Panama is where ‘two oceans kiss’: it is the narrowest strip of land between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Caribbean waters which are warmer, saltier, more dense and rich in nutrients, make the perfect habitat for one of the most diverse coral reefs in the world. Meanwhile, the deeper and cooler waters of the Pacific combined with highly active currents and a high concentration of plankton, host impressive schools of fish and marine mammals, attracting every year millions of tourists and nature aficionados. Unfortunately, these two radically different but equally fascinating ecosystems are not in pristine conditions anymore and have to face the global threat of plastic pollution.
Found in the Caribbean, this great star coral is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic activities and natural diseases such as the black band disease and white plague.
Caribbean reef squids are social creatures that communicate through a variety of complex signals by changing colour and patterns of their skins. Not just for camouflaging or hunting, but also in courtship rituals.
Not more than 3 inches longs, the small but charismatic seaweed blenny hides and nests in very small crevasses, inside rocks, sponges, abandoned shells or even human debris. They tend to be very territorial.
The magnificent feather duster is a type of sea worm and a common species over the Caribbean. Its mesmerising and extremely sensitive feathered tentacles can quickly retract inside a tube if the animal feels threatened.
Porcelain crabs have specialised front limbs with feather-like endings that they use to filter the water and feed on plankton. This one is filter feeding in the comfort and safety of fire coral.
Sponge brittle stars cling onto sponges, soft corals and gorgonians to seek refuge in space-limited environments but also to feed upon the organic matter found at their surface.
Reef urchins are herbivore creatures that play a key role in the maintenance of healthy coral reefs in the Caribbean. They help in the survival of coral by controlling and grazing fast spreading algae.
Today, the marine ecosystems of the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts of Panama face multiple threats ranging from non-stop heavy boat traffic through the canal, to overfishing, invasive species, climate change and plastic pollution.
Famous for its ability to “puff up” if threatened; guineafowl puffers, found in the Pacific, can also change appearance over time. Originally black with white spots, this one finally reached its spotless golden stage of life.
Pacific crevalle jack are widespread in the tropical eastern Pacific, a highly rated gamefish and an important commercial fish in Panama. They tend to form medium to large school as an anti-predation defence mechanism.
Despite being a dominant bycatch species in commercial fisheries, and the lack of data regarding their population status in Central America, round stingrays are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.
The gorgeous and vivid red colour of the panamic cushion star gives it a characteristic look. In Panama, this species can be found around the Gulf of Panama, off of Coiba and Pearl Islands.
Whitetip reef sharks are extremely docile during the day but aggressive hunters at night when they scan the floor for bottom dwelling creatures, such as octopus, crabs, lobsters and bony fish.
This octopus, found in the surrounding waters of Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World heritage Site, is a true master of disguise. It is perfectly camouflaged to blend in against the volcanic ocean floor.
The impressive crown-of-thorns starfish can reach up to 1 metre in diameter and is covered in venomous spines. It voraciously predates on coral, which can have dramatic consequences on the health of coral reef ecosystems.
In response to this worldwide problem, Panama took a fighting step against plastic pollution in January 2018, by becoming the first Central American country to ban the use of plastic bags.
Kiss of the Oceans is a project that I turned into a book celebrating the beautiful, diverse and fragile marine life of the caribbean and pacific coasts of Panama - two ecosystems only a few miles apart that make Panama a paradise for divers. This paradise is however threatened by plastic pollution…
For an overview of the book, follow the link: