Is STRI an Ocean Conservation Organization?
STRI Panama

STRI’s location in Panama affords scientists unique access to two oceans. Bocas del Toro Research Station, shown here, receives more than 300 scientists and students each year. STRI also provides research support for marine scientists at Galeta Point Marine Laboratory on the Caribbean and at Naos Island and Coiba National Park in the Pacific. Photo by Christian Ziegler.

The mission of the Smithsonian in Panama is to understand the past, present and future of tropical biodiversity and its relevance to humankind through basic, scientific research.

Our mission lies within the broader framework of one of the “Grand Challenges” of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC formulated as part of a rethinking of the mission in 2010: to understand and sustain a biodiverse planet.

According to the authors of the Grand Cha-llenges: “The Smithsonian will now also foster interdisciplinary research and harness its institutional power to expand its work and find innovative approaches to global problems that stem from biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, climate change and human-biosphere interactions.”

Traditionally, the Smithsonian has cham-pioned basic research, driven by the curiousity of individual scientists following the scientific method. The scientific method is a formal way for people to test whether they share the same experience of reality. As we continue to observe new phenomena, we continue to change our definition of reality and of what is true.

Data about the ecology of marine ecosystems tell us that coral reefs are dying and fish populations are crashing. Scientists like STRI’s Jeremy Jackson, who began his career studying coral reefs in Jamaica in the 1970´s have seen radical changes in the health of coral reefs, some of the most life-sustaining, biodiverse ecosystems on Earth.

More and more scientific questions focus on why these changes have occurred and what would be necessary to be the custodians of a planet that sustains a wide variety of living organisms including our own species. In this sense, while adding more applied research questions along with traditional, basic, curiosity inspired questions, STRI continues to be a research institute, not a conservation organization, but we produce scientific information that empowers conservationists: how big does a marine reserve or a national park need to be to support a high level of biodiversity? Where do hammerhead sharks breed and what are their migration routes? It is up to everyone to put this information to work to create change in the world.

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