Peggy Fong ~ Community Ecologist

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Reefs of the Future

Coiba National Park
By demonstrating how important this ecosystem is, Peggy was instrumental in having the coral reef included in the National Park. It is now also a World Heritage Site.
Whether conducting research on California estuaries or coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panama, the questions that Dr. Peggy Fong asks are the same - how human disturbances are impacting coastal ecosystems. The coral reefs off Panama surround a small island. When Peggy first went there to conduct field research, the island was still being used as a prison - which made sense, since the surrounding waters contain some of the highest concentration of sharks in the world. The relative lack of development on the island meant that the coral reef ecosystem was relatively undisturbed and healthy, despite being in an area where El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), sea surface warming, and ocean acidification had caused major disturbances. The reefs were able to recover because all of the parts of the ecosystem were healthy.

"This unprecedented recovery rate is some of the best news we've heard about coral reefs recently."
In addition to being relatively intact and healthy, these reefs are important for study because they are considered "reefs of the future." They are in a very acidic environment, yet there is very little nutrient enrichment from human resources because of their location off undeveloped islands. "Any experiments we do here are going to inform our ability to preserve coral reefs in the future," says Peggy. "These reefs are incredibly resilient and recover quickly from natural disturbances. This is an ideal situation to conduct research in order to understand how humans are going to impact future reefs." In addition, Peggy's team benefits from a network of collaborators conducting research across the eastern Pacific, resulting in access to a 40-year dataset reflecting the reefs' responses to significant warming and bleaching events, complicated by high levels of carbon dioxide.