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GO-TO GUY IN BOCAS

October 27, 2014

GO-TO GUY IN BOCAS

One of the first people scientific visitors meet at STRI’s Bocas Del Toro Research Station on Isla Colón in Panama’s western Caribbean is the ever-smiling laboratory manager Plinio Góndola

One of the first people scientific visitors meet at STRI’s Bocas Del Toro Research Station on Isla Colón in Panama’s western Caribbean is the ever-smiling laboratory manager Plinio Góndola, who guides researchers through the installations and offers to smooth their way as they begin new projects. Long-time STRI scientists know he’ll make good on his promises. For those who need to know about local hardware store stocks or data on ocean temperatures in 2010, Góndola is the person to ask.

Much more than an expert at scientific logistics Góndola has a master’s degree in oceanography and has racked up countless research hours in almost 30 years at STRI. He now oversees BRS’s environmental monitoring project, part of the Smithsonian’s MarineGEO initiative to increase understanding of coastal conditions around the globe.

Routine collection of sea temperature, acidity and salinity data and assessments of seagrass and mangrove habitats may seem tedious “but it’s useful when something big happens,” says Góndola, referring to how in-demand BRS monitoring data became during the massive 2010 coral bleaching event. “You can’t answer decisive questions if you don’t have historical data.”

One of Góndola’s research interests is how local conditions — the microclimates of coastal lagoons or coral reefs — factor into response of marine environments to global change. “We haven’t worked a lot with anthropogenic factors,” he says, adding that many natural phenomena need further exploration at the microclimate level. “We still have a lot of questions to ask ourselves in terms of oceanographic dynamics.”

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