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On Location: Wildcat Mallorie Haines in Panama

by | Jun 14, 2023

Mallorie Haines dropped four 3-pt shots in rapid succession in the ‘Cats first half against St. Bonaventure.



Rising junior and women’s basketball guard Mallorie Haines is spending four weeks in Panama this summer with The School for Field Studies, a study abroad program designed for environmental research and stewardship with initiatives all over the world. With a passion for marine biology, Mallorie is spending the next four weeks studying human impacts on the ecosystem and will share a journal entry with Wildcat fans after each week of her once in a lifetime experience.


And that’s Mallorie – not taking a 3-point shot. The rising junior is in Panama.

Hey everyone! Mallorie here. I’m currently in Bocas del Toro, a province and chain of little islands off the Northeast Caribbean coast of Panama. I am staying on Isla Colón, the third biggest island of the chain. The population of the entire archipelago is around 9,000 people, about half of which live on Isla Colón. 

Before I dive into my week, I wanted to give a more detailed background on why I am here and what I am doing. I came all this way to study how the rapidly growing tourism industry here in Bocas has impacted not only the marine and terrestrial environment, but also the local and indigenous communities that have been here for centuries.

Panama is incredibly diverse, and thousands of people from all over the world are coming to explore the beautiful tropical waters, eat amazing Afro-Antillean and Panamanian food, backpack across scenic mountains and forests, or even just to experience the nightlife. However, while tourists come to Panama and have the time of their lives, there is no recognition on how they are leaving Bocas when they return home, or what resources were exploited for their vacation. For example, thousands of acres of mangroves have been destroyed for the construction of resorts and hostels, charters and overfishing has almost completely depleted the region’s natural fish stocks, and native terrestrial species, such as the three toed sloth, have almost been entirely pushed out of their natural habitat. Furthermore, foreigners and international companies are the main corporations that come in to build these resorts and hotels, meaning the money produced from these businesses is not staying within the local economy here, but rather leaving the area all together and further contributing to the poverty of the people.

While this does not even begin to cover the complexity of the tourism industry and relationship with the environment, economy, and local community,  you can see that there are massive problems not only here, but in many tropical and popular tourist destinations around the globe. However, this is not to say that the industry does not or cannot have its positive effects if done the correct way.

This is where my classmates and I come in.

By gaining a better understanding and perspective on what is actually going on within the community here in Bocas, we will try to come up with sustainable ways to keep the tourism industry up and running, while also finding methods to benefit and uplift the local community, economy, and ecosystems in the area. 

This past week, I have been on two snorkel trips and two hikes in order to explore the islands of Bocas and become more familiar with the particular species that are native to this region. On my snorkel, I saw a variety of Butterflyfish, Parrotfish, Damselfish, rays, octopus, and over 7 species of coral. I am still waiting to see a shark, which is my main interest and passion in Marine Biology.

In the forest, I have seen poison dart frogs, banana spiders, bullet ants, and even a rare encounter with a female sloth and her two baby cubs. In the classroom, I am required to learn and be able to identify all of these species and more. As an introduction, we have also visited the Panama Canal, in Panama City. With a tour guide, we were able to discuss the history of the canal as a US territory, and how it was only recently given back to Panama entirely in 1999. Through this, we are also learning about the complexity of the relationship between the US and Panama, which is ultimately is considered one of the most US-friendly countries.

So far, this trip has been amazing. I have already experienced incredible parts of this new culture in Panama, including new food, customs and traditions, and of course, being immersed in a Spanish-speaking community.

By far one of the coolest experiences on this trip is being able to communicate and connect with new people in their own language that is different from mine, and I can’t wait for more to come in the next few weeks!

Talk soon and go ‘Cats!


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