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Gettysburg College

Publication Date

Fall 12-4-2014

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Coral reefs harbor much of the world’s known marine biodiversity. For a number of reasons, coral reefs are becoming increasingly threatened. Large portions of the world’s reefs have already been lost, and the number of degrading reefs is constantly on the rise. One cause for the destruction of coral reefs are coral diseases, ultimately causing coral mortality. With the death of corals, a key species is lost, endangering the entire reef ecosystem. Documenting the presence of such diseases could be useful in assessing current reef health and ameliorating the growing threat of coral diseases. In this project, 18 40m2 belt transects were conducted at each of four reefs near the island of Narganá in the Guna Yala Comarca of Panamá. A total of 72 transects were conducted, investigating a 2880m2 area. Living corals present were counted and classified. Corals showing evidence of disease were noted and disease was classified. Using statistical tests, the four sites were compared to one another to determine health of the reefs. The Narganá reefs, located nearest to the inhabited island, had the highest percentage of sick coral. At this site, 29.91% of all corals present showed signs of compromised health. The lowest percentage of sick corals was found at the Ordud sample site, with 4.20%. This site appeared to have the lowest human influence. These findings suggest that coral disease prevalence may be linked to human influence. Human waste runoff, pollution, and overfishing have all been attributed to deteriorating reef health and the spread of coral diseases. Areas closer to inhabited islands are often more heavily subjected to these influences. As proximity to human inhabitance increases, the prevalence of coral diseases may also increase.


Biodiversity | Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Environmental Sciences | International and Area Studies | Latin American Studies | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


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