Coiba Panama, a magical place

By Juan Carlos Martinez

couple on beach

When you hear about Panama a lot is mentioned about its beaches, with their resorts in the Pacific and the spectacular rural amenities of the Atlantic. On the Atlantic side you will hear about Isla Grande, Palenque and the other beaches in Colon as well as Bocas del Toro.

The Pacific is well known for its resorts close to Panama City for the beaches in the Azuero Peninsula and the provinces of Chiriqui. Off the coast of Azuero Peninsula you will find another gem, a small island called Coiba. It is three hours off the coast departing from Puerto Mutis. Coiba used to be a penal colony and has now become a national park. Coiba National Park is well known for its white beaches and crystalline waters where diving, whale and dolphin watching are the preferred activities. Coiba National Park is also known for its amazing biodiversity of wildlife and floral, specially in its seas.

Originally when the Canal was built there arose a great interest in inventorying and cataloging the flora and the fauna of Panama. Today that is an ongoing effort and within this effort a lot of attention is being paid to the Island of Coiba. The investigations in Coiba are efforts by multiple scientific institutions both in Panama and abroad.

The Smithsonian in Panama has been a collaborator since the beginning of this process. The investigations are carried out through an innovative program known as International Cooperation Biodiversity Group (ICBG) which started in the Smithsonian in Panama and has become a new model in the discovery of medicinal compounds.

Under the banner of these projects several very interesting medicinal compounds have been discovered in Coiba. Last year a group of Panamanian investigators from Panama´s Indicasat AIP, led by scientist Marcelino Guerra, discovered in the marine algae cyanobacteria (Lyangbya majuscula) found in Coiba Marine Park, a compound which can inhibit the human protein sirutin type 2. Sirutin plays a key role in several pathologies such as cancer, HIV, metabolic disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. The study started in 2008 when a laboratory for the investigation of natural products from marine invertebrates and their associated bacterias was set up. The study was financed by SENACYT and the National Cancer Institute and is currently taking place in the US with the support of Scripps Oceanographic Institute in San Diego, California and scientist William H. Gerwick.

This is only one of the compounds found in Coiba by ICBG and STRI. Biologist from STRI have confirmed that they have discovered more than 45 compounds in the marine fauna of Panama with anti-carcinogenic and antipalludic properties. These scientists have mainly focused on the coral, sponge plant, fungi and bacteria populations associated to sea urchins, urochordates and fish. One of the compounds discovered has been called “Coibamida A” which is extremely active against cancerous cells. “Veraguamida A” is another compound with anticarcenogenic properties and “santacruzamate” shows anti-parasitic properties. The University of Panama also isolated another compound they have called “Coibanoles” which are obtained from the fungi that grows in the leaves of the “Desmates incomparabilis”, a plant only found in Coiba Island.

These investigations are in the initial stage and are a long way from providing actual medication or a cure, however they do provide a small measure of hope.



Copyright© 2011, Pan Am Publishing S.A., Republic of Panama