Live coral cover on reefs averaged 61.2%, ranging from 0.1 to 96.4%, whereas live cover in coral communities averaged 26%. Reef sites with the highest live coral cover are along the north and east shores of Isla Contadora and in the San Telmo Islands. The central archipelago tended to show low coral cover.
In the Las Perlas archipelago, coral cover and coral species richness do not go hand in hand. Extensive areas of coral can be low in species diversity, whereas smaller, patchy areas of coral can be higher. Patchy distribution of high coral biodiversity areas makes it challenging to specify discrete conservation areas, therefore the authors recommend larger conservation units. The central archipelago is less important both in terms of coral cover and coral species richness, while the islands from Isla Mogo Mogo north are more important.
Because coral communities in the archipelago tended to have higher species diversity and a higher proportion of soft corals (octocorals) than typical Pacific Panama reefs, the authors recommend that the management plan protect a significant proportion of the coral communities. Bajo Trollope, San Jose Island, the southern coast of Pedro Gonzales Island, and San Telmo, Galera, Mogo-Mogo and Pachequilla islands should be fully protected marine reserves.
Sedimentation, pollution, overfishing and coastal development have already been targeted as the most significant threats to marine biodiversity in Las Perlas. Developers plan to build entirely new towns with residential areas, malls, marinas and golf courses on several of the islands in this fragile ecosystem, which Guzman describes a
|Contact: Beth King|
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute