Twenty-three years ago, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientists decided to do something about their interest and curiosity about the rainforest canopy. Access was the issue, of course. It’s hard enough to get around the forest floor; the density of debris and foliage can be suffocating. (Well, it certainly takes your breath away!) But the canopy is not much different in that regard, and adding in the fact that to observe the canopy one would need to maintain a position roughly 100 feet, plus or minus, above the floor makes it treacherous and impossible. Right?
The persistent curiosity of STRI scientists was going to find a solution, and why not? That’s what they do. Their solution was the Canopy Crane Access System, in Metropolitan Natural Park, which is basically a re-purposed construction crane placed in dense forest just fifteen minutes from downtown Panama City. The location – selected because its close proximity to the edge of the forest kept installation costs down – affords views of the canopy, the skyline, and the canal. The giant crane lifts researchers up to 34 meters high, and provides pinpoint access to a 48 meter radius of forest that is believed to believed to contain 36 species of trees alone.
I was able to go up into the crane twice, each time for about 30 minutes. The operator toured us around, raising, lowering, and spinning the gondola until we would direct him to take us to a particular spot. We saw wildlife that included an iguana, a Capuchin monkey, birds, bugs, and a variety of plants & leaves being used in modern products, like a small fruit that oozed a white substance that was just like Elmers glue. Turns out, it’s used in glue.
A once in a lifetime experience twice, back to back. Incredible. But I can’t help but look forward to doing it again.
High above the forest floor with University of Florida staff working on the PCP-PIRE project. Why do I look nervous?