For nearly a century, access to Culebra Point was restricted to military personnel. Incidentally, this security practice protected Culebra’s marine organisms from fishing and other activities that have decimated their populations at unprotected locations throughout the upper Bay of Panama. Untrampled by recreational visitors, the sand beach has healthy populations of crabs, isopods, amphipods, intertidal beetles, worms, clams and the diatoms, and the fungi and bacteria that they eat. In turn, these invertebrate populations attract shorebirds, including migrants that visit during the north-temperate winter. Untouched by shellfish collectors, the rocks are rich with encrusting algae, snails, limpets, chitons, barnacles, and crabs and the natural tide pools, some the size of small swimming pools, which are havens for a diversity of fish, sea slugs, echinoderms and marine worms. All in all, the general health of the intertidal and shallow water marine communities at Culebra makes the area especially attractive for research.
Historically, many of the excellent research projects done at Culebra under STRI’s sponsorship resulted in scholarly publications that provide a valuable knowledge base for our academic programs and public exhibits. We continue to promote these kinds of studies among STRI scientists, but especially among local and visiting students at the high school level and above.
In addition to its healthy natural communities, Culebra offers a better link between basic research and our academic and public exhibition programs. In forging these links, we hope to convey information and to give non-scientists the opportunity to experience the excitement of the scientific process that leads to discovery. We are accomplishing these objectives in three ways. First, we are incorporating to the educational program activities that replicate procedures used in on-site research. In other words, students do actual experiments that address real research questions. Second, we are producing temporary exhibits featuring current research. Visitors read about the problem, observe researchers as they conduct the study and see the results in summary form as they come in from the field. Third, we are developing long-term exhibits based on monitoring physical and biological variables. These exhibits define a basic unresolved problem or unanswered question and then gradually—as new measurements are made daily and displayed in the exhibits—reveal the long-term patterns needed to answer it.
- The effect of food supplementation on the intensity and timing of reproduction by fiddler crabs. Tae Won Kim, STRI Short-Term Fellow, University of Seoul , Rebecca Rissanen, student, Universidad de Panama, and John Christy, STRI staff.
- Visual and non-visual orientation mechanisms of fiddler crabs. Pablo Ribeiro, Universidad de Mar del Plata and John Christy, STRI staff.
- Homing, and living in monogamous pairs in the giant limpet Siphonaria gigas (funds pending).
- Seasonal, temperature-dependent variation in the timing of reproduction in fiddler crabs. John Christy and Karl Kaufmann, STRI staff (funded, exhibit under construction).