US $6500

Per volunteer

*Tax deductible in the US.
Eligible for employer matching to reduce participant cost. 25% due upon booking

8 nights

5 days of diving

A unique opportunity to advance tropical marine research in Panama!

MarAlliance invites you to immerse yourself in a once-in-a-life-time experience in Coiba National Park, Panama. Join our team of marine biologists, guides and fishers for an unforgettable week: experience the life of a tropical marine field biologist while helping us collect invaluable data on populations, abundance, density and habitat preference of a range of species of sharks, rays, sea turtles, and other poorly studied marine megafauna in this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You will be on the front line of marine megafauna monitoring and contribute to the conservation of these vital inhabitants, while experiencing an unparalleled underwater world. During this dive-focused Expedition, we will train you to be directly involved in each aspect of field work from underwater visual surveys and megafauna tagging that will bring you one on one with Panama’s most exhilarating marine animals, launching baited remote underwater videos, to setting longlines with hands-on work to capture, measure, and tag sharks and rays.

We are excited to have the opportunity to share our findings with you and the field work will be complemented by presentations by our research team during the course of the week.

The Details

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Why are marine megafauna important?

Megafauna play an essential ecological role within marine communities, helping to balance and maintain fish and reef populations. Throughout the world these important creatures face multiple threats, and populations are in decline due to overfishing and destruction of their habitat. Knowledge of the diversity and abundance of marine megafauna and how their populations change over time is crucial to managing these populations.

Monitoring through fisheries-independent methods enables researchers and government officials to understand the status of marine megafauna populations and the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas, as well as fill in gaps in our knowledge of their life history including their habitat use and movements throughout their life cycle.

MarAlliance’s work in Panama

With over 1,500 miles (2,500 km) of coastline along the Pacific and Caribbean sides, Panama hosts a wide variety of marine habitats. While fishing is an important source of income for a large number of Panamanians, monitoring the volume of fish caught is almost nonexistent and anecdotal reports suggest declines in fish populations throughout the country. Although few fishers directly target sharks and rays, incidental capture is not uncommon and shark meat can be found in many fish markets.

MarAlliance leads annual monitoring of the marine megafauna at several sites along the Caribbean and the Pacific, including the indigenous Guna Yala Comarca, Bocas del Toro (see expedition), and we have recently launched research and monitoring efforts in Coiba World Heritage Site and National Park.

Coiba World Heritage Site and National Park, Panama

Panama’s Coiba Island and its surrounding waters, a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Park located in the Gulf of Chriqui, are considered to have some of the richest marine biodiversity in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Frequented by divers and sports fishers, this is an important foraging ground for key populations of endangered scalloped hammerheads, whale sharks, and mantas which form part of our recently initiated site-based monitoring and conservation efforts.

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Activities

Species identification of sharks, rays, turtles and piscivorous fish

Identifying marine megafauna by species is an important part of assessing biodiversity. Species ID will be used during in-water visual transects and in analyzing baited remote underwater videos recordings. We will further ask you to familiarize yourself with species prior to the trip to improve species identification in the field.

In-water visual transect

Transects are a non-invasive method for assessing diversity and relative abundance of marine megafauna. Each transect involves four swimmers positioned in the water and spaced 15 meters apart. Each transect is 1km in length and throughout the transect each swimmer is responsible for recording species, quantity, distance estimation, and size estimation for the sharks, rays, turtles, and piscivorous fish they see within their area.

You will learn species identification and size estimation techniques to accurately record data. Following field work you can help to transcribe data to provide indices of species diversity, abundance, demographics, and size frequencies according to the different habitats sampled.

baited remote underwater video (BRUV)

BRUVs are structures made out of PVC pipe or metal that contain a GoPro camera and an extended arm with a bait cage. BRUVs are deployed at various sites around the archipelago for at least 60 mins at a time in order to record species that are attracted to the bait.

These videos are later analyzed to record the species and relative number of individuals and assess diversity and relative abundance. We will collectively review videos taken during the day and annotate these to record target species and frequency of occurrence.

Longline capture and tagging of sharks and rays

Scientific longlining is another method to assess shark and ray diversity and abundance, especially over long periods of time.

This technique involves setting a line of 50 baited hooks in order to capture individuals and collect more specific measurements, tag the animal with a marker that will identify them in future captures or sightings, and collect a tissue sample for DNA and contaminant analysis.

A commonly practiced method within MarAlliance, this will be our second year using longline in Panama. You will assist with baiting and setting the longline, collecting environmental data, and will learn proper handling techniques for safely tagging and releasing sharks and rays.

Coiba World Heritage Site, Panamá

Day 1

Arrival in Panama City – Saturday

  • Arrive in Panama City, suggested stay at a hotel in Casco Viejo (the old town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
  • If arrival is early enough, there may be time to visit to the Panama Canal, museums, nearby island of Taboga.
  • Expedition Team Dinner with Dr. Rachel Graham.

Day 2

Transfer from Panama City to Santa Catalina – Sunday

  • Panama City to Santa Catalina. Early morning departure via private coach (7 hours journey with pit stops).
  • Check in at Rolo’s Resort – Santa Catalina
  • Check in with the Coiba Dive Center to review gear and diving certifications review.
  • Discussion on coming days activities and review of monitoring equipment.
  • Dinner in Santa Catalina

Day 3

Activity Day – Monday

  • Compile all luggage to have loaded onto the transport boat heading to the Expedition Base in Bahia Honda facing the Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site.
  • Breakfast prior to departure from the dive center
  • Boat to Coiba to the Ranger Station and prop for 3 dives in Coiba National Park (1.2 hrs)
  • Dive 1: check out dive, shark photo ID
  • Dive 2: receivers maintenance, shark photo ID
  • Lunch: on the beach in Coiba 
  • Dive 3: receivers maintenance, shark photo ID, megafauna tagging
  • Post dive, travel to Bahia Honda expedition base (15 mins)
  • Late afternoon – Presentations by Dr. Rachel Graham and Coiba Dive Center; Inputting of data, downloading of data, photos, and videos.
  • Dinner

Day 4

Activity Day – Tuesday

  • Breakfast.
  • Three-tank dive day inside Coiba National Park. Preparing and positioning acoustic receivers, citizen science project of photo identification of white tip sharks. Opportunistic satellite and acoustic tagging of whale sharks and manta rays.
  • Lunch on the beach.
  • Presentations by Team biologists
  • Late afternoon – Inputting of data, downloading of data, photos, and videos.
  • Dinner

Day 5

Activity Day – Wednesday

  • Breakfast
  • Two-tank dive day inside Coiba National Park. Preparing and positioning acoustic receivers, citizen science project with white tip sharks. Opportunistic satellite and acoustic tagging of whale sharks and manta rays.
  • Setting of fixed and pelagic baited remote underwater video installations.
  • Lunch on the beach or on the boat.
  • Late afternoon – Inputting of data, downloading of data, photos, and videos.
  • Dinner

Day 6

Activity Day – Thursday

  • Breakfast
  • Three-tank dive day inside Coiba National Park. Preparing and positioning acoustic receivers, citizen science project with white tip sharks. Opportunistic satellite and acoustic tagging of whale sharks and manta rays.
  • Lunch on the beach or on the boat.
  • Late afternoon – Inputting of data, downloading of data, photos, and videos.
  • Presentations and photo shows by whole team.
  • Dinner

Day 7

Activity Day – Friday

  • Breakfast
  • Three-tank dive day. Preparing and positioning acoustic receivers, citizen science project of photo identification of white tip sharks. Opportunistic satellite and acoustic tagging of whale sharks and manta rays and their photo identification.
  • Lunch on the beach or on the boat.
  • Early aftn departure via boat from Bahia Honda to Santa Catalina (1.2 hour by boat).
  • Late afternoon – Inputting of data, downloading of data, photos, and videos.
  • Stay the night at Rolos’s in Santa Catalina. Team dinner and telling of big fish stories!

Day 8

Transfer from Santa Catalina to Panama City – Saturday

  • Breakfast in Santa Catalina
  • Santa Catalina-Panama City departure via private coach.
  • Coach ride if feasible: Inputting of data, downloading of data, photos, and videos.
  • Stay in Panama City/Casco Viejo hotel. 
  • Wrap up Team dinner in Casco Viejo.

Day 9

Departure from Panama City Sun

  • Ground Transfer from PC hotel to airport (dependent on flight departure times).

Agenda may be subject to change

Travel tips

  • The official currency of Panama is the Balboa. The exchange rate between balboas and US dollars is 1:1, and dollars are used as the main form of currency.
  • Electrical outlets are the same as in the United States and typically 120V/60Hz.
  • The local time is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT – 6), and there is no time change during the year.
  • If you plan on using your cell phone, standard roaming charges will apply and rates will be carrier dependent. Most restaurants, hotels and bars are equipped with Wi-Fi that is free for paying customers.
  • In most of the country, including Panama City, tap water is safe to drink. 

Skills requirement

  • Comfortable in small boats in open water
  • Confident swimmer
  • Comfortable snorkeling for 20-50 minutes at a slow-moderate pace
  • Certified diver able to present certification card.

Safety

Safety is our top concern and MarAlliance has an emergency plan for each of our field work sites throughout Panama. All boats carry basic first aid kits and a more comprehensive kit will be held at the hotel.

COVID 19 Protocols

Because travel requirements for COVID vaccinations and testing are changing frequently, we ask that you consult us about the latest requirements for specific Expedition locations and dates.  Email us at expeditions@maralliance.org

Emergency contacts for Isla Colón

Police: Tel. 011-507-757-9217, 011-507-757-9485
Air Panama: Tel: 011-507-757-9841

What to bring

If you need any of the below items, you can help sharks and rays by choosing MarAlliance as your nonprofit on Amazon Smile. Amazon donates a few cents from each purchase to help us to conduct research, education and conservation for sharks and rays and fight for these awesome animals. It all adds up and it really makes a difference. Thank you for your support!

For the sun and sea

page_icon_sunscreen

Sunscreen*

page_icon_sunglasses

Sunglasses**

page_icon_hat

Hat

page_icon_shorts

Swim wear (at least 2 suits), for women: quick dry shorts

page_icon_rashguard

Rashguard***

page_icon_bodysuit

Lycra bodysuit/pants

socks site

Water socks

water-gloves

Hand coverage

* Make sure your sunscreen is coral/reef safe and doesn’t contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-MBC and the common preservative butylparaben, all of which kill coral.
** Polarized are recommended as they cut down the glare on the water.
*** We will have these for sale too (The tropical sun is strong; full coverage is important)

Clothing

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2-3 T-shirts

page_icon_3shorts

2-3 pairs of shorts

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One long-sleeved shirt and one pair of long pants *

page_icon_towel

1 large regular towel (if you have space)

page_icon_quickdry

Large quick dry towel

page_icon_pareo

Pareo or wrap

* To take out on the water in case you start getting too much sun

Equipment

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Mask, fins and snorkel (test equipment before arrival)

page_icon_rain-jacket

Rain jacket/poncho (just in case)

page_icon_gopro

Underwater or splash-proof camera/GoPro

page_icon_headlamp

Headlamp with rechargeable batteries

page_icon_drysack

Dry sack for keeping camera gear and other items water-free

page_icon_water-bottle

Re-useable water bottle

Health and wellbeing

page_icon_mosquito

Bug spray

page_icon_pill

Sea-sick? Dramamine or meclizine**

page_icon_pill-bottle

Own medicines

page_icon_candy

Snacks, e.g. hard candy‡

page_icon_book

Books to read

‡ Always good to have following the snorkel transects

**Bring a supply of Dramamine or meclizine to ensure you are comfortable while out at sea.

IMPORTANT: 

  • Hiking boots/clothes in case you want to hike the trails on down time. 
  • Fleece or light jacket for the cooler nights or if there’s a lot of rain
  • Enough money to cover your time before and after Bastimentos Island. $300-400USD should be more than enough if you won’t be staying in Panama after the expedition.

Can we invite others not working with our company (e.g., significant other, family member, friend)?

Yes! Note, however, that the quoted trip cost is made possible by your company’s 100% donation matching. Non-company employees would pay the quoted trip cost AND ask to make a donation for the same amount (in other words, their total cost would be 2x the company cost). *A prospective volunteer pointed out that if he pays for both himself and his +1, then the entire payment is a donation and should be eligible for matching.

I’m confused by the pricing. Is our company covering part of the trip cost?

The prices quoted are the prices that you would pay. MarAlliance is relying on your company’s gift match to cover its total costs, so if you were to sign up for a trip, you would pay 50% of the total cost, and your company’s matching gift would be the other 50%.*Due to the purely volunteer nature of the trip (not a tourist venture), the price you pay for the trip can be considered a donation to MarAlliance (a nonprofit) and is thus (a) tax deductible; and (b) eligible for 100% gift matching.**Non-company employees whose companies do not offer 100% gift matching would pay the full, tax-deductible. If you’re bringing a +1 and elect to pay for both trips yourself, the full donation should be eligible for gift matching.

I’ve already used my full company-gift-matching benefit for this year. Can I hold a spot?

Yes, you can either elect to forego gift matching (and make a separate donation to cover the incremental match price). Or, you can work with MarAlliance to reserve a spot on your trip of choice and hold payment until the following year, when you’ll once again be eligible for gift matching. Email expeditions@maralliance.org.

What are the main differences between the expeditions?

  • Belize, Lighthouse Reef – Very remote, on a small island with no cell service or internet. Glamping accommodations in yurt style tents, private cooks, and the focus is on sharks and turtles.
  • Belize, San Pedro – On the barrier reef island of Ambergris Caye. Full services of cell, internet, banking, etc are available. Accommodations are in the ocean front Sunbreeze Hotel, and the focus is on sharks, rays, and turtles.
  • Panama – All-inclusive (except alcohol) hotel accommodations in a remote area of Isla Bastimentos. Our primary focus is on sharks, rays and fish.
  • Cabo Verde – Accommodations will be Guest house style with field work completed on a mix of large and small boats. Our primary focus will be Whale sharks, Manta Rays and small to medium coastal sharks.
  • Mexico – Accommodations will be in a more luxurious hotel by the beach with trips out to the whale shark aggregation zone on a medium sized power boat. Our primary focus will be Whale sharks and Manta Rays.

What is the day to day time allocation of volunteers during the expedition?

Volunteers will spend most of their days in boats, out on the water participating in one of three activities; typically, from 8am until sunset. Data entry & presentations will follow in the evenings.

What can I expect during my time on the expedition?

– To work side-by-side with MarAlliance staff and local fishermen as part of the expedition team
– To contribute to critical marine conservation and monitoring/research efforts
– To learn new skills
– Learn about marine animals, the reef, the countries culture, politics, and about the local fishermen’s livelihoods
– Enjoy tropical island life for a week
– To be well fed and enjoy good company!

What if I might be uncomfortable seeing animals in pain, such as tagging & taking samples of sharks?

The only way we can measure and tag sharks is if we catch them. We minimize our handling time and sharks have little to no feeling in their dorsal fins where we place the tag. By comparison millions of sharks are killed yearly and we are trying to reduce these deaths.

Will time be allocated for an optional dive?

No!  However, if you would like to extend your stay, we would be happy to arrange your diving excursions.  For optional diving, one must possess a certification card.

Can we do a night dive?

No, evenings comprise of data entry and presentations.

Can you accommodate vegetarian meals?

Yes! Most if not all dietary needs can be accommodated.

How many spots are available per expedition & how many spots are left?

Belize, Honduras, and Panama have 10 spots allocated to each. Cabo Verde and Mexico have 8 spots.

Are teenagers welcome?

18+ years

Do I need to buy travel insurance?

Yes, MarAlliance does require participants to have travel insurance, however if your company provides travel insurance you may consider whether coverage is sufficient.

Note: Company provided travel insurance-things to consider

  • Does it cover medical (including evacuation)?
  • Does it provide trip cancellation insurance?
  • Does is cover me on paid leave?
  • Does it cover me on unpaid leave?

Are there other ways I can get involved?

Yes! Whether you join one of the expeditions or not, MarAlliance is always looking for donors to fund satellite tags that will track the migration patterns of sharks, rays and turtles.

  • Amount $3000 (covers 1 sat tag and a portion of the satellite transmission time). You’re welcome to go in on a tag with a group of friends!
  • Donors who fund tags will get to choose a name for the animal tagged and receive daily updates on its movements (tags may remain with animal for weeks, months, even years).
  • Donated tags may be deployed by MarAlliance and expedition volunteers during this years’ expedition.
  • Receive weekly updates

*Donated tags are also tax deductible

Price includes

  • Transfers from Panama City to Santa Catalina, boat transfers to Bahia Honda from Santa Catalina Return
  • 5 days of diving 3-tank dives – where necessary
  • All boat based work and travel
  • Coiba National Park fees
  • Accommodations
    5 rooms double occupancy
    4 nights – Cabanas Bahia Honda
    2 nights – Cabanas Rolo’s, Santa Catalina
     
  • All meals, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages from Saturday of arrival dinner to the next Saturday lunch, before departure from Santa Catalina
  • Nice swag bag!

 

Price does not include

  • Airplane tickets to Panama City
  • Hotel, meals travel/trips in Panama City
  • Tips