Barro Colorado Island, located in Gatun Lake that is part of the Panama Canal, is a living tropical laboratory for Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research which has a world famous research center on the island. Barro Colorado Island has been managed since 1924 by the Smithsonian Institute The island is located in a lake that has an amazing 381 bird species, 102 mammal species (of the mammals, nearly half are bats) and 1316 plant species. Previously only research scientists were allowed on the island, but now tour operators can take tourists on day trips along its nature trails.
Barro Colorado Island was not formed by volcanic activity, but human activity was responsible for the island’s creation. In the early 1900s, Barro Colorado Island was a big hill, called West Hill, in the Chagres River Valley. A green canopy of tropical rainforest covered much of the valley. In 1914, engineers working on the Panama Canal constructed a dam to block the Chagres River. Gatun Lake was created and entire towns, forested areas, and farmlands were flooded. As the water rose, the lower portions of West Hill were also covered by water and the top part of the hill became an island—Barro Colorado Island.
A visit to Barro Colorado offers the opportunity to discover the humid tropical forest. Barro Colorado, the largest forested island in the Panama Canal waterway, is part of the Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM) and is the site of an internationally recognized biological research station.
The Barro Colorado Nature Monument includes Barro Colorado Island and five surrounding mainland peninsulas: Gigante, Peña Blanca, Bohio, Buena Vista and Frijoles. The annual rainfall on the island is 2,600mm of rain.
Five monkey species live on Barro Colorado, all native to Panama : Spider Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Geoffrey's Tamarin, Howler Monkey and Night Monkey.