For many years, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) research scientists have been studying marine environments off the coast of Florida and Maryland as well as across the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. One of the latest research projects can be seen in the Eastern Tropical Seascape Research Program where NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) is working with Guy Harvey, Ph.D., the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and others, based out of the Tropic Star Lodge and others.
This project is centered on studying the ecology and migratory patterns of major game fishes and sharks in the waters of the Eastern Tropic Pacific Seascape. The lodge, which is located in the Darien jungle on the Pacific coast of Panama, is well-known in the fishing community for the nearby abundance and diversity of big game fish (blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, tuna, roosterfish, etc.), In fact, a number of International Game Fish Association world records have been achieved by fishing from the lodge.
“The area is famous for world-class fishing for big game fishes,” said Mahmood Shivji, professor at NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. “The area is impacted by high levels of unregulated and illegal fishing, and it has received little in the way of scientific study. We’re working to change that and through the collection of data to help bring a more managed approach to achieve sustainable fisheries in the area.”
Shivji, who is also the director of NSU’s GHRI, said that there is a misconception that the area is immune to overfishing, but the reality is the area, like many others around the world, is in dire need of strong conservation and management efforts.
“Overfishing in this region risks elimination of a key source of food supply for a very large number of people and continued degradation of a unique oceanic ecosystem,” he said. “That’s why we’ve started on this ambitious five-year project – we need to learn as much as we can about these fish species and their fragile habitats so their populations and ecosystems will endure as a critical source of food, while also continuing to provide excellent recreational fishing opportunities for future generations.”
Research will focus on the ecology, migration and genetics/genomics of the major game fish in the area. The project involves others who are not directly involved in the research, yet without whose support it would have never come to fruition.
“As an avid fisherman and conservationist, I am proud to be a Founding Guardian and support this impactful project,” said Bill Gallo, a Lighthouse Point resident, local architect and Chair of The NSU Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography Dean’s Development Council. “This project will catapult NSU research to international status with the ability to effect worldwide policy change regarding marine species.”
One of the major components of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape project is the use of satellite telemetry. This is where researchers carefully attach “sat tags” to various fish as a way to track their movements. The tags relay the data collected to satellites, showing both the horizontal movements and diving behavior of individual fish, including if the fish is caught/harvested.
Fish tracks from satellite tag data also help to obtain more accurate stock assessments, which has direct application for effective management of fish populations. Such data might also hold the key to solving mysteries unique to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape.
“NSU has been at the forefront of marine and fisheries research for many years, and this new project will help decision-makers protect the marine ecosystem in the area,” said Dr. Richard Dodge, Dean of NSU’s Halmos College. “Spending time with our researchers in the field, I can say with certainty that they are committed to excellence in research. This involves doing whatever is necessary to help preserve and protect our marine ecosystems. As goes the health of our oceans, so too goes the health of the planet – so it’s vital we work to ensure the marine environment endures for generations to come.”
The research project was lunched this August with the participation of NSU, GHRI, Tropic Star Lodge and the support of the Founding Guardians of the Eastern Pacific Tropic Seascape. This support group of founding members was spearheaded by two local residents, Bill Gallo, the CEO of Gallo Herbert Architects, and Rob Kornaherns, the CEO of Advanced Roofing. Together they worked to garner support from key business leaders by establishing the Founders and Guardians of the research project. This group visited the lodge, fished with Guy Harvey and were able to participate in tagging and research activities alongside the NSU/GHRI team. The program will be an annual event in an effort to solicit additional support from the conservation-minded fishing community.