Station Update – Fall 2016

What’s Going on at the ITEC station?

We have put together a station update to inform you all about the activities and classes, the wildlife sightings and research and to acknowledge all those who have donated time, energy and funds to the construction and maintenance of the new ITEC field station.  We’re using a new format much like a newsletter which I hope all of you find informative and interesting.

Construction Update

Enrique and Nick lay concrete in new bodega

There were several new construction projects completed (or worked on) during 2016.  A bathroom was built on the kitchen end of the dining room deck, along with an extra sink outside, which eliminates the need to go to the dorms to use the facilities.  The walkway to the reef was extended, as well.  While still not complete (it’s a long way out there!), real progress is being been made.  We especially want to thank Nick Lahanas and Glen Blair for volunteering their help on this project!

At the Dock

Another major project completed was the construction of a new boathouse.  The old one was constructed of local wood and began to deconstruct after four years.  The new and enlarged structure is built with treated lumber and should last many years.  We want to especially thank Al Beulig for taking the lead in getting this project done.

The decking in front of the boathouse was repaired and we divided the dive bodega into two rooms: one for dive equipment and

New Boat House

New Boat House

another smaller room for gasoline and tools.  It’s a much better arrangement!  Our final project at the dock was to paint the ITEC boat.

New lavatory on dinning room deck

The craft was hauled out and after scraping and sanding, its hull was painted white while inside the boat was painted a neutral gray.  The 20 year-old boat looks brand new again!

Around the Station

The field station environs has taken on a new look as well.  The old (and shall I say unsightly) tool bodega in front of the dining hall has been removed!  Now there is an open courtyard in its place as we had always envisioned.  A new concrete tool bodega has been located beneath the dining hall.  Alongside the tool bodega is a new laundry room.  While we do not yet have a washer and dryer, the space to put them is completed.  We plan to install two washers and two gas-operated dryers, along with a washbasin and a table for folding clothes.

Walkway to Pete’s Reef

Of course without the old bodega, we would have no place to store our rubber boots.  Thus, a new boot bodega was built along the trail near the foundation of the faculty building.   The small water tank and washbasin were also installed there.  A final project was to reuse the roofing from the old tool bodega to build a hanging roof under the dining room deck.  This will stop rainwater from dripping down and greatly enlarge the usable area under the dining room.  While we are happy that many small projects were completed this year, construction of the Faculty Residence building has not continued beyond the foundation we built last year.  Our only excuse is the lack of funds.


New Faculty at ITEC

We would like to welcome two new faculty to ITEC. Sharon Kessler received her degree at

Dr. Sharon Kessler

Dr. Lonnie Kaczmarsky

McGill University in Canada and specializes in primate ecology and behavior. For her doctoral research, she studied mouse lemur behavior in Madagascar. Now at the Leibniz Institute in Germany, Sharon taught the Summer C course in Primate Ecology here at the station this year and was our first professor to take full advantage of internet materials. Longin (Lonnie) Kazcmarsky will join us for the Winter Session this year and teach the Coral Reef Ecology Course. Lonnie received his doctorate degree from Florida International University and is currently on the faculty at St. Johns State College. His research interest lies with anthropomorphic effects on coral reefs.

ITEC Courses Presented at the Field Station

Several courses were presented this year, as always.   Barry Sullender taught the Summer Session B Tropical Rainforest and Canopy Ecology (TRE) course as usual while Pete Lahanas presented his course in Neotropical Herpetology (NEH). And once again Joe Maher taught his Canopy Access Techniques (CAT) course.

Neil Balchan, NEH with friend

Summer Session C saw two courses presented, Tropical Animal Behavior (TAB)taught by Pete, and Primate Ecology presented by Sharon Kessler.

Canopy Access Climbers

The howler monkeys really cooperated this year; for nearly three weeks they never left the station! Winter Session courses will include TRE (Pete), CAT (Joe), and Coral Reef Ecology taught by Lonnie Kazcmarsky.

Research at ITEC

ITEC alulmni, Allison Koch (TRE C-14) and Dustin Howland (NEH B-13) returned to the station last summer to work on their Masters research. Allison’s project was focused on relationships between biological field stations and local communities. Dustin was continuing his work with polymorphism in the strawberry poison frog, Oophaga pumilio. While residing

Oophaga pumilio on lab steps

at the station, he made visits to many of the islands of the archipelago to investigate size and behavior as it relates to color polymorphism. Barry Sullender continued his work at the station investigating interspecific interactions between two species of social fulgorid leaf hoppers and social millepedes. Ninda Batista, and Renato Morales, received their research permit to investigate site fidelity and homing ability in the strawberry poison frog. They will publish their findings early next year.  Erin Connelly from Central Washington University continued her Masters research on howler (Alouatta palliata) seed dispersal.

Wildlife Sightings

One of our goals at the station was to provide resources for wildlife by planting a variety of trees, shrubs and flowering plants. We also decided to allow the forest to return along two corridors, one by the large fig tree on the northeast side of campus and another

Baird’s Tapir along Soropta Canal

between the kitchen and the Nevin Scrimshaw Laboratory, and terminates behind the kitchen. And finally, we enlarged a pond near the dormitory in order to attract frogs, turtles and other wildlife.  I’m happy to report that our efforts have been richly rewarded!  Morpho and owl butterflies (and many other arthropods), frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals are now commonly encountered at the station. Both howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins regularly visit the station as well. The howlers in particular are fearless and sometimes howl from trees adjacent to the lab and kitchen. Their 5:30 am wake up call sounds like they are howling from inside your room!   Three-toed sloths have become almost a daily occurrence in station

Pesky sloth gets removed from dorm

cecropia trees and sometimes have to be removed from the buildings! Woolly opossums frequent the station too. With all of the added vegetation providing food and nesting sites, the avifauna at the station has exploded. Dozens of new species have been added to our station list including scaled pigeons, black-bellied whistling ducks and pale-billed woodpeckers. Twice a year we have huge “kettles” of migrating raptors swirl over the station on their way to South America, along with many migrating songbirds like chestnut-sided warblers, Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grossbeaks. King vultures were recently sighted above the station as well.   We have had several years of successful breeding efforts on the part of our northern jacanas in the marsh adjacent to the station, but now our southern lapwings are also doing very well. This year the southern lapwing pair

Red-eyed treefrog, Agalychnis callidryas

managed to raise two young which have become so tame that you can walk within 10 feet of them without them taking flight! The pond area is attracting a lot of frogs, especially red-eyed tree frogs which begin calling at dusk. Later in the evening, the very large smoky jungle frog begins its chorus along with 3-4 species tree frogs. It’s a great way to fall asleep. Saving the best for last, we were extremely lucky to see a Baird’s tapir along the Soropta Canal a few miles from the station. The large male was standing in shallow water near shore as we glided silently by him at night. All lights were on the tapir but apparently we were down-wind of him because he did not appear concerned whatsoever. Amazing.

Station Visitors in 2016

Emory and Henry College on Soropta Canal

We had many academic programs visiting ITEC’s Bocas del Toro Biological Station in 2016. Along with our own field courses taking place during the summer and winter, the field station was occupied with students and faculty every month of the year. Our busiest year ever!  We had two groups in January including a short visit by Marian Shaffer and her group from the University of Wisconsin, Greenbay. Later that month, David and Maddie Fehr arrived with their Students Without Boarders students, a high school group engaged in experiential learning and community involvement.  In February, Jenia Blair of the University of Northern British Columbia arrived with her family for an extended stay

Organization for Tropical Studies course on Pete’s Reef

in advance of a proposed course visit in 2017. UNBC uses the station every other year. The School for Field Studies, led by Blake Scott, and colleagues, brought their Bocas based courses to the station several times during the year.  These visits were first to introduce the students to the rain forest ecosystem and later their visits focused on independent student research projects. The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), with Erika Dienart and Pablo Riba in the lead, and joined by coral reef ecologist, Alain Duran, brought their group in twice in 2016, once in April and again in November. OTS is based out of Duke University and visits 2-3 times each year, primarily to take advantage of area coral reefs. The month of May was extremely busy with five different groups visiting the field station. Tom Kozel brought his students from Anderson College in early May, followed by a group from The Citadel. The first-time visit of The Citadel, led by John Zardus, was

Students Without Boarders at ITEC

primarily interested in the marine ecosystem here in Bocas. Later in May, Jeri Fox again brought their course in from the University of New England. A group from Emory and Henry College also made a visit to the station in May. This group was led by George Agryros and Jerry Bresowar and was their first course visit to the station. Craig Plante of the College of Charleston brought his group to the station once again for a general tropical ecology course. This was Craig’s 12th year at ITEC!   Our own field courses were in full swing during June, July and extended into mid August. Rick (Moth Man) Mosher brought a varied group from Michigan in August

Winterline’s Gap Year course at ITEC

with insects as the primary focus.  Another new group this year was from Winterline Global, a gap-year program on their way around the world and led by Beth Warsof, Mischa Tourin and Ashley Delehunt. Winterline arrived in October with an emphasis on hands-on field studies in the forest and on the reef. Later this month, we received a brief visit of a large group from Long Island University led by Sarah Moran. Pete provided a lecture on the ITEC’s mission and research projects and later the group visited tourist-impacted Starfish Beach.

Northeastern University TTE course at Bajo Mono, Boquete

In December, Pete Lahanas brought a group from Northeastern University’s Tropical Terrestrial Ecology course as part of their Three Seas Program for a brief stay at the station and then on to Boquete. Based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s field station in Bocas, the students received a short but intensive encounter with tropical rain forest ecology.


From the Garden

Our guanabana


Marañon (cashew)

Despite constant attack by leaf cutter ants and other herbivores we managed to bring to “fruition” a number of  fruits and vegetables, including bananas, plantains, peppers, pineapple, culantro, etc.  New for 2016 were marañon (cashew), cacao (chocolate), and guanabana (soursop).

Volunteers and Donations

Al and Enrique building the new boat house

We would like to thank several volunteers who unselfishly donated time and energy at the Bocas del Toro Biological Station in 2016. Among these were Nick Lahanas, and Glen Blair who extended the coral reef walkway a considerable distance towards the water. Thanks to them, we are now two/thirds the way there!  We would also like to thank David Zimmerman for his donations of time, energy and funds to several projects at the station, and to David and Janis Brown for their donation of cookware and spotting scope for the station. A special thanks to Al Beulig for his generous donation of time and energy in the construction of the new boat house, for his donation of a new cordless drill, and for the donation of funds. And, as always for the past 20 years, we thank Cathy Fields for her constant volunteer work running the ITEC office, taking care of questions, solving problems, helping make sure the bills are paid and that ITEC’s students, faculty and visitors have a rewarding stay at the Bocas Station.


Future Projects at the ITEC Station

Over the next year we plan to pursue several projects. We will attempt to complete the walkway to the reef by Winter Session this December. Much of the lumber is on hand though additional beams will have to be purchased. We will also purchase a washer and dryer for the new laundry room.  The most important project would be to begin framing the Faculty Residence Building. The foundation is there, but funds are needed to begin the actual building construction. We would like to do this project in three phases. The first phase would be to frame the building, porches and staircases, and install the roof. We estimate that this will cost approximately $10,000. The second phase would be to add siding and flooring. The third phase would be to install the plumbing and wiring. The second and third phases will cost approximately another $10,000. Volunteer carpenters are available if the funds could be generated for this project.

Items needed

Several items are needed at the station that will greatly enhance our operation.

  1. Small tractor with a mower attachment. This tractor would be used primarily to haul items (food, building supplies, gas tanks, etc.) from the dock to the station. I could also be used in emergency situations for medical evacuation. The mower attachment would be extremely useful as it has become more and more difficult to find folks willing to cut the grass with machete. A small tractor (Kubota, John Deere, etc.) would be extremely useful and reduce our workload at the station. Estimated cost for a good used small tractor, $5000-$6000.
  1. Washer and Dryer. Currently we use a laundry in town and while doing individual laundry loads for $5 is reasonable, it is costing us $150-$180 each time we launder the sheets and towels at the station. We need to do this after each visiting group, which translates into 2-3 times per month.  Having our own set of two washers and two gas dryers would easily pay for itself in a year. Estimated cost: $2000.

There are several other ways in which you can help ITEC achieve its goal to finish the construction of the new field station.

Most urgently, we need funds to begin work on the Faculty Residence Building.   The foundation is complete. All we need is the

Finished Faculty Residence Building Foundation

lumber to begin construction. Our goal is $10,000 which should be sufficient to complete the framing of the building. If you would like to have this building endowed in your name, give us a call.

How to make a donation

Donations may be large or small, everything helps. Donations by check are welcome and there are several ways that you can make a donation with a credit card.

ITEC web site. Just click on the Donate to ITEC button in the side bar and continue from there. This will lead you to a PayPal page where a credit card donation can be made or you can download a form to accompany your check.

Amazon Smile ( is another way to help ITEC achieve its funding goals. This program allows you to donate a small portion of your purchase price to ITEC but does not increase your purchase cost. Choose ITEC as your charitable organization recipient and Amazon will do the rest.

Facebook now also allows you to make a donation to non-profits such as ITEC. Visit the ITEC Facebook site at the top of our home Facebook page, sign in and click on “Donate”. This will lead you through several steps ending in a location that will allow you to make a credit card donation.

Finally, PayPal has a new program that allows folks to make donations to non-profits directly through their web site.

Thanks Everyone!