Saving Corals in a New Venue: Pixvae, Panama

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A potential location for a new Mother of Corals project has presented itself in Pixvae, Panama. The Ark Divers, a new eco-dive operator in the Panamanian province of Veraguas, approached MOC about doing a restoration project in the area. This rustic, charming fishing village is located on the Pacific side of Panama close to the famous Marine Protected Area and dive/snorkel destination of Coiba. The area also serves as a turtle nesting ground. In preparing for our trip to scope the area and determine if it is a good fit for coral restoration we discovered that most people – including Panamanians in towns not very far away – have never heard of this area.

The village is nestled on the coast about 40km (yet 2 hours) from the nearest town. There is no electricity and no city water. Internet is available in the town square that everyone uses for free. Life is simple there and everyone you encounter gives you a smile and a greeting.

I studied the corals in the area before the trip to determine what would work best with our fragmentation method of coral restoration. What’s interesting is that in the Caribbean, and many parts of the world, the most popular corals to use in restoration have a scientific name of Acropora. Acropora do not exist in the Coiba region but there are corals in the area called Pocillopora. They piqued my interest because of the suffix similarity (pora). Upon further digging, I found that Pocillopora are also branching corals, just like Acropora, and that they respond well to fragmentation. Scientifically, they are not related but I found this to be very interesting!

The bay we visited with The Ark Divers is certainly in need of help. I counted five different kinds of corals but there are more bones than corals and the living are very spread out. The good news is that it’s believed that the depleted reef was caused by overfishing. This means it’s something that can be corrected by working with local fishermen. The intention of the project is to involve the fishing village in all aspects of the project. Healthy colonies of Pocillopora, among others, were found in a neighboring bay.

Through education and involvement of the local community we believe this restoration project can be a huge success.

“It is very important to us to involve the community and give job opportunities to the people here. We hope we can set a good example for futures expats who are moving to Pixvae. We believe it’s only possible to make sustainable tourism work here if the village gets included and also gets to see some of the money created through tourism. The coral project we are planning to do has the target to restore a healthy reef system in the bay of Pixvae. Benefits for that will be first and foremost educating the people and children about the importance of coral reefs. Especially in a village like Pixvae where the main food source is fish it’s very important to create a healthy balance. Every snorkeler or diver The Ark Divers takes to the reef will contribute an amount towards a project for the village. Also, it can create jobs for caretakers of the artificial reef. We really hope that the future is bright for that village and that everyone can benefit from the tourism brought to Pixvae very soon.”

~Mike Ritter, Co-Founder, The Ark Divers

Photos by Krista Shoe, Audrey Charron and Mike Ritter

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