Marvelwood and Panama: A Unique Research Collaboration

The Marvelwood School sponsors an annual student and faculty trip to Panama. Each year, Marvelwood partners with Conservation through Research Education and Action (CREA), a Panamanian NGO, at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve. For more information on CREA's mission visit: Marvelwood also partners with Audubon Sharon and Sharon Center School to bring this program to the local community. Forms and more detailed information on the trip will be available soon.

Building Migratory Bridges

Marvelwood's Building Migratory Bridges program was established in 2001 in collaboration with Audubon Sharon. Since 2007, Laurie has taken students to the Cocobolo Nature Reserve (CNR), a vital yet fragile section of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor in Panama. CNR is an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) site of global importance. Little is known about the avian and/or amphibian populations in this region.

Past Trips

In 2013, two Marvelwood trips departed for Panama in 2013, joined by representatives from Sharon Audubon. Students and Panamanian villagers operated the MoSI (Monitoreo de Sobrevivencia Invernal) bird banding station. In 2015, in addition to the ongoing amphibian and avian studies, the group initiated CLICK, in which Marvelwood and Panamanian Students used digital cameras to engage in a month-long Biodiversity Photo Blitz in a remote area of Panama from February - March 2015. A few select Panamanian students from the local school will keep cameras to engage in a year-long Photo Safari to help scientists and volunteer researchers document the incredible biodiversity found in CREA’s Cocobolo Nature Reserve (CNR).

In our ongoing efforts to enhance research projects at CNR, Dr. Twan Leenders from The Connecticut Audubon Society regularly accompanies the group to survey amphibians and reptiles. Dr. Leenders has written well-received field guides on amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica. Students tested amphibians for fungus, and at least one of the species of salamanders and two frogs found in CNR appear at this time to be newly discovered species!

Working with Panamanian Students

In addition to conducting research during their time in Panama, Marvelwood students teach and play with students from La Zahina. As a result, the local students no longer shoot birds with slingshots for fun as they did prior to these educational activities.

This international collaboration has forged alliances in conservation, an understanding of different cultures, and has allowed students the opportunity to witness the impact their research in Kent and in Panama has within the scientific community. The program also reinforces the goals of Marvelwood's extraordinary Community Service program, as students provide service to Panamanian villagers during their stay. In addition to teaching students, they have painted the schoolhouse, assisted local farmers with their crops, and taught students.

Dates for Marvelwood's 2020 Trip:
January 22 - February 2


History of the Trip

Science Chair Laurie Doss, at Marvelwood since 1987, had been leading ecotourism trips to Central and South America since the 1990s to remote locations in Brazil, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama. She wanted to identify an area to which the School could return consistently to do meaningful scientific research so that the data generated would have an impact long-term. In addition, Laurie wanted to connect the research students had been doing near campus since 2001 with breeding migratory birds, as part of the Institute for Bird Populations MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) program on the wintering grounds of birds.

Fundraising to Support Costs

Each year, Marvelwood students run fundraising programs to support operation of this avian research station. Since the MoSI station first opened in 2011, 75 different species have been documented via the annual banding pulses. In total, over 150 species have been document on the property since 2007.

Inspiration for the Future

The Panama program has inspired some Marvelwood students to go into environmental studies. Sean Graesser '09 was hired by Dr. Twan Leenders, who has accompanied the group off and on since 2012, to work with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. Sean's work can be seen on their Facebook page. Raised awareness about the environment, endangered species, and conservation efforts has been a consistent result of the program since its inception.

Check out the Adventures!