Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape Research Program

 

 
 
 

 

 
 

 

 

About the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape Research Program

 

Boundaries of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. Red star symbol  shows location of the Tropic Star Lodge. © Marine Conservation Institute 2018 

THE ISSUE

The Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS) includes the waters and offshore islands belonging to Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Galapagos and Cocos Islands. The ETPS is known for its impressive fish biodiversity and fisheries productivity, but also suffers from high levels of illegal and unregulated fishing. Because of its relative isolation and in some cases national political challenges, the ETPS remains little studied scientifically and is poorly managed for sustainable fisheries.

 Program Partners

 

 

RESEARCH PROGRAM GOAL

Nova Southeastern University (NSU), the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Tropic Star Lodge have partnered to sponsor a long-term research program being conducted by the Guy Harvey Research Institute at NSU. The research is focused on studying the ecology and movement patterns of major game fishes and sharks using state-of-the-art satellite and acoustic tracking in the waters surrounding the Tropic Star Lodge and extending throughout the ETPS. The goal is to generate scientific information to guide best management and conservation practices for these species, their fisheries and their ecosystems.

Please see below for species being studied and associated information.

PROGRAM LOCATION

The research program is based at the Tropic Star Lodge (TSL), located in the pristine Darien jungle on the Pacific coast of Panama about 30 miles north of the Colombian border (see map). This lodge is storied in fishing circles given the nearby abundance and diversity of big game fish, including blue, black and striped marlins, sailfish, tunas, mahi-mahi, snappers and roosterfish. Many International Game Fish Association world records have been set fishing from the TSL.

Aerial view of the Tropic Star Lodge

 


 

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Species Being Studied

Roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis) 

The roosterfish ranges from Southern California to Peru, although it appears rare north of Baja, Mexico. It is a favorite target of sportfishers in most of its range because of its hard-fighting personality. The fish is instantly recognizable by its unique dorsal fin with seven long spines, which flare up when the fish is excited while chasing prey. The fish is also captured in artisanal fisheries and consumed locally. Despite the extensive sportfishing industry that exists around this species in the ETPS, very little research has gone into understanding the biology of this fish to help develop and inform a sustainable industry. Our current research is focused on tagging roosterfish captured at TSL using “spaghetti”, or unique identification tags, which will give us broad-scale information about where/how far a fish has moved and its growth dynamics, if the fish is recaptured. We are also tagging these fish with pop-off satellite archival tags to provide a more detailed understanding of how deep these fish are swimming, if they move offshore, what temperature water they prefer and if they perform any large scale migrations.

 

 

 

Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans) 

The blue marlin may be the second largest bony fish (after the oceanic sunfish), reaching sizes up to at least 820 kg (1805 lbs). This circumtropically distributed species is encountered frequently, albeit seasonally, off Tropic Star Lodge. Continued threats to blue marlin from widespread incidental catch in commercial fisheries combined with poor catch reporting has created strong concerns that its populations in some regions are on a declining trend. The species is known to migrate vast distances in some places, but information on its migratory patterns, use of the ocean depths and interaction with commercial fisheries is still very limited, especially in the ETPS region and particularly in waters off the Pacific coast of Panama.

More information on the global conservation status of blue marlin can found here

  

 Black Marlin (Istiompax indica) 

The black marlin is one of the largest of the billfishes, growing to over 4 meters (13 feet) in length and 709 kg (1560 lbs) in weight. It is found almost exclusively in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, although presumably stray animals have (rarely) also been encountered in the Atlantic. This species is a highly sought after gamefish, but is also captured as bycatch in commercial longline and purse seine fisheries. It is the least commonly encountered billfish species, and as such also the billfish about which the least biological information is known. Although the black marlin can travel long distances, it is mostly encountered relatively close to land on or near the continental shelf. The very few studies on the migration behavior of this magnificent apex predator have been conducted mainly in Australian waters; there is little information on black marlin movements in the ETPS to guide its management and conservation. The black marlin is seasonally, but reliably, encountered off Tropic Star Lodge, making this location an excellent place to base our studies on this species.

More information on the global conservation status of blue marlin can found here

 

  

Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

The sailfish is unmistakable with its large, “sail”-like dorsal fin, and occurs in warm waters of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific. This billfish is a major sport fish through much of its distribution, including in the ETPS region, and from the Tropic Star Lodge. This species is also often caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries. The population status of sailfish in the ETPS region is unknown and needs investigation based on robust scientific data. Although sailfish are not typically thought to be long-distance migrators, this aspect of their behavior has not been sufficiently investigated. In fact, one sailfish tagged with a satellite tag off the Yucatan in Mexico travelled more than 16,100 miles (more than 26,000 km) in one year! Its remarkable track can be seen at www.ghritracking.org (select Project 16 and click on VU6).

More information on the sailfish can be found here 

Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

The silky shark is found in tropical oceans around the world. Females give birth every one to two years (varies based on region) to a litter averaging only 6 pups. There are tremendous concerns about the large declines occurring in silky shark populations in many parts of its distribution. This shark is frequently caught incidentally in commercial tuna longline and purse-seine fisheries. In the ETPS, silky sharks make up a major proportion of the catch in shark-directed fisheries. Fins from this species constitute one of the largest proportions of traded fins in the world! The combination of heavy fishing pressure and declining populations have resulted in the silky shark being listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List, and there is an urgent need for improved, science-based conservation and management for this species. A focus of our studies is understanding the genetic stock structure and migration patterns of this shark.

More information on the conservation status of the silky shark can be found here

 

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Research Team

 

Dr. Mahmood Shivji

Director, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University

Dr. Brad Wetherbee

Assistant Director, Guy Harvey Research Institute, University of Rhode Island

Dr. Guy Harvey

President, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Dr. Matthew Johnston

Research Scientist, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University

 

 

Ryan Logan

PhD Student, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University

 

Tyler Plum

MS Student, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University

 

Dr. Jeremy Vaudo

Research Scientist, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University

 

Jessica Harvey

Project Manager, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

 

George Schellenger

Creative Director and Documentary Producer, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation