Matthieu Leray floats on a coral reef near a remote chain of islands in the Panamanian Pacific. You can not see humpback whales, whale sharks or, to your relief, huge American crocodiles in nearby mangroves. But once he brings some bags of water from the reef to the laboratory, he will be able to know if there is any nearby.
Thanks to new techniques that detect everything from megafauna to microbes, the researcher hopes to revolutionize our concept of a healthy coral reef, and perhaps even develop an early warning system to track changes in these ecosystems that, until now, have been faced with far fewer human impacts than others around the world.
“The information that you (you) can get from a water sample is extraordinary,” Leray said during an expedition in late 2017 to Coiba National Park in Panama, home to the newest marine station at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). for its acronym in English).
‘(You) can obtain the footprint of invasive species, characterize the microbial communities involved in coral bleaching or detect any pathogen that may damage the reef. It could be used as an alarm, if desired, as an indicator of the potential risk to biodiversity, “says the researcher.