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Wesleyan University

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Coral reefs are the most productive, biodiverse ecosystems in the ocean despite covering only <.5% of the ocean floor. In today’s changing climate, coral reefs face a multitude of threats including ocean warming, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, overfishing, increasing human population, and coral mining, among others. One way to protect coral reefs is to establish a marine protected area to limit damage and contamination. This study aimed to examine coral species distribution as well as percent cover of sessile organisms and substrates including coral, fire coral, algae, and sponges on protected and non-protected reefs in order to attempt to analyze the effect of protection on coral reefs in Guna Yala, Panama. Based on the data collected, protected areas had higher algae cover (P<.01, df=107), lower coral cover (P<.0001, df=138), and a higher relative abundance of corals with a “weedy” life history such as Porites astreoides (P<.05, df=80). The data also showed that uninhabited islands tended to have significantly higher average coral cover (P<.0001, df=146) and lower average algae cover (P<.0001, df=161), as well as lower relative abundance of P. astreoides (P<.01, df=134). When the protected site sampled was compared to an unprotected site that was around the same island, the protected area was found to have higher coral cover (P<.01, df=71) and lower algae cover (P<.05, df=72) than the unprotected area. Ultimately, lack of human population and protected status were found to be positive factors for coral reef health, and future study should be done to further examine the relationship between these two factors.


Biodiversity | Environmental Health | Environmental Studies | Latin American Studies | Marine Biology



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