state of the archipelago’s fragile natural habitats, define the main environmental issues, and understand community goals in natural resource management. Through coursework and research, students gain an understanding of the interdependence of livelihood strategies of island residents, population structure of key species, and habitat arrangements and conditions, and then apply sustainability principles to define potential management strategies.

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  • Snorkeling to identify species such as sea stars, corals, jellyfish, coral reef fish, stingrays, and sea turtles, as well as to research human impacts on coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, and other marine habitats
  • Take shallow-water excursions to the fragile coral reef ecosystems where multitudes of marine species thrive
  • Explore lowland evergreen rainforests, and experience the diversity of plants and animals, such as insects, birds, monkeys, sloths, plants, and several species of poison dart frogs, including the emblematic strawberry poison dart frog
  • Visit and participate in sea turtle conservation projects and patrol nesting beaches with Sea Turtle Conservancy watchmen during nesting and hatching seasons
  • Tour several farms and plantations, including cacao and banana, in Almirante and Changuinola on the mainland to understand the impact of diverse forms of agriculture on the local economy and coastal environment
  • Visit indigenous communities and learn about livelihood strategies as well as the challenges of adapting to a rapidly changing economic environment
  • Visit eco-lodges and resort hotels to understand how different types of land development put varied pressures on fragile marine habitats and ecosystems
  • Perform coral bleaching and coral disease assessment within the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park Marine Protected Area (MPA) to quantify the current and future impacts of climate change on coral reef ecosystems


Session I: Tourism and Island Systems: Assessment of Sustainable Practices

This course introduces students to the study of tourism via a historical and ecological understanding of Bocas del Toro. Students examine the challenges presented by a growing reliance on tourism for livelihoods and economic development. Students assess the impact of tourism on the natural environment within the context of the larger cultural, economic, and political dimension. They learn about the complexities of creating environmental policies that both conserve the region's natural resources and support livelihoods and economic sustainability for local communities.

Summer Combined in Panama and Costa Rica: Sessions I + II

This summer course can be taken individually (4 credits) or in combination with Session II: Applied Research Techniques & Strategies Toward Sustainability in Costa Rica (8 credits). The combined summer program provides an introduction to environmental management, tourism, and sustainable development in tropical ecosystems.


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