Category Archives: Conservation

An unexpected explorative trek around the island of Gobernadora, Panama.

A short narrative by our team leader

I was swinging gently in the hammock beneath the mango tree , watching the grass grow and listening to music when I noticed Adrian had his boots on, and was holding a machete in his hand with a purposeful look on his face. I took my headphones out and asked what he was up to “I’m going to go and climb the mountain” he said.

We were on the little known island of Gobernadora, a neighbour of the much larger and slightly better known Cebaco island, which we had been exploring new trails on the day before.

The Mountain Adrian was referring to was not a mountain of epic proportions or particularly challenging as far as the climb went. The hard part was navigating the many machete made trails that crisscrossed through the islands often dense undergrowth. That and the fact it was nearly midday already and it was Hot, this was an normally an early morning activity. Hold on a minute I said, ill come as well. I grabbed my pack and chucked, in some water, peanuts and a flashlight (just in case) and a compass and we set off.
White faced Monkey

The beginning of the trail was shaded and straight forward relaxed walking, crossing over the small river and passing by the swimming hole we planned on cooling off in upon our return. We stopped to look at the cattle heart butterflies fluttering around in the undergrowth and took out time ducking beneath vines and looking up at the birds surfing above on the thermal waves.

The paths continued to twist and turn and just when they seem to be going up and towards the mountain, where we wanted to be, they would dip down again and take us away from where we thought we should be headed. Occasionally through gaps in the foliage above we could see the mountain and when the paths forked in all directions we took the one which seemed most uphill or towards our last sighting of the mountain.

We came out into a small clearing where a small rancho (cabin) was rotting away and slowly being taken back by nature. Around the dilapidated shack empty rum bottles littered the ground , the garden was full of red, pink and yellow orchids, bananas stems were clustered in one corner and spiky pineapple plants occupied another.

This seem to be a little hidden paradise bar, away from the rest of the island and the village. It had clearly been a while since the last person had been there though and I joked with Adrian that perhaps the wives had found out and put a stop to it.

Pushing through the large leaves and stepping through the twisting vines that seemed determined to trip us up, we came out on the other side of the garden on a trail which we presumed was the same one we had been on before. We carried on chatting away and stopped to take some photos of a Huntsman spider that was perched on the log we were using to cross a stream.

After a while we were aware we only seemed to be going downwards now and when we came out onto the open flank of a mountain we knew we had gone the wrong way, as we now seemed to be making our way down to the other side of the island. Around us now the land was farmed slightly, with rows of Yuka neatly growing and Corn sprouting up side by side.

We decided to continue on regardless of where this path was taking us, along the main river of the island. After three hours we eventually came out in a little bay and there we found a beautiful little house on its own private beach completely isolated from the world.

At the end of the beach where the river met the ocean a man was checking the fish trap he had made with the use of all the plastic bottles that had washed up there. He told us the best way to head back would be to follow the coastline, so we set off down the beach and I noticed that this guy didn’t even have a boat. I wondered when the last time he had left that beach or seen other people, it can’t have been often two strangers came staggering out on his beach.

As we walked it was sad to see that due to how the currents hit this side of the island there was so much plastic pollution spoiling this otherwise pristine environment, with hundreds and hundreds of plastic bottles and other pieces of unnecessary packaging stacked high on the tide line. I decided that at some point Discover Hidden Panama would return by boat and clean that beach that I had now named bottle beach and use the bottles for something productive.

spider in Panama

Huntsman spider

Adrian had been walking is some sensible rubber boots for this journey, I had left mine back on the mainland and instead was wearing like slippers, with my heel sticking out the back, a pair of old abandoned nikeys I had found the year before. They were now disintegrating and my toes were protruding out the end and so we had to stop while I incorporated the shoelaces to also hold together the three layers of shoe.Then we were off again but it was not an easy walk for the next few hours as we clambered up through the solid jungle hacking with our machetes when there was no passable shoreline and then stumbled back down and continued along the jagged rocky shoreline. We stopped for a few water breaks along the way and to take some photos of some rock pools that were a light pink colour on the inside and the limpets there that date back to the era of the dinosaurs.

We probably shouldn’t have as then the rain came in and with it the wind and by the time we made it back to the village just after the sun had set , soaked , muddy, blistered and bleeding . Locals were just about to send out a search party to look for us. We decided later over a cold beer (at the only cantina in town) that while it had been worth doing, this was probably was not a trip to take people on in the future…. hmmm….but why not???

Comments by Adrian

Preparation is always important in all walks and treks. Although Gobernadora island is a small island, it took us over eight hours to cross over to the other side and reach the so called bottle beach, (real name is Camaron beach), and walk back along the coast to reach our final destination. Although we have vast experience in trekking, we really did underestimate this explorative trek. It was fun and quite interesting, One thing that I really was not expecting was when we found a scuba diving cylinder in the middle of nowhere. Old and rusty, but as a dive instructor, I found it very amusing.

Walking along the coast, was very rocky, with small patches of sandy beaches, well not real sand but coarse small rocks and shells. However it gave me the opportunity to observe some interesting Intertidal habitats. Many classes of abalones, especially the commonly named ses snails. turbin snails, limpets, sea urchins and crabs. Chitons or as many people describe them as sea cockroaches, possibly the common chiton or maybe chiton Stokessi, which at first glance seem fossils, but are alive were observed. Something impressive was the light pink colouring of the intertidal pools, probably caused by microscopic marine algae.  So another visit, better prepared is on the cards.

My apologies to Christine, our backup, who was at the point of setting out a search party. We had promised we would be back for (late) dinner……..

Whale Shark. A whale or a shark?

We get asked this question a lot during Whale shark season here in Panama and we thought perhaps it was time to answer the top five questions that we hear before the Whale Sharks arrive again this year.

Is a Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus), a Whale or a Shark?

The Whale Shark is the biggest fish and shark in the world. The largest mammal is the Blue Whale.

What do Whale Sharks eat and are they dangerous?

Despite their massive size they are entirely harmless unless you are tiny plankton, krill, small squid or algae, as this is all they really feed on. Krill are small crustaceans that are generally no bigger than 1 or 2 centimeters, although a few species can grow up to 15 cm. They gather in swaying swarms of up to 60,000 per square meter!

How big can Whale Sharks get?

The largest confirmed individual was 12.65m (41.50ft) in length and weighed 21.5 tons. Despite this being longer then a school bus, unconfirmed reports suggest even bigger ones existing with Whale Shark sightings by fisherman and divers alike of up to 18 meters. When you ask many of our guests returning from a daytrip out snorkelling or diving with them, the reports of how big they were gets bigger by the hour!

Where do the Whale Sharks go?

For the months that the Whale Sharks are not with us here in Panama they are off chasing the flow of food, feeding where ever the currents take them. Whale Sharks that have been tagged in Coiba island have been tracked as far South as the Galapagos Islands and as Far North as Mexico.

How many Whale Sharks are there and are they endangered?

Whalesharks are on the IUCN Red list as Vulnerable and are protected by CITES as well as the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species. Sadly, their population is decreasing as they are being hunted for their meat, liver oil, fins, skin and gills. Now, new policies for the protection of whale sharks have been enacted in Coiba and Discover Hidden Panama is eager to be a part of helping with monitoring the new regulations. More importantly, because of the decline in Whale Shark populations we work with the two largest international databases tracking and monitoring the Whale Sharks here.

Whale sharks in coiba island

Whale shark conservation

What Discover Hidden Panama is trying to achieve

We also offer special packages where part of the proceeds is donated to Sea Shepherd, the worlds leading direct action ocean conservation and protection group.We offer not only for our guests to participate with us in preserving and protecting these giant fish but offer an internationally recognised certification for diving with Whale Sharks. Guests can learn about these amazing creatures and how to dive with them. This experience coupled with our underwater photography program and knowledge of identifying and cataloguing these species will help you to contribute to their preservation for many, many years as you travel to other places and continue the work within this amazing program tracking the global populations.

snorkel with the whale shark and learn if they are a shark or a whale

Snorkelling with whale sharks


Five Amazing Birds Found in Panama

Five Amazing Birds Found in Panama

Panama, and more specifically, Coiba National Park, is home to an exciting population of birds, some of which are hard to find anywhere else. Journey with us to view the diversity of Panama’s bird population.

Scarlet Macaw

The Scarlet Macaw gets its name from the vibrant red feathers covering a large portion of its body. They are known for having relatively long tail feathers which are usually light blue. The upper wings are yellow and the flight feathers of the wing are dark blue. Although the Scarlet Macaw is listed on the IUCN Red List as “Least Concern” worldwide, it is considered endangered in Panama and is very rarely seen on the mainland. Cobia Island is the best place to get a look at this tropical beauty!

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

Crested Eagle

The Crested Eagle is a neotropical eagle, meaning it can be found throughout the neotropical region, it can be easily spotted by the prominent crest at the top of its head. The Crested Eagle is a very large raptor and loves catching a variety of animals around Coiba Island, including fish and snakes. The Crested Eagle is listed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. They live at very low densities, meaning they require a considerable amount of space between each other. Consequently, Crested Eagles are seen infrequently in the wild.

Crested Eagle

Crested Eagle

Coiba Spinetail

The Coiba Spinetail, a subspecies of the rusty-backed spinetail, is an endemic species to Coiba. Although they are fairly common on Coiba, they are considered vulnerable due to their lack of range outside of the island. The Coiba Spinetail can be identified by its rusty-brown colored wings, crown, and tail. Its head is brown with grey streaks.

Coiba Spinetail and Nest

Coiba Spinetail and Nest – Photo Credit: Glenn J. Lee

Brown-Backed Dove

The Brown-Backed Dove is endemic to Panama and is most commonly found on the islands of Cebaco and Coiba. It is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due to its relatively small range, though the population within Panama seems to be quite healthy. Brown-Backed Doves can be identified by their brown back and wings. Its crown, nape, and throat are grey in color.

Photo Courtesy of Bird Coiba

Photo Courtesy of Bird Coiba

Scaly-Breasted Hummingbird

The Scaly-Breasted Hummingbird, also known as the Scaly-Breasted Sabrewing, is a relatively large hummingbird common in Central America and northern Columbia. It has vibrant, almost iridescent green feathers and can be found in a variety of habitats including dry forests, rain forests and mangroves. They are often seen on Coiba and the surrounding area. The Scaly-Breasted Hummingbird is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List and is not believed to be in any danger of vulnerability.

Scaly Breasted Hummingbird

Scaly Breasted Hummingbird

Weekly Wildlife Spotlight: Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Scientific Name:

Eretmochelys imbricata

Common Name:

Hawksbill – Named for its narrow head and hawk-like beak.

Population Estimate:

20,000 – 23,000 nesting females.

Where To Find Them:

Hawksbills are mostly found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The Hawksbill’s narrow head and beak-shaped jaws allow it to get food from crevices in coral reefs. They eat sponges, anemones, squid and shrimp.
Hawksbills are typically found around coastal reefs, rocky areas, estuaries and lagoons. They nest at intervals of 2-4 years and usually nest between 3-6 times per season. An adult female will usually lay an average of 160 eggs per nest, these eggs will incubate for a period of about 60 days.

How to Spot Them:

The Hawksbill is among the smallest in the sea turtle family. Its head is narrow, has two pairs of scales in front of its eyes and a serrated jaw. An adult Hawksbill typically weigh 100-155 pounds (46-70 kg.) and measures 2.5-3 feet (71-89 cm) in length.
The shell of the Hawksbill is elliptical in shape and its flippers each have two claws. Its shell is typically orange, brown, or yellow, while the shells of hatchlings are mostly brown with pale blotches on their scales.

IUCN Redlist Status:

Hawksbill sea turtles are listed as Endangered (in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future) in the U.S. and Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future) internationally. The greatest threat to the Hawksbill sea turtle is hunting for their prized shell, often referred to as “tortoise shell.” In some countries the shell is still used to make hair ornaments, jewelry, and other decorative items.

How We’re Helping:

Not long ago, most researchers thought hawksbills had been eliminated from the eastern Pacific Ocean. Recent discoveries and new projects have changed the conservation outlook for this endangered species and inspired hope for its recovery. Of all the sea turtle conservation issues, the protection of Hawksbills in the eastern Pacific is one of the most pressing. The current low nesting numbers indicate that the turtle species is unlikely to survive without outside action and conservation efforts.
We are working to bring more awareness to the current plight of the Hawksbill by organizing beach patrols to protect eggs and ward off poachers, tracking sightings of the turtles in our partnership with Sea Turtle Conservancy, as well as teaching the PADI Project AWARE Sea Turtle Awareness Distinct Specialty Course to those who join us in our programs and expeditions. With your help, we are striving to bring the Hawksbill back from the brink of extinction.