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Expedition Reports: Costa Rica and Panama

Margrit Ulrich & Federico Chacon

Expedition Reports: Costa Rica and Panama

Margrit Ulrich & Federico Chacon

Coiba National Park, Panama
The navigation toward Coiba National Park could not have been better; the Pacific Ocean was calm as a lake and the moon witnessed the National Geographic Sea Lion dropping anchor beside a tiny little Grain of Gold. That is actually the name of one of the many islands that comprises this marine preserve. From the ship, Granito de Oro looks like a bright white sand strip with enough space just for two coconut palms. But its beauty is hidden underwater.

Coiba National Park belongs to a very important protected zone, the Tropical Eastern Marine Corridor. Besides Coiba, it includes the Cocos Island from Costa Rica, Malpelo and Gorgonia Islands from Colombia, and Galápagos from Ecuador. This marine corridor helps the protection of areas where marine species migrate, like whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. It also regulates the fishing industry.

And because there is no better way to help protect an area than to see the beauty of it through your own eyes, we geared up with our snorkels, flippers and masks and went off to the water. Granito de Oro has a rocky reef, meaning that the heads of corals grow on top of large basalt boulders and create the most stunning and captivating ecosystems. Hundreds of colorful fishes make this place their home, nesting, and cleaning stations, and of course, others will use it as their diners, drive-ins and dive bars...

As the guests were returning from this underwater paradise, the questions of all this mix and match of colors and shapes popped out straight to the naturalist like this, “Well, it was this big, and green but with a purple tail and…”

The most popular fish were the quite large green-turquoise with a fused beak parrotfish, the blue with bright iridescent blue spots juvenile from the Giant Damsel fish, or the black and white polka dotted Guinea-fowl puffer fish whose toxic tissues make it uneatable and therefore it swims like it has no worries in life. But there were a couple of fishes that everyone, at first glance, knew straight away – the white-tipped reef sharks. They are the gang from the reef moving slowly and mysteriously through the crevices of the rocks, resting until the dusk comes down, and then it’s party time.

For the afternoon the National Geographic Sea Lion repositioned to the main island where the park ranger station is located for a beach barbeque that gave us just a bit more energy for more activities. Kayaking was a good option to enjoy the waters from a different perspective while cruising along the protected bay, while others decided to change the subject of observation and went for a bird watching walk around the premises.

No matter what we were doing, swimming, beach combing or lounging in a hammock, it just all felt perfect… what a great end to our transit through this beautiful country, Panama.

- Margrit Ulrich; Natural History Staff, Lindblad Expeditions

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Osa Peninsula, Caletas Wildlife Preserve & Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Today, we had a great opportunity to explore the Osa Peninsula which is considered one of the richest and most diverse tropical ecosystems in Central America. This peninsula has one of the most pristine rain forests of the country, which has been preserved thanks to the difficult access that has kept this place safe from heavy human impact. This is one of those few places in Central America with enough forest tract to protect even the largest animals of the neo-tropical forest like jaguars and tapirs -- the largest mammals of this ecosystem.

This place not only has one of the biggest and wildest national parks of the country, but also many private wildlife preserves adjacent to the national park that increase the total forest land for all the animal life there.

Knowing this, we took the morning to explore Caletas Private Preserve on different hikes and some of us on a horseback ride along the shoreline. What a beautiful morning we had there; not only was the weather nice, but we also got to see lots of tropical birds like honey creepers, tanagers and even the beautiful toucans.

After our morning hikes and while the ship was repositioning on our way to Corcovado National Park, we spotted a group of humpback whales that put up a nice show for us.

The rest of the afternoon we explored the different sets of trails of the national park, in which some went on a shore hike through the tropical forest and got to see a few more birds and a nice look at a big troop of howler monkeys, some of them with babies. The rest of the hikers took the waterfall trail where they were able to see the waterfall, swim in one of the water holes of the river, and see an American crocodile.

- Federico Chacon; Naturalist, Lindblad Expeditions