Seeking seabird sanctuary
STRI/DICYT Chances are that if an animal is big enough to carry a satellite transmitter, Héctor Guzmán will try to tag it and track it.
Between expeditions to tag orcas in Galapagos and Chile, blue whales and humpbacks in Pacific
Panama, and leatherback turtles in the Caribbean, the Smithsonian marine biologist is tagging seabirds in the Gulf of Panama.
Guzmán hopes to learn about the home feeding ranges of up to five species, including the iconic blue-footed booby, which may be in decline in its breeding areas due, in part, to El Niño events.
The data will show where species compete with one another for fish — and where they vie with commercial fishers.
“There is increased international concern over competition for the same resources as fisheries,” said Guzmán, whose whale-tracking research prompted organized commercial vessel routes to lower the risk of fatal collisions. “They are, in a way, a victim of fisheries bycatch too.”
The study comes at a critical moment for the birds of Isla Boná, which is home to thousands of breeding pairs. Situated at prime location near the Panama Canal just 10 nautical miles from Taboga, a popular tourist island, Boná faces development pressures but is an ideal attraction for Panama’s growing ecotourism industry.
“If we gather enough valuable data about the birds, conservation groups can approach Panama’s Minister of the Environment with a proposal to create a reserve,” said Guzmán, whose seabirds program comprises population genetics analysis, a study of the impact of plastics on adult birds, and uses drones to count breeding populations.
“This would allow us to continue long-term research and would make it possible for Panama to promote birdwatching tourism on the island.”