Monday, December 7, 2009

Punta Culebra Nature Center

Culebra point is a little peninsula in Naos island, at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, that holds the Smithsonian's Punta Culebra Nature Center. The general area has experienced a great economic development in the last years, and now you can find there convention centers, restaurants, malls, marinas, resorts, discotheques, and so on... but somehow, this piece of nature still remains. To reach Naos (and the other two islands Perico and Flamenco), you have to drive the six kilometer long "Causeway", a two-lane road over a 1,250,000-cubic yard strip of rocks that were extracted from the Gaillard cut (Panama Canal's narrowest pass). At its entrance is being constructed The Bridge of Life project, the first building in Latin America designed by the world famous Frank Gehry, celebrating the emergence of the isthmus of Panama and its biodiversity. It is an impressive piece of art and I'm pretty sure that soon it will become one of the Panama's hallmarks, just like the others designs by Gehry (the Guggenheim Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Weisman Art Museum, and so on...).

I went with Gloriela and a couple of friends yesterday evening to visit this lovely place. It is popular among the locals and visitors during the weekends, and we found lots of people jogging, bycicling, fishing or simple enjoying the marine breeze along the Causeway. After paying the symbolic entrance fee, we started to visit the several marine exhibitions all over the place. There are many interactive signs and legends about the history and importance of the site, about the marine resources and, of course, about the ecosystem and its inhabitants. Most part of the history of this site is concerning its former military importance, being a harbor, a quarantine station, camping site, a military base for defending the Canal and now, a Marine Exhibition and Research Center. The site is frequented by school kids that have the opportunity of experience touching sea stars, sea cucumbers, stingrays and sea urchins and the different habitats through all over the place, from coastal areas (mangroves, a sandy beach and rocky shores) and even a patch of tropical dry forest crossed by trails where you can find mammals, iguanas and birds (of course). Our own experience yesterday consisted in admiring the three curious sea turtles plus the sharks at the first pool and touching the sea cucumbers in the second one. At the extreme end of the peninsula are the sea life exhibitions, with wide acquariums showing the difference between the Pacific ocean and the Caribbean sea (trust me... they are VERY different). I'm not an scuba diver, so I have had few opportunities to appreciate the diversity of the marine creatures (only by snorkeling in Coral Key during our honeymoon at Bocas del Toro, and in Galeta Island in Colon). That is why I love this place: for giving me, and many others, the opportunity to appreciate the colourful fishes, the coral reefs, the lobsters and the morays without wetting a hair! In addition, the veranda behind the enclosure offers a magnificent sight of the Panama Canal entrance and of the Perico and Flamenco islands (with occasional Brown and Blue-footed Boobies flying by). We did not take the trails through the dry forest because we were short of time, but we have found in previous occasions Hoffman Two-toed Sloths, Racoons and Green Iguanas along with impressive hanging cacti. The place is the most reliable spot for Northern Scrub-Flycatcher (which I saw) close to the city, and also for Mangrove "Yellow" Warbler, Garden Emerald and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird (near-endemic to Panama). Well, a nice december evening away of the shopping madness in a very nice and quiet piece of paradise, learning about our marine ecosystems and seeing absolutely cool creatures.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent write up, have to go there and check it out with my visiting family from up north.
    Alfred Raab