Coral Reefs

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 31–42 | Cite as

Coral reef distribution, status and geomorphology–biodiversity relationship in Kuna Yala (San Blas) archipelago, Caribbean Panama

  • Serge Andréfouët
  • Hector M. Guzman


Most of the knowledge of the reef geomorphology and benthic communities of Kuna Yala coral reefs (Caribbean Panama) comes from the western side of the archipelago, a few tens of kilometers around Punta San Blas (Porvenir). To bridge the gap between Porvenir and the Colombia–Panama border, we investigated with Landsat images the extent and geomorphological diversity of the entire Kuna Yala to provide geomorphologic maps of the archipelago in 12 classes. In addition to remote sensing data, in situ survey conducted in May–June 2001 provided a Kuna Yala-wide first synoptic vision of reef status, in terms of benthic diversity (number of species of coral, octocorals, and sponges) and reef health (coral versus algal cover). For a total reef system estimated to cover 638 km2 along 480 km of coastline, 195 km2 include coral dominated areas and only 35 km2 can be considered covered by corals. A total of 69 scleractinian coral, 38 octocoral, and 82 sponge species were recorded on the outer slopes of reef formations, with a slightly higher diversity in the area presenting the most abundant and diverse reef formations (western Kuna Yala). Attempts to relate benthic diversity and geomorphological diversity provided only weak relationships regardless of the taxa, and suggest that habitat heterogeneity within geomorphological areas explain better the patterns of coral diversity. This study confirms the potential of combined remote sensing and in situ surveys for regional scale assessment, and we suggest that similar approaches should be generalized for reef mapping and assessment for other reef sites.


Landsat Remote sensing Geomorphology Mapping San Blas Coral reef diversity 



We thank the Congreso General Kuna for giving permission to conduct this study. We thank Carlos Guevara, Arcadio Castillo, John Akl and the crew of the R/V Urraca for their help in the field in May and June 2001. This work was partially supported by the Fundación Natura de Panama, Kuna’s AEK-PEMASKY, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and by National Air and Space Administration grant NAG5-10908 to SA and grant CARBON-0000-0257 to Kamlesh Lulla and Julie A. Robinson at Johnson Space Center, Houston. NASA Scientific Data Purchase program provided one of the Landsat images processed for this study. Ed Green and Corinna Ravilious provided the UNEP-WCMC data used in Fig. 1. This is IMaRS contribution No. 062.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Marine Remote SensingUniversity of South Florida—College of Marine ScienceSt PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteUSA
  3. 3.UR Coreus—Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)Nouméa cedexNew Caledonia

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