Coibita / Isla Ranchería
Sylvia Earle on the Hannibal Bank
Where are the fish?

It is the job of a research institute to ask questions. This week’s Mission Blue expedition to Coiba is the first opportunity that we have ever had to ask what ‘s on the sea floor on Coiba’s Hannibal Bank—the top of an undersea mountain--an exciting chance to learn more about a habitat that usually lies out of reach.

Although Héctor Guzmán and colleagues on the submersible have collected more than 20 different marine organisms from the sea floor using the retractable arm of the sub, they are wondering if the waters of the area have been overfished. “What is most impressive is that on six dives, we have not seen a single solitary fish or schools of species of commercial importance like groupers and snappers in the water column,” said Guzmán in today’s blog. “We’re hoping that this changes during the full moon when these fish usually aggregate.”

It is the job of concerned citizens to decide how to use scientific information to build the future.  Marine Protected Areas give fish a chance to recover from overfishing and to reproduce.  Panama created Coiba National Park in 2004 to protect the unique diversity of Coiba Island.  UNESCO designated Coiba National Park and Special Marine Protected Area in 2005 to indicate that the international community agrees that this is a unique World Heritage Site.

Will the fish show up next week or next month, or maybe next year?  Will the measures in the new Coiba Management Plan, drafted by a diverse group of people with STRI’s Juan Mate and officials from Panama’s environmental authority, ANAM result in an increase in fish populations in the area?

Only long-term studies make it possible to understand how the environment changes with time.
For more information about how the oceans are changing based, in part on work by staff scientist emeritus Jeremy Jackson, see http://www.shiftingbaselines.org/slideshow/pristine_hi.html

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