Visit to Galeta (Jan. 11- Jan. 12)
Last week we visited the Galeta Point Marine Lab and Education Center located in the province of Colón near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. Galeta Point was initially intended to defend the Northern entrance to the Canal during World War II. The laboratories were established in 1964 and the site has since been used for diverse research projects. The coral reefs and mangroves surrounding Galeta offer opportunities to develop a wide range of projects.
On Friday we attended lectures by Drs. Wayne Sousa and Nicole Gottdenker. Wayne Sousa focuses his research on the mechanisms that structure mangrove communities, and has developed his projects in Galeta for more than two decades. At the moment he is examining the roles of herbivores, seed predators, and seed dispersal on the structure of mangrove forests. Dr. Sousa has also focused a great deal of his work on the protection of Galeta’s mangrove forests in the face of development from adjacent ports. Gross negligence and lack of foresight by local politicians and developers have resulted in the loss of several hectares of mangrove forests in Colón. This reduction in mangrove cover caused by poor urban planning has resulted in flooding and erosion which threaten the lives of the inhabitants of Colón. This problem is so severe in many areas that during recent storms dozens of houses collapsed as sinkholes formed bellow their foundations.
Nicole Gottdenker spoke about her research on Chagas disease. Nicole has focused her work on the effects of deforestation on the prevalence of the Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes the disease. Dr. Gottdenker’s results showed that prevalence of the parasite in the transmission vector, Rhodnius pallescens, was highest in deforested areas such as pastures.
The proximity of Galeta to the Panama Canal also make it an ideal location to study the role of the waterway in biological invasions. Mark Torchin, my adviser, has devoted a large part of his research on this topic in particular. A few examples include studying the survival of fouling organisms during transits, and examining how variations in biotic interactions between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama affect the establishment of non-native species.