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March 8, 2005

Panama City and goodbye. Tuesday, March 8th 2005

BY: Sandy Mason



After a week with only Coiba’s blue waters and the deep green of its forest in sight it is a shock to come to a city. The capital of Panama is a battalion of skyscrapers standing guard along the bay – a city as surely as New York.

There are no fish on land, but there is a group of people working hard to protect Coiba and Panama’s marine assets, and our time here has been an opportunity for busy collaboration. On Monday we held a joint press conference with MarViva to announce the arrival of the Ranger, discuss some preliminary conclusions about the conservation status of Coiba, and show a preview of Mar’s documentary footage. The next day, lo and behold, we were front page news: one of Hussein’s photos of a coquettish seahorse welcomed us to breakfast. The level of media interest in Coiba now is testament to the success of MarViva and their colleagues at the Smithsonian in making the park an issue of national importance…

The Smithsonian: Here in Panama City the Smithsonian has its largest research outpost – the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world convene at the Institute to study coral, rainforest, and all manner of tropical life. Not least among them are Dr. Todd Capson and Dr. Alicia Ibañez. Alicia has been here for five years, researching the flora of Coiba. Before the closure of the prison colony she worked among prisoners and police. Todd has been closely involved in the development of the law and fishing regulations for Coiba National Park. Both are experts on an island that holds tremendous possibilities for science – because of its incredibly high rate of endemism (species that exist nowhere else), for example, and the presence of plants and corals with untapped medical potential – and it was a pleasure to meet them, see the Smithsonian’s comprehensive facilities, exchange information and plans.

All of this was earlier in the week. I’m sitting now in the Panama City airport; I’m going home. The Ranger continues on through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean. In Honduras it will meet up with the Honduran Foundation for Coral Reefs and will be looking to document illegal fishing, cruise ship pollution, and the fallout of poorly planned development along Central America’s eastern coast. From here forward Maribel López of Oceana Europe will be sending these blog reports. Thank you so much for following our progress so far, and I hope you’ll stay with us for all that is still ahead.