Coiba, Panama: Mission Blue Expedition Launched (SLIDESHOW)

03/19/2012 11:08 am ET | Updated Mar 19, 2012

By Jenifer Austin Foulkes, Oceans Program Manager, Google:

Coiba National Park, located off the southwest coast of Panama, is made up of Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriqui. Protected from the cold winds and effects of El Niño, Coiba hosts exceptional diversity on the land and under the ocean. Considered a precious jewel of the Pacific, Coiba is a critical part of the Eastern Pacific Seascape, a broad ocean area within the waters of Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador.

Coiba Island is the biggest island in Central America and is also the largest uninhabited island in all of Latin America. It was declared a World Heritage site in 2005 and it provides a key ecological link to the Tropical Eastern Pacific for the transit and survival of pelagic fish and marine mammals. The varied marine environments within the park provide habitat and resources for diverse marine life: nearly 800 species of fish, including 33 species of sharks, and 20 species of cetaceans. [Text continues after images.]

Images courtesy of Kip Evans and Mission Blue.

Coiba Panama Day 1

Mission Blue is currently embarking on an expedition to this Hope Spot to emphasize the importance of Coiba’s protection. With generous support from the STRI, Shannon and Bill Joy, Code Blue, International Community Foundation and the Sylvia Earle Alliance, a team of scientists, conservation leaders, and dive professionals, will explore Coiba to better understand this complex ecosystem.

Onboard will be Héctor Guzmán, Senior Staff Scientist at STRI (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), and Eldredge Bermingham, Director of STRI, who will lead research efforts along with Dr. Sylvia Earle and other conservation scientists.

Underwater explorations in the park will be conducted using both scuba and Undersea Hunter’s Deep See submersible. Included will be surveys of Hannibal Banks, an area currently unexplored below 200 feet.

Mission Blue will provide written narratives, photography, and video clips throughout the expedition.

Mission Goals:

  • To support the research community working in Coiba Smithsonian Tropical Research in their efforts to explore and catalogue marine life, especially on Hannibal Banks.
  • To create a set of images and outreach products that can be used as a conservation tool by all groups which are involved in the conservation effort of the Coiba area, and broadcast these internationally throughout the.
  • To facilitate dialog between conservation groups, government officials and the research community about the future of the area, encouraging increased protection and enforcement of Coiba Marine Park.
  • To provide educational stories to the Google Earth Explore the Ocean layer.
  • To highlight the Coiba National Park and its surroundings waters as an irreplaceable and essential ecosystem, leading to lasting conservation.

We hope that you will follow Mission Blue and our partners as we feature another of Dr. Sylvia Earle’s Hope Spots in our quest to bring worldwide attention to the beauty and fragility of the blue heart of our planet.

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