Barro Colorado Island Opening Day, by Unknown, March 29, 1924, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, At the inauguration of the Barro Colorado Island Biological Laboratory, this first group of scientists and guests visit the nature preserve and biological laboratory established on Barro Colorado Island. BCI was created when the Chagras River was dammed to create Gatun Lake as a watershed for the Panama Canal. The mountaintop island was set aside as a preserve for visiting North American naturalists. It was funded by a consortium until 1946 when the Canal Zone Biological Area, later (1966) renamed Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, was transferred to the Smithsonian..