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Smithsonian coral biodiversity survey of Panama's Pearl Islands
Date:7/7/2008

A comprehensive survey of coral biodiversity in Panama's Las Perlas Archipelago, published in the journal Environmental Conservation by researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and their colleagues, has resulted in clear conservation recommendations for a new coastal management plan.

"To evaluate strategies for the protection of natural resources in the Las Perlas archipelago, we gathered basic information about coral species distributions. Our recommendations include large conservation units, "no take zones" and marine reserves, with an emphasis on the northern part of the archipelago, and extremely careful regulation of fishing, tourism and development," said Smithsonian staff scientist, Hector Guzman.

The Las Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panama are one of two archipelagos in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. The other is the Galapagos. The Las Perlas Marine Special Management Zone, created under Panama's Law 18 in May 2007, is the most recent addition to a major regional marine conservation corridor extending from Costa Rica to Ecuador. The 1688-km2 management zone includes 250 mostly uninhabited rock islands and islets.

The authors conducted an extensive biodiversity inventory, determining coral distribution and species richness across the region. They counted a total of 57 coral species: 19 hard (scleractinian) corals and 38 soft corals (octocorals). For comparison, the species count for Panama's Pacific biodiversity hotspot in the Gulf of Chiriqui is 74, whereas near Cao Island Biological Reserve, Costa Rica's hot spot, there are 43 coral species.

Coral reefs in the Las Perlas archipelago tend to be small and patchy. Some corals also grow directly on bedrock, where they form communities, but not consolidated reefs. This study showed that reefs and coral communities in Las Perlas are equally diverse. The analysis defined areas of high species richness near Isla Galera, Isla San Telmo, Isla Cam
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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
703-487-3770 x8216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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