Tropical Forest Restoration

Planting seedlings at Finca Maribella

The Tropical Forest Restoration Program takes place both at ITEC’s field station in Boca del Drago and at our mainland property called Finca Maribella (FMB).  The forest restoration project involves planting native species of trees and education efforts in the local community schools.  The goals of the Tropical Forest Restoration Program are to reestablish the original biodiversity and carbon storing capacity of FMB and to educate the local community about the importance of doing so in order to protect our lowland rainforest ecosystem and counter global warming.  The collaboration between two ITEC programs, Forest Restoration and Local Environmental Education (LEEP) will hopefully help yield long-term solutions for the regional deforestation problem.

Shade house interior and tree seedlings

Our desire to restore forest in the upland areas of FMB was instigated by two converging factors.  First, a need to bring back the original rainforest ecosystem and its biodiversity, and second, to offset carbon expenditures.  After conducting an investigation into the nature and quality of the upland forest, we discovered that the forests at the finca were not very biodiverse but rather, composed of pioneering, early successional and introduced invasive plants such as white cane and Boston fern.   As a way to mitigate carbon expending activities, ITEC received a grant from the Oceans Foundation ( to help offset costs of the forest restoration project.  By working to accomplish both goals, the forest ecosystem will be restored along with its original biodiversity and carbon storage capability.

Swamp forest at FMB

Finca Maribella is located on the mainland in an area called Tierra Oscura (dark land) and represents a peninsula that divides Tierra Oscura and Dolphin Bays (9.201154, -82.24776).  The property is over 100 acres in size with mangrove forests along its extensive shoreline. The upland area rises abruptly from the bay and constitutes about 50 acres that was previously a farm with cattle and crops.  This part of the property has remained in fallow since 2011 and is where the forest restoration project is taking place.

LEEP volunteer demonstrating how to plant seeds

Volunteer Activities.  Volunteers will be expected to work both in the shade house nursery at ITEC’s field station and help plant tree seedlings at FMB.  Shade house work includes planting seeds and seedlings obtained from regional plant nurseries and directly from area forests, watering plants, transplanting plants, weeding, etc.  Work at the field station involves regular trips into the forest and other areas to collect both seeds and seedlings of desired tree species.  Larger seedlings are then transported to FMB by boat and planted in a random fashion between two and three meters apart.  Approximately 3000 seedlings will be planted each year.

Volunteers may also join the LEEP group at local schools and help present the education program to students ranging from preschool to 6th graders.  Additional details of the Tropical Forest Restoration Program can be found in the 2019 Newsletter:   Click LEEP for details about this program.

Students conducting a biodiversity study at FMB

Getting Involved.  This program seeks volunteers and interns for our conservation programs.  These volunteer positions are unpaid, but ITEC will provide all housing, meals, local transportation and training for volunteers and interns.  Among other activities, volunteers will also have the opportunity to sit in on ecology course lectures, visit beaches and caves, snorkel on coral reefs, visit the town of Bocas del Toro and join in on any activity at the station.  To apply, please first contact us at and provide a Letter of Interest and Curriculum Vitae.  Those applying for an internship will also need to submit a letter of recommendation.  The Forest Restoration Volunteer Program was cancelled in 2020 due the Covid-19 pandemic but will be operating again beginning in January, 2021.