Panama Perspectives – Day 16 (01/17/14)

The Biology of Corals class is drawing to a close here in Bocas del Toro. As part of the course, we have been diving nearly everyday in order to teach the 3 Seas students their Caribbean coral IDs. As a TA I have been tasked with this undertaking. It is my job to point to a live coral, indicate the species name on a dive slate, and get the hell out of the way before 5-6 eager underwater photographers converge upon the unsuspecting animal.

As far as the Vollmer Lab is concerned, two species of coral far outweigh the rest in importance and interest: Acropora cervicornis and Acropora palmata.

left: Acropora cervicornis right: Acropora palmata. Up close and personal.

Both of these acroporids are highly important reef-building corals that have suffered major die-offs due to a largely uncharacterized scourge known as White Band Disease. My research objective deals with the molecular causes and effects of this disease both on the coral animal as well as its microbial symbionts.

White Band Disease. Unfortunately, this is quite common on the reefs down here.

Along this vein, the students have also been conducting a series of field and lab experiments aimed at determining the effects of environmental stressors on coral health. More specifically, we have been tracking WBD growth in the field with the use of transects as well as exposing several species of coral to heat in order to determine the effects of raised water temperatures on coral-associated microbes.

Aside from corals, we have all been thoroughly enjoying the all that the Panamanian winter has to offer. 1000% humidity is a fair trade for the ability to go on night dives and wake up to howler monkeys every morning.

Obligatory sloth shot. Not gonna lie. This was the highlight of my day.

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