Panama fish catch 40 percent larger than reported

By STRI

Panama is said to mean “abundance of fish.” Until recently Panama was also synonymous with bountiful fisheries. A new study estimates that between 1950 and 2010, the haul was so considerable officials could not keep tabs on more than a third of the catch. As fish stocks dwindle, this revelation may contribute to establishing sustainable fisheries in Panama and the region.

For three years Héctor Guzmán of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues from the University of British Columbia compiled official data and dozens of studies of off-the-books fisheries. They cautiously estimated that almost 40 percent of the total catch — including tuna, lobster, shellfish and shark — was unaccounted for.

“We estimated missing and under-reported components very conservatively so this is likely still an underestimate of what is being removed,” said Sarah Harper, of UBC’s Sea Around Us Project who was the lead author on the study published in Marine Fisheries Review. Guzmán and UBC’s Kyrstn Zylich and Dirk Zeller co-authored the research.

The discrepancy is due to minimal reporting of bycatch by commercial vessels and a dearth of data from recreational, subsistence and artisanal fishers. Illegal fishing by foreign vessels and catches by Panamanian-flagged ships operating from foreign ports also play an important role.

“We were not surprised by these alarming results,” said Guzmán a marine ecologist known for research that underpins regional conservation policy. “This is the first fishery baseline made for Panama. We hope to promote an open and all-inclusive dialogue to implement management tools for sustainable fisheries.”

The researchers recommend an overall reorganization of the fishing sector to include better monitoring, planning and surveillance of fishing zones and better managed marine protected areas. Curtailing carte blanche commercial fishing licenses, which are sometimes species indiscriminate, would also help, said Guzmán.

From anchovies to Sharks

Panama’s industrial fisheries developed in the 1960s to harvest herring and anchovies for fishmeal and oil for export. The scallop fishery reached its apex in the 1980s and collapsed without recovery in 1991. Shrimp, tuna, lobster and conch harvesting continue, with many populations now in decline.

Relatively new targets are sharks, especially hammerheads, for sale of shark fins overseas. Sharks are often harvested in inshore areas, including vulnerable nurseries. “There is likely substantial under-reporting of catches by domestic vessels and possibly a large number of sharks being caught by foreign vessels operating illegally in Panamanian waters,” the authors wrote.

Under-reporting of catch is not unique to Panama and improved monitoring does not have to be prohibitively costly. “Resource-limited countries can still effectively monitor their fisheries by implementing regular, non-annual surveys,” said the authors. “For Panama to retain meaning in its name (“abundance of fish”), fisheries management will need to make substantial improvements.”

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Mercenary ants defend agricultural society

From Stri.org

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Often superior to citizen soldiers, mercenaries have played an important role in human conflicts since ancient times. A research team working at STRI discovered that a species of agriculturalist ants, Sericomyrmex amabilis, hosts a species of better-armed mercenary ants, Megalomyrmex symmetochus, who come to their rescue when their fungal gardens are invaded.

“Newly mated queens of the parasitic mercenary ants stealthily enter and establish their colonies in the gardens of the fungus-growing host ants,” said Rachelle Adams from Jacobus Boomsma’s lab at the University of Copenhagen. Adams is lead-author of the report published last week in PNAS.

With co-authors from Copenhagen and from the Department of Chemistry at the Virginia Military Institute, she found that the parasitic mercenary ants use their potent chemicals called alkaloids to defend host colonies against the raiding predatory ants, Gnamptogenys hartmani. The raiders can take over Sericomyrmex fungal gardens and nests.

During an attack, the mercenaries proved to be much more efficient than the host ants at killing the raiding predators. Even a moderate number of parasitic guest ants can provide protection against predatory attacks, effectively reducing host ant mortality.

However, the host ants pay a high price for the help. The mercenaries hamper host colony growth by feeding on the brood–the eggs and larvae–and by clipping the wings of host virgin queens, possibly to retain them as an additional work-force rather than let them disperse.

In addition, the authors show that raider ant scouts prefer to recruit to the colonies of the fungus-farming ants whose odor indicated that no mercenary ants were inside.

The inspiration for this project was a direct outcome of the University of Copenhagen and STRI supported graduate course, Tropical Behavioral Ecology and Evolution, offered in 2011, 2013 and planned for 2015. Two Copenhagen students from the 2011 course are junior authors on the study.

Adams, R.M.M., Liberti, J., Illum, A.A., Jones, T.H., Nash, D.R. and Boomsma, J.J. 2013. Chemically armed mercenary ants protect fungus-farming societies PNAS http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1311654110

Smithsonian Discovers New Coral Species in Panama

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From Stri.org

On the first submersible exploration of Hannibal Bank in Panama’s Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site, Smithsonian staff scientist Hector Guzman found and collected a previously undescribed coral species. He named it Eugorgia siedenburgae for Joan S. Siedenburg, explorer and longstanding friend of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“Joan’s encouragement and passion for learning inspires many Smithsonian scientific colleagues in Panama,” said Guzman. “This new species name recognizes Siedenburg’s special interest in deep-sea exploration and her appreciation for marine life.”

During a STRI expedition in March, 2012, sponsored, in part, by Siedenburg, he collected a large specimen 63 meters (207 feet) under the ocean’s surface from the submersible DeepSee using a mechanical arm.

Eugorgia siedenburgae forms bright pink, bushy colonies with light-colored branch-tips. The soft-coral grows on rocks, debris, coarse sand or muddy sediments. This seventh species of the genus Eugorgia reported from Costa Rica and Panama brings the total number of species of this eastern Pacific genus to 13.

Guzman described the coral with Odalisca Breedy from the University of Costa Rica. “Nearly all of the surveys of soft coral diversity in the Eastern Pacific region have focused on shallow environments. Only recently have we begun to explore deeper into the ocean’s mesophotic zone,” said Breedy.

In twelve dives they collected 15 soft coral species, including sea pens, gorgonians and sea whips, three species of black corals and four species of hydrocorals including the lace corals Stylaster and Distichopora. In addition to Siedenburg, Guzman’s team included a fisheries biologist from the University of Panama as well as microbiologists and chemists from Panama’s government laboratory, INDICASAT, who joined the expedition. The microbiologists isolated bacteria from 104 tissue samples to look for chemical compounds to test against cancer and several tropical diseases.

Guzman hopes to return to Hannibal Bank to conduct a more extensive survey. In the meantime, he has presented information about the scarcity of commercial fish on this zone to the media and to policy makers.

Funding for the expedition and species identification were provided by the International Community Foundation; Panama’s Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas y Servicios de Alta Tecnologia, INDICASAT, Mission Blue’s Sylvia Earle Alliance and the Universidad de Costa Rica.

A Fantastic Journey: Part 5

Barro Colorado Island

By Louie Celerier

Tuesday was another early starting day, 6:00 am to be exact, in order to get to Gamboa in time for the launch to Barro Colorado, the wildlife island refuge operated by the Smithsonian Institute in the middle of Gatun Lake. EcoCircuitos was, as always, right on time.
Barro Colorado is not for the casual tourist. This is a place for the study of insect, plant and animal life. Nevertheless, I wanted to go there and satisfy my curiosity about the place. I was fully rewarded, but the trip taxed my stamina. I had expected mild climbing and mostly even ground. This was not so. Much climbing and going steeply down was involved.
Arriving at the island around 8:30 am, we faced the first climb immediately. The dock was at the bottom of a very steep hill and the main building was quite a way up this hill. The steps I climbed rivaled anything in San Francisco, or so it seemed to me. Reaching the building with my lungs about to burst, I was faced with another set of stairs inside the building to go to the top floor. There, we were given complimentary coffee and, because they felt sorry for me, they let me have two delicious carimañolas left over from the staff breakfast, at no charge. After a short break, we were ushered to a conference room for a short lecture about what we were about to do and see. Some of it was above my comprehension, but several in the group were there to study and they really understood it all and could hardly wait to get started.
We left the building and immediately we were faced with a very steep climb into the forest. After climbing for a short, but difficult, time, we stopped because a group of howler monkeys had been spotted. They started howling when they saw us, but I don’t know who was making more noise, they with their howling, or I with my wheezing. The next series of climbs were more gradual and, because the naturalists in the group were involved in bird watching and plant admiration, I was able to rest a bit. Then, I broke from the group and climbed ahead until I came to a clearing with some crude benches. I picked the best of the lot and laid down to wait for the group. Thanks to this, I was fully refreshed when they caught up with me and I had no more trouble keeping up with the group from there on. Well, I lie a bit. The climbs were not as steep from there on and, after a while, we started to come down. Two and a half hours after starting our trek, we reached the main building again.
This time we were fed an excellent Panamanian lunch. After a short rest, we were again ushered into the conference room for a bit more information and to answer any questions we may have had. By then, our main subject of conversation were the many ticks and chiggers we had picked up during our hike. It  became a game to see who could spot ticks quicker running up our clothes. By 3:30 pm it was time to catch the staff boat taking workers getting off work back to the mainland at Gamboa.
EcoCircuitos met us at the dock and took us to the big and beautiful Gamboa resort for refreshments before heading back to our hotel. We ran into some classmates there and, as much as I try, I cannot remember who they were. Please forgive me and make allowances for old age. If you read this, please remind me who you were as the suspense is killing me.
While at the resort, we had a good, but short rain shower. Something they tell me is not uncommon for Gamboa, even in dry season as it was then. We left the resort driving a bit through what is left of the town of Gamboa and photographing a beautiful Guayacan tree in full yellow bloom. I kept thinking back how interesting it might have been to grow up in Gamboa, isolated from the rest of the world and with all that bountiful nature around. Not for the weak at heart, I bet. Kids that grew up there must have wonderful memories and tales to tell.
The remaining houses in Gamboa have been refurbished and look very good, as the photos will show. I guess the folks living there are still working for the dredging division, as I believe was the case in the past. Correct me if I am wrong. The place looked very clean and neat.
Finally, we headed for our hotel in the city under a misty rain, which cleared after leaving the Gamboa area. That night I dreamed about climbing stairs and mountains.

Every Monday we publish part of Louis Celerier’s mesmerizing tale of how he rediscovered the country of his childhood. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Facebook to make sure not to miss anything! If you also have a story you would like to share with us, or if you are interested in taking a Fantastic Journey yourself, let us know in the comments or by email at marketing@ecocircuitos.com

The Story Of The Banana

Recommend reading:  Bananas by Peter Chapman.

The story of the banana and the people involved in its introduction to the United States is a very interesting one.

Bananas were available in the US immediately following the Civil War, but they were a luxury item. In 1870 captain Lorenzo Dow Baker sailed his ship to Venezuela’s Orinoco River to drop off gold miners searching for riches near Ciudad Bolivar 300 miles upstream. On the way back he put in at Jamaica for repairs at became acquainted with bananas. He decided to take a cargo to the mainland where he was able to sell them for $2 a bunch netting him a profit equivalent to $6400 in today’s dollars. By 1871, he was the major banana exporter from the Caribbean. He bought land in Jamaica, planted acres of bananas and made a fortune. The banana he was planting was the Gros Michel.

In the United States, Andrew Presto was a young importer of fruit and became a partner of Captain Baker. They added a fleet of refrigerated steam ships to replace the sailing ships in which so much fruit was lost and the boon was on.

Meanwhile, Minor C. Keith had gone to Costa Rica to help his uncle build a railroad system between the capital of San Jose and the eastern port of Limon. When Costa Rica ran out of money for the project, Keith borrowed money from banks in England and offered to build the railroad at no cost to the Costa Rica government in return for a 99-year concession to run the route and full control of the port of Limon with 800,000 acres of land adjacent to the tracks, tax-free. On that land he planted bananas. Then Preston and Keith met.

Preston was a genius at getting the fruit to market and Keith knew how to grow them. He continued making deals, as in Costa Rica, throughout Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and Ecuador. The two decided to merge and thus, on March 30, 1899, The United Fruit Company was born.

As the company grew, it extended control over every facet of life in the regions where it operated. . The company rewarded those who cooperated, and began to behave more and more brutally towards those who did not. The lucky ones nicknamed the company “Mamita”. The unlucky ones called it “El Pulpo”.

United Fruit did not like competition either and crushed rivals in price wars. By the late 1920s, United Fruit was worth over $100 million, had over 67,000 employees and owned 1.6 million acres of land. It had business interests in 32 countries and operated everything from churches to laundries, telephones, telegraphs, ship-to-shore transmission radio, schools, commissaries, housing, etc. It also had a powerful ally . . . the U.S. Government which made troops available when needed.

The one thing United Fruit could not control was Nature. And the enemy was disease. Disease would devastate one plantation after another which had to be abandoned and a new one started. Finally, the solution was to stay a step ahead from the disease by creating a new, disease resistant banana. The disease was ultimately named “Panama Disease”, not because it originated there, but because it was there that scientist finally identified the fungus. Unfortunately, Panama got a bum rap. And the days of the Gros Michel banana were numbered. By 1947, the bigger Cavendish was replacing the Gros Michel. The Cavendish was resistant to Panama Disease and the other diseases that could attack it could be controlled by other means. But it is not as tasty.

In the meanwhile, though, United Fruit played the role of “Mamacita” one day and “El Pulpo” the next. When they would open a plantation, they would, as mentioned before, create a town with every convenience. But they would pay the workers with script which could only be used to pay the rent of United Fruit housing and spent in the company’s store. All would be well until the “Panama Disease” would strike. Then, the company would move to a new area, dismantling every piece of the town and moving it to a new location. Distance would determine if the workers would be brought along or left behind to fend for themselves. This is when the company would be called “El Pulpo”. And their ruthlessness in breaking strikes went beyond cruel in many instances. They controlled the governments in Central America and had no qualms in using the U.S. government agencies, such as the CIA, to topple governments not favorable to them. The story of the banana and its producers is really a love-hate story.

Source: “Bits and Pieces About Panama” by Luis Celerier

Fish ID Guide App. Free on I-Tunes

by:  STRISTRI staff scientist, D. Ross Robertson has released the first, completely portable, bilingual species identification guide for the Tropical Eastern Pacific as a free Iphone application. Unique fish-finding and list-making tools provide powerful resources for scientists, divers and tour guides.

The Tropical Eastern Pacific, spanning Baja California to Ecuador and the Galapagos, is one of three great global centers of marine biodiversity. Until the 1990’s there was no region-level guide to the fishes of that area. The Iphone application evolved from the book “Fishes of the Tropical Eastern Pacific,” published in 1994 by Gerald R. Allen and Robertson.

Information for almost 1,300 species (vs 700 in the 1994 book) is compiled in the new app. “Not only can you carry the means to identify 10% of the world’s tropical shore-fishes in your pocket, you can make and share annotated species-lists that correspond to specific field trips,” said Robertson. “And you don’t need to be connected to a server to use it.”

Find the app in the iTunes website here:
Fishes: East Pacific. An identification guide for the shore-fish fauna of the tropical eastern Pacific.

A Whole New Meaning for Thinking on Your Feet

Photo: Pamela Belding

Smithsonian researchers report that the brains of tiny spiders are so large that they fill their body cavities and overflow into their legs. As part of ongoing research to understand how miniaturization affects brain size and behavior, researchers measured the central nervous systems of nine species of spiders, from rainforest giants to spiders smaller than the head of a pin. As the spiders get smaller, their brains get proportionally bigger, filling up more and more of their body cavities.
“The smaller the animal, the more it has to invest in its brain, which means even very tiny spiders are able to weave a web and perform other fairly complex behaviors,” said William Wcislo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “We discovered that the central nervous systems of the smallest spiders fill up almost 80 percent of their total body cavity, including about 25 percent of their legs.”
Some of the tiniest, immature spiderlings even have deformed, bulging bodies. The bulge contains excess brain. Adults of the same species do not bulge. Brain cells can only be so small because most cells have a nucleus that contains all of the spider’s genes, and that takes up space. The diameter of the nerve fibers or axons also cannot be made smaller because if they are too thin, the flow of ions that carry nerve signals is disrupted, and the signals are not transferred properly. One option is to devote more space to the nervous system.
“We suspected that the spiderlings might be mostly brain because there is a general rule for all animals, called Haller’s rule, that says that as body size goes down, the proportion of the body taken up by the brain increases,” said Wcislo. “Human brains only represent about 2-3 percent of our body mass. Some of the tiniest ant brains that we’ve measured represent about 15 percent of their biomass, and some of these spiders are much smaller.”
Brain cells use a lot of energy, so these small spiders also probably convert much of the food they consume into brain power.
The enormous biodiversity of spiders in Panama and Costa Rica made it possible for researchers to measure brain extension in spiders with a huge range of body sizes. Nephila clavipes, a rainforest giant weighs 400,000 times more than the smallest spiders in the study, nymphs of spiders in the genus Mysmena.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.

Website: www.stri.org.
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Quesada, Rosanette, Triana, Emilia, Vargas, Gloria, Douglass, John K., Seid, Marc A., Niven, Jeremy E., Eberhard, William G., Wcislo, William T. 2011. “The allometry of CNS size and consequences of miniaturization in orb-weaving and cleptoparasitic spiders.” Arthropod Structure and Development