iLCP Marks the International Day for Biological Diversity


May 22 is the International Day for Biological Diversity, an ideal moment for the International League of Conservation Photographers to bring attention to our ongoing Photographic Expedition to the Island of Coíba, in Panama.  Biodiversity is at the very heart of this effort, which aims to complete a photographic and biological survey of this largely unstudied island.  iLCP Fellows Christian Ziegler and Tim Laman are leading this project which started in February 2015 and is planned to continue until September 2015.

Lying 23 kilometers off Panamas’ Pacific coast, Isla Coíba is the biggest island (approx. 500 square kilometers) in Central America and the largest uninhabited island in all of Latin America. Together with the Bahia Honda area, it forms one of the wildest and most spectacular landscapes in Central America, inhabited by charismatic wildlife, both terrestrial and marine.

Coíba is home to a variety of endemic vertebrates and also harbors stable populations of some spectacular species that have largely disappeared from the mainland.  Much of the island is rugged, unexplored, and has a spectacular rocky coastline.  It is about 75% forested with a large fraction of original ancient forest, a great rarity in Central America.  Coíba Island is the center of Coíba National Park, a large marine reserve that includes a number of smaller islands and that protects the marine life. Covering more than 1,700 square kilometers, it was declared a World Heritage site in 2005 and is an integral part of the Eastern Pacific Marine Corridor, an important conservation area.

Nevertheless, even with this designation, this unique ecosystem is under threat.  Because of minimal funding for supervision staff, poaching is a growing danger to both terrestrial and marine wildlife.  There is also heightened interest from private investment groups for developing large-scale tourist developments near or in designated Park areas.  Invasive species also pose significant threats to the landscape and wildlife, and plans are currently under way to remove them within the next few years.

In February 2015, in partnership with multiple local and international organizations, iLCP coordinated a major bio-blitz on the island, such as had never been undertaken before.  Over a three-week period, 30 scientists resided on the islands to take account of its animal species, from the smallest ants to giant crocodiles.  Their findings revealed an island teaming with life and biodiversity.  Scientists managed to identify, amongst others, 70 species of ants, 172 species of birds, 15 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of bats, and multiple other animals.  Most notably, of these, 6 species of bats, 7 reptiles/amphibians and 48 species of birds has never been observed on Coíba and the surrounding minor islands before. Click below to see the scientists at work on Coíba:

Our partners, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, La Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente de Panamá (ANAM), and the Secretería Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología y Innovación de Panamá (Senacyt), will use the data and photos from the expedition in support of their research and conservation campaigns about Coíba and to raise public awareness about this unique biological treasure through local and international press outlets.  The images will also be the centerpiece of an exhibition planned to open later this year at Panama’s newest museum, the BioMuseo.

The iLCP would like to thank the Baum Foundation, the SunLight Fund, Code Blue Foundation, GEO Magazine, and UNDP/GEP for supporting this expedition. For more information or to join us as program partner or funder, contact us at

Cortez Sea-chub (Kyphosus elegans) school swim just below the surface near a coral reef in an over/under, split-level view of the island and underwater. Canales de Afuera Islands  Coiba National Park, Panama Tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean

2015 Coiba Bioblitz, organized by International League of Conservation photographers photographer Christian Ziegler.  Image from Bioblitz - an expedition with 30 biologists to assess the biodiversity of Coiba's forets.  Excursion to Los Pozoz. Biologist Eris Flores catches a vine snake.

sea star Contreras Islands, N of Brancanco Isl. Coiba National Park, Panama Tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean "Roller Coaster" dive site