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  • Barro Colorado: From Hill Top to Island to Research Institute

    How does a hill become an island? Before 1911, the Chagres River cut through the Panama rainforest. After the excavation of the canal, the Chagres river basin was flooded to create Lake Gatun. By 1914 the lake had flooded the old railway and several small towns on the hill whose top is now Barro Colorado. In 1923 the Barro Colorado island was declared a biological reserver. In 1946 the Smithsonian Institute took over the island for research. As of today, more then 10,000 research papers have been published as the result of research undertaken by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


    Last month I spent a day on the island along with 9 other people and a guide. As we walked through the thick vegetation, we came across markers, net baskets, and an assorted of strange looking contraptions each of which was set up to collect some sort of data for a research project. I even saw a tiny poison dart frog.


    The jungle was pulsating with life -- birds, insects, and howler monkeys created a din even though we rarely saw them. The plants were growing all over each other. Vines looked like snakes. Trees with buttress roots towered over the forest. Lots of miniature fungus and frogs on the forest floor. We found bats sleeping on the bark of trees. We came across one of the rarest mammals of all on the island—the primate Scientificus Researheraceros!