Marine Monitoring Sites

The Marine Program currently monitors physical, water quality, and biological parameters at two field stations, and at remote localities in the Bay of Panama and in the Gulf of Chiriqui. The main offices and the data management for the ESP is at the Naos Island Marine Laboratory.

Naos Island Marine Laboratory

Naos Island lies near the end of a causeway that extends into the Bay of Panama at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, immediately adjacent to Panama City. Panama Bay is a shallow wide-mouth bay bordered by muddy and sandy beaches and extensive mangroves. The Naos Marine Laboratory has operated at that site since 1968. The Marine Environmental Assessment Study has been monitoring water-quality and plankton production near the  mouth of the canal since 1985.  Two water temperature monitoring sites have been established in the Bay of Panama. 

 Bocas del Toro Field Station

The Bocas del Toro Field Station is located on Colon Island in Bocas del Toro province near the border with Costa Rica. To the east is  the Caribbean Sea and to the west is a large enclosed bay containing extensive coral reefs and  grassbeds  surrounded by banana plantations, farms, and forests including extensive mangroves.  The area is rapidly being developed for tourism.  Weekly and daily measurements of  rainfall, air and sea temperature are taken at the field station.  In 2002, an automated NOAA type station was installed which records hourly values of  oceanographic and meteorological data, including water level, rainfall, and solar and quantum radiation.   Hourly sea temperature is also recorded at 7 remote sites in the surrounding area, shown to the right.
Since 1999, we have been participating in CARICOMP, a Caribbean wide program to monitor the health of coral reefs, mangroves, and grassbeds. The three CARICOMP sites where annual to weekly biological and physical monitoring are done are shown in the map above. The grassbed site consists of two subsites in a Thalassia grassbed about 2 meters deep several hundred meters north west of the pier for the lab. Two times a year standing crop, biomass, growth rate, and the leaf area index are recorded at each subsite.  The mangrove site consists of  3 quadrats 10 m square at the seaward edge near the grassbed sites.  Within each quadrat, each tree is mapped and tree dimensions are recorded each year.  
There are 5 one meter quadrats within each larger quadrat where seedling recruitment and growth are recorded. Once a year litter baskets are put out for a month to record the weight of bracts, flowers, fruits, and wood that falls.  The coral site is on the outside of the point about 1 km west of the laboratory.  It consists of  two subsites each 8 to 12 meters deep. Each subsite has 5 10m permanent transects marked. Each year a chain is laid out along each transect and the number of links covered by each species is recorded.
Galeta Marine Laboratory
The Galeta Marine Laboratory is situated on Galeta Point, about 5 km east of the entrance to the Panama Canal. It is adjacent to Bahia Las Minas, an extensive shallow water embayment with mangrove forests, grassbeds, and coral reefs. The entire area has felt the impact of man for several centuries including Spanish excavation of parts of the reef to build fortifications, the initial French and then the U.S. construction of a canal, and the building of a cement factory and an oil refinery. There are considerable pressures for development of this area and the long-term integrity of the coastal ecosystems is unclear. 

Gulf of Chiriqui
STRI scientists have been working on the coral reefs in the Gulf of Chiriqui for many years. It provides a marked contrast to the Gulf of Panama, having no seasonal upwelling, a smaller continental shelf and relatively less input from continental runoff.  It has some of the best developed reefs in the eastern Pacific.  ESP maintains two temperature monitoring stations and the Panama Reef Monitoring Network monitors 3 reefs there.

San Blas Field Station
The field station at San Blas closed on June 1, 1998. The former site was situated on an island adjacent to Punta de San Blas, on the  Caribbean coast of Panama 120 km east of the Panama Canal, midway to the Panama/Colombia border. That island is at the western end of Kuna Yala, an indigenous reserve (also known as the Comarca de San Blas) that stretches along 160 km of the eastern coast of Panama. Smithsonian scientists started working in Kuna Yala in 1970. The field station supported biological studies in addition to ESP meteorological and biological monitoring, and was established in 1977. ESP sponsored activities began at the San Blas station in 1992.