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STRI and Acadia establishing a successful partnership

A new partnership model to advance field research in marine ecology and marine biology in the Tropical Eastern Pacific

The Coiba Archipelago is one of the last untamed places on earth and simultaneously a biodiversity hotspot, national park, marine reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. This relatively unexplored region with breathtaking diversity is the next frontier for scientific exploration at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), with the potential to become an extraordinary testing ground as Smithsonian marine biologists tackle conservation and sustainability issues that can suggest agile responses to environmental change.

The archipelago is part of the same geological formation as the Galapagos, Cocos and Malpelo islands, and is located at the center of a marine corridor skirting the west coast of the Americas. When the Panamanian Isthmus closed three million years ago, this oceanic region known as the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) became the most isolated on the planet, cut off from both the Atlantic and far from the western Pacific. The archipelago is spectacularly rich in biodiversity and home to unexplored coral reefs (particularly deeper benthic reefs), estuaries, mangroves and rocky shores.

Further, when the archipelago was cut off from the Meso-American mainland thousands of years ago, evolution took its course. Today, Coiba is home to a large number of animal and plant species and sub-species including howler monkeys, agoutis and spinetail.

As STRI scales up its efforts to build a next-generation research station on Coibita Island in the archipelago, partners like the S/Y Acadia are tremendous for advancing marine research in this unique remote environment. Offering vessel time, a dive platform, and financial support, the research expedition to Coiba aboard the S/Y Acadia in February 2020 allowed STRI scientists like David Kline and Andrew Sellers Lara funded opportunities to conduct field studies on coral reef ecology and coastal upwelling dynamics in this remote location that may not have happened otherwise.

Future expeditions to Coiba and beyond will build upon the foundation of this first field excursion. Plans are already underway for a second STRI-Acadia research expedition to Coiba in 2021 that will explore the effects of seasonal upwelling dynamics and resilience of corals facing climate change and ocean acidification.

The Smithsonian in Panama looks forward to continue and expand this new partnership model with the S/Y Acadia to unlock the mysteries of tropical biodiversity and their relevance to human welfare.

By Kate Hibbs of STRI.

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