What did reefs look like before humans?. To answer this question, I joined the Baseline Caribbean project of Aaron O’Dea and his lab.
Reef corals are very important, for example, because they build “homes” for multiple reef critters—including delicious fish! Reefs also protect our coasts against storms and boost the tourism industry. Despite their importance, we know little about how reefs vary naturally and how they respond to human impact. This makes it difficult to conserve coral reefs and to sustain fisheries and tourism, among other valuable services.
To understand and manage coral reefs better, we project to investigate communities of reef corals from Bocas del Toro, Panama. Here, we had opportunistic access to sample pristine communities of reef corals—communities that lived approximately 7,000 yeas ago and, therefore, never experienced human impact. That opportunity was brief, during construction work (figure 1.a). Soon after sampling (figure 1.b-e), that fossil treasure was transformed into a lake and lost forever. Fortunately, our samples will provide robust evidence of what pristine coral reefs should look like. We will compare modern reefs with the pristine reference from the same region (figure 1.f).
Figure 1. Sampling fossil (a-e) and modern (f) reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Our project has an excellent home and family – its home is The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which offers exceptional support including internships and fellowships. Its family are a bunch of people, rich in ideas and energy, and willing to work hard to make this world a better place. We are: Nicte-Ha Muñoz (intern, post-graduate student), Melisa Chan (intern, undergraduate student), Felix Rodriguez (staff research assistant), Andrew Altieri (co-advisor, staff scientist), Aaron O’Dea (principal investigator, staff scientist) and me, Mauro Lepore (the person to blame, fellow scientist). To learn more about us visit Aaron’s and Andrew’s websites.
Are you convinced that we have great intentions, ideas and team? If so, come back to this website; we´ll keep you posted!