Bocas del Toro in Caribbean Panama is one of the few regions in the tropics that have been demonstrated to experience widespread hypoxia, or lack of oxygen in the water, which kills pretty much everything on the reefs except slime and jellyfish.
Andrew Altieri and colleagues documented the process. They leave us with the sobering conclusion that hypoxic events like these are almost certainly more widespread in tropical reefs around the world but are drastically under-documented because most marine scientists don’t live in the tropics and so tend to miss them because they are short lived. When scientists do find a dead reef, it’s not usually hypoxia that they blame.
One important question that is left hanging is how frequent were such events in the past? Are they increasing in frequency as eutrophication increases and the water warms, or have they been a natural process on these reefs for millennia?
We have begun a project to try and explore this question by taking reef cores and looking for tell tale signs of hypoxic events in the past.
We just returned from Bocas del Toro where we extracted 6 reef cores. We were joined by STRI post-docs Noelle Lucey, Jarrod Scoot and Blanca Figuerola, along with STRI intern Ramiro Solis. Blanca is leading the project and will be extracting material from the cores and conducting faunal analysis and stable isotope analyses with Ethan Grossman in Texas A&M.
Here the O’Dea Lab team extract a 3m-long core from a shallow Porites reef in Cayo Adriana, Bocas del Toro.
The project is funded by SENACYT