Tropical Field Phycology Course 2015 - Panama

Laura Bush

University of Bangor


Photo Caption: Tropical Field Phycology Course 2015. A. The Team ( Left to Right. Back:: Maycol Madrid, Will Schmidt, Micah Marty, Laurie McConnico, Holly Cronin, Sofie Vranken, Talita Pinto, Lynn Cornish, Glenda Hunter, Mary Cruz Rojas, Emilia Croce.. Mid: Luis Reyes, Suzanne Fredericq, Laura Bush, Robin Taylor, Mariana Mungioli, Abdiel Jover, Front: Karla Pedraza. B. What lies beneath? C. Discovering the wonders of the seaweed communities of Bocas del Toro.

Tropical Field Phycology Course 2015

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) have run three previous Tropical Field Phycology courses from their Bocas del Toro Research Station on the Caribbean coast of Panama since 2008. In 2015 I was privileged to be offered a place the fourth course  along with 15 other students from, in alphabetical order, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, the host nation, and the USA. Our instructors Wilson Freshwater, Suzanne Frederiqc and William Schmidt also travelled from afar (USA).

The course focused on the development and enhancement of the practical skills required for collection, processing, and preservation of tropical marine macroalgae, with numerous collections occurring in a diverse range of marine environments within the Caribbean (e.g. mangroves, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, sponge communities). Specimens were identified morphologically in the Bocas del Toro laboratory with assistance from available literature and informed opinion. The course participants had a wide range of specialised knowledge, supplementary to the expert knowledge of the instructors, facilitating abundant knowledge exchange. Specimens were predominantly preserved by press, with those that required additional molecular analysis preserved in silica gel. Individual species plates were produced contributing to the Bocas del Toro Biodiversity Inventory.

In addition to practical work, daily lectures were available on morphological and molecular identification, macroalgal taxonomy, in addition to case studies of the instructors work. My personal favourite was the talk by Suzanne Frederiqc on the long term impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Rhodolith beds and their associated flora, a relatively rare but perhaps very resilient habitat. Course participants also presented their research with my oral presentation on the long-term change of large brown macroalgae in the British Isles receiving great interest.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational experience through which I gained a deep insight into entirely new ecosystems, complete with new genera and species. Additionally I formed many rewarding links with a wide range of people from many different backgrounds. I have returned to the UK reinspired with regards my current research and potential future career, and I cannot thank the Challenger Society enough for their generous Travel Grant which enabled me to attend this course.


I am currently writing up my PhD on “the stability and variability of marine coastal habitats on decadal time-scales” at Bangor University, North Wales. My PhD has focused on change in ecosystem engineers, specifically the large brown macroalgae and the honeycomb reef worm Sabellaria alveolata, around the coast of the British Isles and I am co-author on several papers and reviews in both habitats (see references). I completed my Masters at Heriot Watt University, Scotland, in Marine Resource Development and Protection, and prior to my PhD I was employed as a Marine Ecologist with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and consequently I have expertise in benthic invertebrate, phytoplankton and macroalgal taxonomy.


Tropical Field Phycology 2015, the experience of a lifetime, made possible by the Challenger Society #algaeRbeautiful #seaweediversity #BocasStation

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