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 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




Nova Southeastern University (NSU), the Guy Harvey 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.


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


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.

See blue marlin tracks here

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 black 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

Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini)

The scalloped hammerhead is as critically endangered pelagic shark species that resides in coastal and semi-oceanic waters. It is found circumglobally in warm-temperate and tropical seas, typically from surface waters to 275 m depth, although they have been found up 1043 m! The scalloped hammerhead can reach a maximum size of 420 cm (~14 ft) in length, weigh 160 kg (350 lbs), and live up to 24.1 years. Its unique ridges along the front edge of its expanded head (the “hammer” – technically called the cephalofoil) differentiate it from other large-bodied hammerhead species. It is caught globally as target and bycatch in commercial and small-scale fisheries (longline, purse seine, gillnets) and is harvested for meat and fins. While some protection and management plans are in place, there is a need for more research, monitoring, and species management efforts for the scalloped hammerhead, particularly in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. Part of our conservation research program on the scalloped hammerhead occurs in the Galápagos Islands, where this shark forms the spectacular and famous aggregations around Wolf and Darwin Islands

More information on the conservation status of the scalloped hammerhead can be found here


 Click here to contact us about sponsorship


Exploring Biodiversity in the Open Ocean to Assist Conservation

The Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape is a hot spot of marine biodiversity because of the unique ecosystems created partly by the confluence of major ocean currents. Unfortunately, this seascape also experiences high levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, including bycatch of many endangered and threatened species such as billfishes, sharks, turtles and marine mammals. A better understanding and quantification of the species diversity and abundance in this area is needed for planning conservation measures, while still enabling a sustainable fishery.

Tyler Plum, a Masters degree student at the GHRI and NSU, is conducting his thesis research on investigating the biodiversity and relative abundance of large vertebrate species in the pelagic (offshore) zone of this area. As part of this research, Tyler has designed and is using floating, baited, camera rigs (called BRUVs) which record the species remotely. 

Watch the video to see the amazing footage coming from the BRUVs.

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 Foundation

Dr. Matthew Johnston

Research Scientist, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University



Jessica Harvey

CEO, Guy Harvey Foundation


Dr. Andrea Bernard

Research Scientist, Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University


Dr. Jeremy Vaudo

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