A research team from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has completed a survey of coral biodiversity in the Las Perlas Islands. Their study revealed a broad mix of coral species in the waters of Las Perlas. In total, they counted 57 species of corals (19 species of hard corals and 38 species of soft corals). They found that reefs in the region were small and patchy and some corals grew directly on bedrock on the sea floor instead of building layer upon layer of corals.
The survey showed that species diversity was highest in the waters surrounding the following islands: Isla Galera, Isla San Telmo, Isla Camote, Isla Monte, Bajo Trollope, Isla San Jose and Isla Pedro Gonzalez.
Las Perlas, or the 'Pearl Islands', are located in the Gulf of Panama and together form an archipelago of more than 250 rocky islets. In May 2007, the Panama Government classified Las Perlas and their surrounding waters as a Marine Special Management Zone. As such, the region plays a key part in a larger conservation corridor that stretches from Costa Rica to Ecuador. Within the Las Perlas management zone, fishing is strictly regulated. Unfortunately, no restrictions are yet imposed on tourism and land development. Thus the Las Perlas reefs remains vulnerable to sedimentation, pollution, and coastal development.
To best protect this delicate ecosystem, the survey team calls for the establishment of "no-take" zones where fishing is strictly prohibited as well as the creation of a number of fully-protected marine reserves in regions of greatest species diversity. The team also suggests that further research should be carried out, which examines the movement and dispersal of marine organisms throughout the region.
Photo © Edgardo Ochoa / STRI. Coral research in Las Perlas Islands, Panama.
More About Coral Reefs