Coiba Expedition 2018

By Maggie Johnson


The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has launched a new initiative exploring the wild and remote Pacific island of Coiba, its first outpost in the Gulf of Chiriquí, one of Panama’s “three seas”. In 2018 MarineGEO postdocs Maggie Johnson and Holly Sweat joined an expedition to Coiba with former MarineGEO postdoc Matt Leray.

The team first visited Coiba National Park in 2017 to explore the benthic and microbial communities of its coral reefs and mangrove habitats and to establish a monitoring program. In Fall 2018, they returned to collect the first full year of data and to initiate the second year of data collection.

Around Coiba Maggie has deployed more than 54 Calcification Accretion Units (CAUs), devices that measure growth of the reef framework though carbonate formation, as part of her MarineGEO postdoctoral fellowship. This works contributes to a data set of more than 500 CAUs she has deployed at MarineGEO sites in Bocas del Toro (Panama), Carrie Bow Cay (Belize), and the Indian River Lagoon (Florida) over two years. The CAUs were placed alongside permanent survey transects and Autonomous Reef Monitoring Systems (ARMS) deployed by Matt that census fishes and diverse invertebrates at high-resolution.

Holly sampled the microbial fouling communities of coral reefs and mangrove roots of Coiba as part of her larger project characterizing the microbial community and associated encrusting life across latitudes. For the 2018 expedition Maggie and Holly started a collaboration that combines their individual MarineGEO research projects to assess how microbial communities on the benthos are related to early benthic communities that develop on CAUs. The team will return in Fall 2019 to retrieve CAUs and ARMs and to continue monitoring the health of Coiba coral reefs and mangroves.