Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation

Key Features

“One of the first things I was really impressed with is SIT´s expansive contacts and the insider opportunities that result from these unique contacts.”

—Spring 2010 student

Explore Panama’s extraordinary biodiversity and the effects of human interactions with the environment.

The SIT Panama program is comprised of the following phases:

  • A four-week homestay in Panama City where students take intensive Spanish courses and begin the Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation Seminar and the Environmental Field Study Seminar;
  • A seven-week period in which students conduct field studies throughout Panama and part of Costa Rica;
  • A four-week Independent Study Project (ISP) period in which students focus on original research of their own choosing (see below as well as the coursework page for more information on the ISP).

Each phase exposes students to different perspectives on conservation and development through interactions with a variety of stakeholders – from banana plantation workers and members of forest-dwelling communities to experts on environmental policy and evolutionary theory.

Panama City

Live in Panama’s vibrant capital and largest city.
During their homestay in Panama City, students participate in field excursions and attend lectures by local professors and professionals on a variety of subjects related to development and conservation, such as community forestry and the environmental impact of current political and social events. Students are also immersed in Spanish language study through intensive language classes and daily interaction with their host families. This four-week period helps students become acclimated to Panamanian culture and introduces them to the relevant issues of development and conservation in the tropics.

Improve your field study techniques through hands-on fieldwork at world-renowned research institutions.
Along the Caribbean coast, students study marine ecology at the Smithsonian Institute’s Bocas del Toro Research Station, the premier research station located on Colon Island. While on excursion in Costa Rica, students study sustainable agriculture and sustainable technology innovation at the renowned EARTH University in Guapiles de Limon. 

The program’s research methods course teaches students how to collect, analyze, and report ecological data necessary to further understanding of terrestrial and marine ecological conservation. Field study methods include biotic sampling and analysis; fauna and flora identification; population analysis; and animal behavior.


Studying marine ecosystems in Bocas del Toro

Complete an independent research project on a relevant topic of your choosing.
Students spend the final part of the semester focused on an Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP provides students with an opportunity to critically examine a specific topic related to development and conservation in Panama. Typically, the ISP can be conducted in cloud forest highlands, coral reefs, lowland forests, mangroves, rural villages, indigenous communities, or other places appropriate to the topic.

Students receive guidance from the program’s academic director and a project advisor who may be a professor from a local university, a researcher from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, or an expert from another organization. Some student ISPs have gained the attention and interest of local NGOs, conservation experts, and government officials.

Sample topic areas include:

  • Comparative resource use of campesino and indigenous groups
  • Medicinal plant use
  • Wildlife abundance
  • Community resource management
  • Regeneration of canopy emergents in primary forest
  • Non-timber forest products and local use
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Agroforestry
  • Ecotourism as a community development alternative

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Panama City

Language Study: Spanish

Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, or biology.


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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