From Plant Press, Vol. 18, No. 1, January 2015.
On November 10-26, 2014, Barrett Brooks led a team of scientists conducting a rapid algal assessment in the vicinity of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) Galeta Point Marine Laboratory in Panama. The lab is located near a collection of coral reef and mangrove habitats between Margarita Bay near Colon and Maria Chiquita, northeast of the Panama Canal mouth on the Caribbean side. The study covered about 7 miles of coastline. Gloria Batista de Vega (University of Panama/STRI) and Hector Ruiz (University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez) collaborated with Brooks on the project.
The Panama Canal is in the final stages of a huge expansion project which will allow the Canal Authority to accommodate today’s larger ships. Many of the natural habitats near Punta Galeta are in danger of being destroyed due to the shipping industries efforts to develop areas for shipping container storage. It was the intention of the research team to document much of the submerged mangrove and reef flora prior to any future development.
The team collected over 300 specimens of marine plants, representing an estimated 100 species during 13 snorkeling transects and 11 scuba dives in the study area. In situ photographs were taken of many species by Ruiz. Portions of all specimens collected were preserved in formalin. Tissues samples were obtained of each, and dried in silica gel for future DNA barcoding. Herbarium mounts were also prepared for most of the specimens collected.
Reefs were found to be surviving along the study area, dominated by the coral genera Agaricia and Porites, with some Siderastrias present. Very few Caribbean brain corals were encountered, although they had been reported as common in surveys conducted 40 years ago. The fast growing coral of Acropora, typical of many Caribbean reefs, were scarce. The reefs appear to be holding up even though they are continually subjected to a heavy burden of siltation from mainland runoff, and they endure heavy wave action seasonally. Coralline algae and other crust forming algae (e.g., Peyssonnelia) accounted for a large percentage of reef surface area.