Urchin/Crab Panama Expedition 2018: Day 15

Today we drove from Las Lajas back to Panama City. A very contrasting experience! From nature back into civilization. Alexandra and I talked about science and the next steps of our collaboration. The drive took about 5h and I had some time to think about my personal experience of Panama. It was a very valuable experience to live in Las Lajas and spend time with the local fishermen of Remedios. 

Oropendula nests

Remedios is a small village with its own port and a fish factory. Our captain told us a little bit about his life. He learned how to fish from his father who had learned it from his father. He remembers that there were lots of fish, turtles and sharks in the bay when he was a boy. But now they are all gone. He started to run a transport logistics company because he did not earn enough to support a family as a fisherman anymore. The government put many restrictions on fishing. Some species are protected, others have specific length requirements or can only be caught during a few months of the year. Fishermen don’t always understand these rules and are angry at the environmental offices. He says it is not his fault that all the fish are gone.

The men who are still making a living from fishing sell their products to international companies, such as for example Costco’s. Maria, our host who runs Casa Laguna B&B once drove to Remedios to buy fresh fish for her business. However, that day they were out of fish because the fish had been sold. Trucks pick them up in the morning and by the evening these fish are already in New York. What is an expensive fish at an American restaurant only gave a few cents to the Panamanian fisherman who caught it. This opens my eyes about my own consumerism. Especially in the Bay area of San Francisco where I live you can find high quality food from all over the world. It does not say how much the producer got for it and how many miles it had traveled. There is no information on how much oil was burnt for packaging and transport and in how much waste this resulted. I will try to think twice before I buy groceries when I return. And I will talk to my children about it. Most of the producers are just trying to survive every day. It is the rich consumers who can make the difference by making an educated choice.

Another important point to discuss with my children is our plastic waste. I have seen it every day here in Panama. Even on the remote Islas Secas there is plastic trash. My mom told me that there were no plastic bags at grocery stores when she was a child. Now they are everywhere – in just one generation. In stores, on the beach and in the ocean. This might need a strong re-thinking, too.

These field trips are not only very productive for research. They usually also give me the time and distance to reconsider life and what we are here for.

a bat we found at breakfast
and his little toes

Once we arrived in the city, Alexandra dropped me off at the STRI station on the island of Naos. Here I am now. I will start the first extractions tonight. The centrifuge behind me is begging for it.

Continuing to work with my McGyver science tools!
red colonies…
… that turn into purple when dissolved in DNA/RNA shield!

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