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Overview

All staff members, postdoctoral researchers, postgraduate students, or undergraduate students and volunteers must read this document before undertaking fieldwork. Fieldwork is defined as any practical work carried out by all personnel mentioned above for teaching and/or research in places that are or are not under Institution control, but where STRI is responsible for the safety of those exposed to their activities.

Services

Field vehicle

The field station has one manual transmission 4×4 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, and experience driving manual transmission vehicles in off-road conditions.

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 fully equipped kitchen to fill the needs of the station. There is a refrigerator and freezer for food storage.

Research Vessels

The field station does not have research vessels and regularly hires trusted local boat operators with 25’ pangas to access scientific diving sites, terrestrial sites on islands around the 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, access to the boats is through a white carbonate sandy beach.

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 16 ft3 and 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 remaining are 80 ft3). Divers will need to bring dive buddies and their gear. Boat drivers can be hired to assist researchers with their work if requested in advance.

Utilities

There is running water from a waterhole used 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 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 volts outlets. A diesel generator provides 15 KW (63 Amps with continued delivery of 50 amps, on 120 volts of electricity. Users in need of special electric needs, use of ceiling fans, and air-conditioning operation need to bring 7 gallons of diesel per night to support the generator operation.  Internet service is not available. There is cooking gas to operate the stove.

For additional details of services provided at Coibita station please follow this link https://stri.si.edu/facility/coibita-island

Criminal activities in the area

Coibita and nearby areas are in general safe areas to work about criminal activities. Special precautions need to be taken in areas away from Coibita, including the southern part of Coiba Island, Jicarón, and Jicarita Islands as they are known to be part of drug trafficking runs. Mainland areas, particularly estuaries and mangrove channels may be considered of higher risk at dusk and night due to illegal activities that may occur in those areas.

•      Always go in groups and inform the Coibita caretakers of your destiny and expected time of return.

•      Always carry a working communication device (radio, satellite phone, GPS-SPOT). Cellphones will only work in certain areas near the mainland.

•      Report any criminal activity or suspicious activity while in Coibita and surrounding areas. When reporting such activities please try to offer info on: Who did you see? what did you see? When did you see it? Where does it occur? Why is suspicious?

•      Call Coibita by radio to inform the caretakers as soon as possible and inform the incident caretakers so.

•      Call STRI Security Control Room by satellite phone (011-507- 212-8911, 011-507- 212-8211) or to the Coibita caretakers by radio as soon as possible and inform the incident. They can notify local law enforcement.

•      There is an Air and Sea Naval Station (SENAN) at the old Coiba Penal Colony location on Bahía Damas on the eastern coast of Coiba Island (~10 nm miles from Coibita).

•      An Ecological Police post is located at Gambue Point or La 12, where the Ranger Station of the Ministry of Environment (MiAmbiente) is located. The ranger station is just across the channel between Coibita and Coiba Island (~1.5 nautic miles from Coibita).

Transportation Limitations

Coibita can be reached only by sea and air. Main ports normally used by our researcher include Playa El Banco (~25 nautical miles), Santa Catalina (~27 nautical miles), Pixvae (~16 nautical miles), or Puerto Mutis (~52 nautical miles) in 1:30-3:00 hours. Coibita has an elevated open area that is suitable for helicopter landings, a one-hour flight from Panama City.

Coiba Island has a landing strip for small planes. From there, researchers can reach Coibita in a ~25-minute boat ride (~10 nautical miles).

Key security recommendations

  • Check with the Scientific Coordinator Irving Bethancourt, e-mail: bethancourti@si.edu, cell number: 6921-4969, and 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 departure and return time. 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).
  • Carry your STRI ID and your passport or copy of your passport including the page with the entry stamp.
  • Essential safety and survival equipment must always be carried e.g., torches, first aid kit, emergency food supply, maps, whistles, survival bags, etc.

In case of an accident or security incident contact the local authorities and inform your supervisor and STRI emergency phones 212-8911/8211.

Field work recommendations and requirements

  • General recommendations
    • Personal safety must, ultimately, be a personal responsibility.
      • You may refuse at any time to participate in any activity that they feel may endanger your health and safety or that of another person
      • Reporting any identified hazards to your group leader.
    • Carry an identification while in the field.
    • Always have all research permits at hand.
    • Establish a chain of command for your group and maintain constant communication and provide feedback.
      • Assign responsibilities to your team and follow them through.
    • Report all incidents regardless of the severity.
      • Inform your team leader of all accidents, illnesses, or emergencies while in the field.
    • As there is no internet connectivity at Coibita, you must register your trip using STRI’s Field Trip Registration App (FTA) https://stri-apps.si.edu/travellog/index.phpbefore you leave Panama City for Coibita. Upon return to Panama City, close your trip on FTA. If the field trip is not closed at the specific time of return, the system will generate emails in the Control Room, Security, etc. indicating that the person/boat/car has not returned. This will first activate verification with security and emergency response if there is no news from the group. The App automatically alerts STRI Security, the Scientific Coordinator (SC), and your STRI host where you will be visiting, your estimated time of departure (ETD), and your estimated time of return (ETR).
    • In Coibita, notify the caretakers of your plans for the day, including sites to be visited and the expected time of return. Upon return to Coibita, notify the caretakers.
    • Always be with someone else in the field.
      • Tell someone if you’re going out for a walk and don’t wander alone.
      • Be very careful going out at dusk.
    • Do not go on the shore at dusk or swim alone.
      • Do not walk along the edge of creeks and lagoons.
    • Always be alert to your surroundings.
      • There is dense vegetation, cliffs, naturally occurring landslides, slippery rocky outcrops, soft muddy flats, irregular relief strong currents, high waves, large tidal changes (up to 6 m), and an open ocean.
      • Keep an eye on your team members.
    • Take at least two different means of emergency communication devices (radio, cell phone, GPS-SPOT, or satellite phone).
    • Take a first-aid box with essential elements, including any prescription medicine you may need.
    • Wear bright clothing that can be visible day and night (bright colors such as orange, for example). If possible, use reflective ribbons on your chest and back, or a reflective vest.
    • Carry drinking water and electrolyte-type salts to add to the water
    • Take a flashlight, map, and/or GPS.
    • Take drinking water with you.
    • Do not disturb and be aware of animals that may bite or sting.
      • Crocodiles will be the most dangerous animal you may see, and they venture into the ocean along the mangrove shorelines, rivers, lagoons, and creeks.
      • Beware also of potential bites from sharks, moray eels, sea turtles, other fish, snakes, monkeys, bats and rats, marsupial, and birds.
      • There are poisonous snakes at Coibita and Coiba Island such as Fer-de-Lance or “X” and the coral snake.
      • You may get stings, punctures, cuts, small bites, and rashes from:
      • In the water by corals, sponges hydroids, other cnidarians, fireworms, sea urchins
      • On land by insects such as fire ants, sandflies or chitras, scorpions, and spiders. There are numerous plants with spines or thorns.
      • Stings from scorpions do occur at Coibita. Check your shoes and clothes before you put them on, even when they were hanging on the drying line.
    • Get informed of weather forecasts by watching the news daily. Do not go out in poor weather or when poor weather is expected during the time you plan to be out.
    • Take a tide table with you if going out by boat.
    • Coibita’s stoves use propane gas. Please notify the station staff if you smell gas.
    • Reduce the chance of falls, be careful of wet slippery floors, muddy areas, and stairs when coming from the field. You and your colleagues will be dripping water
    • Fire extinguishers can be found in each room, kitchen, hangar, dive locker, and electric generator room.
    • The Coibita’s truck can only be used by drivers with an STRI driving permit. Please drive slow and carefully. The four-while drive required going uphill.
    • Please be careful coming in and out of the top bed in the bunk bed with the roof fans on. Also, please watch your step when using the bunk bed ladder.
    • To reduce the chance of an electric shock, please do not use electric outlets when wet or barefooted and avoid connecting many devices to a single outlet.
    • Be careful when handling fuels as there are flammable and explode on ignition.

    Aquatic activities

    • Boats are required for marine operations to move to most research sites and to reach other islands and the mainland. Boat captains must comply with SI and Panama regulations.
      • Verify proper condition and operation of boat systems: radio, batteries, oil level, fuel level, bilge pumps, propellers, navigational lights (green, red, and white), and outboards.
      • Carry a personal flotation device for each person on board, fire extinguisher, bailing pails, anchor and line, first-aid kit, emergency flares, tools, a pair of oars, and a whistle.
    • For scientific diving operations verify you are carrying a dive plan, O2 kit, and diving flag.
    • Kayaks are available mainly for use by boat drivers to safely access research boats at moorings and to return to Coibita when research boats are at moorings. Kayas may also be used by researchers to access nearshore islands along Coibita which are too shallow to access and is difficult for research boats. Life jackets must always be used while using a kayak.
    • Diving and snorkeling activities are important tools for scientific research at the Coiba National Park, a sector of vital importance to the Panamanian economy, both local and national.
    • Only scientific divers authorized by the SI Scientific diving Program and having an authorized dive plan can scuba dive under the auspices of STRI or use STRI resources. The Coiba National Park and the Gulf of Chiriquí have a diver array of diving sites with different conditions.

    Terrestrial fieldwork

    • You may need to use a boat to move to other islands and research sites on land.
    • Be careful while moving through rocky areas that may be slippery.
    • Take precautions based on the environment you will be working.
    • Use appropriate clothing to be worn while conducting your work and wear proper safety gear as required.
    • Exercise caution when hiking in areas of steep topography, and slippery slopes.
    • Caution should be taken not to displace rocks or other loose material that might injure those at a lower altitude.
    • Avoid heat exhaustion by not engaging in strenuous activity in hot, humid environments; and stay hydrated.
    • You can consider using repellents that contain 20% or more DEET to control ectoparasites.
    • You should inspect your entire body carefully after returning from the field, and remove any ticks found.
    • Never drink untreated water from streams.
    • Be aware of poisonous plants.

    Weather threats

    Weather treats in Coibita and nearby areas can be:

    • Thunderstorm and lighting.
    • Flooding: Rises on rivers and tidal.
    • Extreme temperatures: Excessive heat.
    • Exceptional winds: Gusty winds.

Drinking water

Each group coming to Coibita is responsible to bring enough drinking water from the mainland to last for the duration of the trip. Drinking water bottle dispensers are located on the kitchen bench.

Medical Facilities

Coibita is in a remote area from medical facilities.

The closest medical facility to Coibita is the Liquid Jungle Lab at Canales de Tierra Island (also known as Simca Island) has a 24-hour nursed staffed medical facility. Contact is done by marine radio on Channel 12 VHF. Daniel Gour runs the island. It is a 35-minute boat ride from Coibita. We have a good relationship with them. Phone: 269-8622.

For diving-related accidents

  • STRI Control Room dial 212-8911/212-8211
  • The station currently has Emergency Oxygen Supply and First Aid kits next to the dive locker.

Meeting Places

  • Uphill: a green area next to the landing strip.
  • Beach level: green area by the banana plants in front of the main beach.

Areas of refuge

  • Dormitory bathrooms

Portable Defibrillation Machine

  • An Emergency Defibrillator is available inside the screened area next to the dormitories in the hangar area. Please be trained before using it. AN Instruction manual is available with the equipment.

Emergency Information

The Panama Naval Service police are headquartered in Coiba National Park. They provide support to STRI in Coibita station and oversee security in Coiba National Park. Private guards provide security at the station.

  • The Emergency Information is available to all users of the field station.
  • Any emergency shall be reported to the STRI-OPS Control Room dial by satellite phone 011-507-212-8911/8211 or by radio call by saying: “Garita, Garita, Garita over…”.
  • Incident Commanders:
  • Luis López: 011-507-212-8163 / 011-507-6613-1509.

Email: lopezl@si.edu.

  • Irving Bethancourt: 011-507-212-8703 / 011-507-6921-4969.

Email: bethancourti@si.edu.

  • Juan Maté: 011-507-212-8253 / 011-507-6140-3847.

Email: matej@si.edu.