Bocas del Toro


The Bocas del Toro Research Station (BRS), a field station of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) on Panama’s Western Caribbean coast, is an ideal platform for both marine and terrestrial research. The station hosts a diverse group of Smithsonian scientists, their colleagues and students.

Activities at the station contribute to the Smithsonian Institution’s primary mission: the increase and diffusion of knowledge. BRS visitors are engaged in research on the biodiversity, ecology, paleontology and archaeology of the Bocas del Toro region. Educational and outreach activities range from hosting K-12 school groups, to specialized training for international graduate students.

Founded in 1998, the BRS campus has provided field accommodation since 2002 and a fully operational research laboratory since 2003. Subsequent development of a running seawater system, a new dock, boat ramp, and additional support facilities, as well as two houses to accommodate visiting researchers, soon followed. The BRS now boasts the most up-to-date research facilities among the preeminent field stations in the Caribbean.


Charles Handley

Charles Handley (1924-2000), curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, mounted expeditions to survey the mammal fauna of the Bocas del Toro region.



Anthony Coates

Anthony Coates then STRI’s deputy director, coordinated the Panama Paleontology Project’s work in Bocas to document the rise of the Isthmus of Panama.



STRI purchased a six-hectare plot on Isla Colon for the development of a Caribbean marine station.


STRI joined CARICOMP (the Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity Program) to monitor sites for coral, mangrove, and seagrass productivity near the BRS.


A dormitory building to house 16 people was completed. The station began to host a number of visiting scientists including Davey Kline, then a graduate student at the University of California, and Mark and Dianne Littler from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.


Dr. Rachel Collin

STRI appointed Rachel Collin, staff scientist, as BRS director. The station hosted ‘Tropical Marine Ecology,” a Florida International University undergraduate course, for the first time.



The state-of-the-art laboratory building was inaugurated in October. The Mellon Foundation funded an Organization for Tropical Studies course in Tropical Marine Ecology at the station.

At laboratory
The first invertebrate biodiversity workshop, supported by the Smithsonian Institution’s (SI) Marine Science Network and SI’s Women’s Committee, documented the exceptional sponge and tunicate diversity in the Bocas del Toro region. STRI appointed Gabriel Jacome as BRS station manager.


A running seawater system was completed. A second invertebrate biodiversity workshop further catalogued local marine biodiversity, focusing on crustaceans and bryozoans.


An issue of the Caribbean Journal of Science edited by Rachel Collin was dedicated to the fauna and environment of Bocas del Toro. The first Training in Tropical Taxonomy course instructed 14 international students in taxonomy and systematics of sponges.



Casa Hoch and Casa Cofrin were completed, increasing the station capacity to 24 researchers. Two new 18-foot boats were added to the BRS fleet, bringing the total to 8. The SI Board of Regents and SI’s Women’s Committee visited the BRS. The Bocas del Toro biodiversity database reached 3,000 entries. DNA barcoding of the marine invertebrates of Bocas del Toro began.


Donations from the Cofrin and Hoch families enabled the design and imminent construction of a new, larger dormitory. The SI National Board visited the BRS. The original sawmill building was demolished and the reception area was remodeled. BRS publications topped 200.