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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 support buildings.

Criminal activities

The Station is located outside Bocas Town at the Istmito. Due to its proximity to “security-sensitive” areas, it is imperative to exercise security and safety precautions while traveling at night between the Station and Town and its surroundings. At the Station always wear the STRI ID . Store valuables in secure places and lock your office and/or lab door when leaving for any period of time.

Some of the local bars and other remote areas around town are not considered safe, especially late at night. The main types of security related are: robbery, burglary, purse snatching and pick pocketing. 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.

Transportation Limitations

The main transportation link to Panama is by plane and by boat from the mainland. The local airport mainly operates during daylight hours. Night emergencies pose special logistical difficulties and an expeditious response cannot be counted on.

Field work recommendations and requirements

Physical security and safety – The Station has two private security guards 24 hrs/day, 365 days/year, 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.

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. Ask locals for advice and do not go out swimming alone.

On the Street – Ask for references of the places you plan to visit and for the safest routes to take. Try to go in groups. Inform “someone” of your plans and estimated time of return. Call a taxi company rather than hail a taxi on the street. Carry your STRI ID and a copy of your passport. Take only the money you need for taxis, meals, etc and limit the number of credit cards you carry. Car drivers do not usually respect bikers and you will need to exercise extra caution when riding bikes. Observe the surroundings and the people when you get to your destination. Do stay at places that appear unsafe. Do not interact with strangers or people you do not know very well. Do not accept drinks from strangers or people you do not know, when dining out or experiencing the night life. At bars or discotheques use prudent judgment to avoid unwanted attention or harassment.  Never accept the unsolicited company of unknown persons. In the event of a robbery, cooperate with armed assailants rather than resisting them.

Going to the field – Check with the Station Manager, your sponsor or supervisor the conditions of the areas you plan to visit and discuss all the potential emergencies that could encounter (e.g. getting lost, injuries, wildlife attacks, etc.). Inform your estimated time of departure (ETD) and estimated time of return (ETR).  Avoid going out in the field alone. Have at least two different means of emergency communication devices (i.e. radio, cell phone, GPS-SPOT device and satellite phones).  Have a first-aid box with essential elements. Carry your STRI ID and your passport. Preferably have a presentation letter for local authorities. While in the field, talk to locals; report your presence to the authorities; be alert to any anomalous situation and do not take unnecessary risks; leave the place as soon as you notice any suspicious activities. If possible, hire a local to accompany you during the field activities.  Avoid walking after dark. Have a first-aid kit.  In case of an accident or security incident contact the local authorities and inform your supervisor and STRI emergency phones 212-8911/8211.

Boat Expeditions – Register the trip following the installation requirements. Always provide the Trip Plan including the boat name, captain, destination, the estimated time of departure (ETD) and the estimated time of return. Carry an Emergency Communication Pelican Case with a cellular phone and/or SPOT device, ensure you have enough water and food in case you need to spend more time at sea than originally planned. 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. 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). If diving, pick up diving safety equipment: oxygen kit, diving flag, diving weights.

Weather threats

Strong wind storms, flooding, thunderstorms, lighting storms. Find shelter is there is less than 30 seconds between lighting and thunder. Wait at least 30 minutes after hearing the last thunder before going out again.

Drinking Water

Water at the station is safe to drink; however; tap water outside the Station is not always safe to drink

Dangerous fauna

Consult with the Scientific Coordinator about any dangerous fauna that could be encountered.

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.

STRI Emergency Phone Numbers

  • Emergency calls shall be made to the Tupper Main Security Guard Booth to activate the STRI Emergency Response Plan (212-8211 or 212-8911).
  • If at the STRI facility, you will only need to dial 28911 or 28211.

Meeting Places

Assembly Places are safe places where personnel should go during an emergency to be accounted for, receive instructions and stay out of harm’s way during emergency response activities.

  • Primary Meeting Place:  Parking area near the laboratory ramp.
  • Secondary Meeting Place (to be used in case the primary meeting place is affected) by the emergency: Dormitory Courtyard.

Emergency Information

  • STRI Security Guard (Emergencies 24hrs)    212-8911/8211
  • STRI Station         212-8550
  • Panamanian National Police:
    Isla Colon      757-9217/9507
    Changuinola          758-2804/8241
  • Hospital:
    Isla Colon              757-9201
    Changuinola         758-2804