Katie Cramer is a MarineGEO Post-Doctoral Fellow and travels to Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama throughout the year to conduct research. Her recent paper in the Bulletin of Marine Science, “History of human occupation and environmental change in western and central Caribbean Panama,” gathers decades of research on human activity in Caribbean Panama, provides a historical context for the differing levels of coral reef degradation, and serves as a reference for scientists. Here, Cramer answers a few questions about her research for SmithsonianScience.org.
Q. What is the purpose of your research paper?
Cramer: For my doctoral work, I tracked historical changes in coral reef ecosystems by collecting fossils from pits excavated underneath modern reefs along western and central Caribbean Panama. This paper was a logical follow-up to the main study. I wanted to better understand the antiquity of human-caused change on Caribbean coral reefs, and to provide context for the differing levels of reef degradation between these regions today.
Q. What kind of research did you conduct to write the paper?
Q. What kind of problems is the Panamanian coast facing and what has caused these problems?
Cramer: Largely unrestricted fishing and coastal deforestation have significantly degraded the marine ecosystems along Panama’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts. On the Caribbean side, which contains the majority of Panama’s coral reefs, outbreaks of coral disease and coral bleaching have dramatically reduced the extent of corals over the past few decades. This constitutes a massive loss in habitat for millions of reef-associated species. Overfishing, land-based pollution, and climate change are often cited as culprits, but there is very little data about the state of reefs before the 1980s, when reef research really began in earnest. This is why we need historical and paleontological data about reefs – to sort out which human activities are most damaging.
Q. How has global/climate change played a role in Panama’s history?
Q. Going forward, how can we slow, stop or reverse these effects?
Q. If we do not take any action on the global/climate change effects, what will the Panamanian coast look like in 50 years? 100? 200?
Q. Did anything unexpected come up during your research?
Q. Do you have any words of wisdom for citizen scientists who want to get more involved in coastal ecosystem preservation?
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