For most people, January 1st is spent contemplating resolutions that will be broken before spring thaw or reliving New Year’s Eve activities with amusement and/or shame. Not so for the graduate students of the MSC’s Vollmer Lab. We prefer to usher in the New Year with frantic packing interrupted only by mild to moderate panic attacks. This is because, for us, the New Year means that field season is merely days away. We must journey to the corals; our 10-week stint in Panama is imminent on the horizon.
Under normal circumstances picking up and moving an entire lab over 4,000 miles is stressful and anxiety-ridden. Especially since nothing perturbs TSA officials more than suspicious-looking vials of liquids with long sciencey-sounding names. The 2014 trek was even more fun do to the ill-timed winter storm that descended upon the East Coast in an icy fury on the very day we were scheduled to leave. Whether Boston was trying to prevent our escaping to the tropics out of love or out of spite will remain a mystery, but after a worrisome hour on the tarmac we were airborne and on our way!
After a night in Panama City, I took a puddle jumper to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off the northwest coast of Panama. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) is located on Isla Colon, the main island of the province. Being the first to arrive at the facility, I immediately went about setting up our new lab, an important job since it will be our home away from home for the next two months.
Not only will the Vollmer Lab be conducting field research in Panama until March but the Three Seas students will also be taking classes here as part of their second semester curriculum. They and the rest of the staff arrived today slightly sweaty and tired but no worse for wear. Tomorrow will be a day of orientation and check-out dives before the Biology of Corals class starts on Monday.