Barro Colorado Island

Barro Colorado Island (BCI) is located in the man-made Gatun Lake in the middle of the Panama Canal. The island was formed when the waters of the Chagres River were dammed to form the lake in 1913. When the waters rose, they covered a significant part of the existing tropical forest, but certain hilltops remained as islands in the middle of the lake. It has an area of 15.6 km2 (6.0 sq mi).[1]

The Barro Colorado Research Station is run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
A schematic of the Panama Canal, showing Barro Colorado Island in the middle left.

The island was set aside as a nature reserve on April 17, 1923 by the U.S. Government.[2] Initially administered by the Panama Canal Company under the direction of James Zetek,[3] since 1946 Barro Colorado Island has been administered by the Smithsonian, together with five adjacent peninsulas, as the Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM).[2] The BCNM has an area of 54 km2.[4] It is among the most-studied areas of tropical forest in the world.[5] The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has a permanent research center on the island, dedicated to studying tropical forest ecosystems.[4] Because the Island's diverse ecosystem has been very little altered by humans, Barro Colorado has been studied for over eighty years within a great variety of biological disciplines. Only the larger fauna disappeared from Barro Colorado after the lake was flooded in 1914. Many scientific studies have been conducted to document the changes in the species composition of the island.

Hundreds of scientists conduct research projects on Barro Colorado Island every year.[2]

In 1978, Thomas Croat published his Flora of Barro Colorado Island documenting the plant species on the island.[1][2] In 1999, Egbert Giles Leigh, who first visited the island in 1966, and now spends half his week there, published Tropical Forest Ecology : A View from Barro Colorado Island.[6][7] In 2002 The Tapir's Morning Bath by Elizabeth Royte was published, chronicling the lives and work of scientists working on the island.[5]

National Geographic produced a documentary featuring the Barro Colorado Island titled World's Last Great Places: Rain Forests released in 2007. The first selection, titled Panama Wild: Rain Forest of Life features scientists from the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute and also highlights the battles for survival and partnerships among species within this richly diverse ecosystem.

Forest dynamics plotEdit

In 1980, a 50-ha forest dynamics plot was established on Barro Colorado Island by researchers from STRI and Princeton University. The first census was conducted in 1982 and recorded every free-standing tree and shrub in the plot of more than 1-cm dbh, totalling approximately 240,000 stems of 303 different species. It has been recensused every 5 years since 1985, allowing scientists to study the normal dynamics of the forest, as well as extreme events, such as El Niño.[8] Another 50 ha plot was later established in the Pasoh forest reserve, Malaysia in 1987, allowing the dynamics of two distinct tropical forests to be compared.[9]


Visitors are allowed on Barro Colorado Island. Access is, however, regulated by STRI. To visit the island, people must make a reservation with the staff and arrange for a tour. Tours generally include transportation to and from the island (often by boat from Gamboa), a 2–3 hour guided hike, lunch, and a visit to the museum. Hikes through the island offer the opportunity to spot several animals including monkeys, anteaters, birds and insects.[10]

National EmergencyEdit

U.S. federal law states that the natural features of the island shall "be left in their natural state for scientific observation and investigation", "except in event of declared national emergency."[11]


  1. ^ a b Thomas B. Croat (1978). Flora of Barro Colorado Island. Stanford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8047-0950-7. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Ira Rubinoff and Nicholas Smythe (19 August 1982). A jungle kept for study. New Scientist. pp. 495–. ISSN 0262-4079. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2011-02-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (n.d.). "Barro Colorado Island". Terrestrial Research Facilities. STRI. Archived from the original on 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  5. ^ a b Elizabeth Royte (4 November 2002). The Tapir's Morning Bath: Mysteries of the Tropical Rain Forest and the Scientists Who Are Trying to Solve Them. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 42–. ISBN 978-0-618-25758-4. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  6. ^ Leigh, Egbert Giles (1999). Tropical Forest Ecology : A View from Barro Colorado Island. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509602-9. OCLC 36768102.
  7. ^ Royte p.40
  8. ^ "Barro Colorado Island". Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Archived from the original on 2011-02-21. Retrieved 2011-02-20.
  9. ^ Condit, R.; Ashton, P. S.; Manokaran, N.; Lafrankie, J. V.; Hubbell, S. P.; Foster, R. B. (1999). "Dynamics of the forest communities at Pasoh and Barro Colorado: comparing two 50-ha plots". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 354 (1391): 1739–48. doi:10.1098/rstb.1999.0517. PMC 1692684. PMID 11605618.
  10. ^ "Visiting Barro Colorado Island".
  11. ^ "20 U.S. Code § 79". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2020-03-15.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 9°09′N 79°51′W / 9.150°N 79.850°W / 9.150; -79.850