New coral species recorded at Barra de Santiago site, The Savior

A species of hard coral was recorded at the Barra de Santiago Complex Ramsar site, in El Salvador

RAMSAR Site Barra de Santiago Complex in El Salvador. Photo: David alfaro.

By David Alfaro

 The Savior – A scientific research team, facilitated by the Regional Coastal Biodiversity Project, recorded a species of hard coral in the Barra de Santiago Complex Ramsar site, in El Salvador. Species that had not been reported in the official lists for the country.

It is the hard coral (Astrangia cf equatorial), of which a total of 71 colonies for El Salvador, within the estuarine system of the Barra de Santiago Complex Ramsar Site in the west of the country. This solitary hard coral was identified during the study “Analysis of the coral reef and seagrasses in Los Cóbanos, Metal, Bar of Santiago and Garita Palmera”.

The research is part of the implementation of the Regional Coastal Biodiversity Project, run by an IUCN-led consortium (International Union for Conservation of Nature), since 2018, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The study began in January this year., with the support of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador, to know the health status of the reefs of the Los Cóbanos Complex Natural Protected Area and connectivity with the Barra de Santiago Complex Ramsar site, and determine the presence of seagrasses in these sites, which include the marine-coastal areas of Metalío and Garita Palmera, on the Pacific coast of El Salvador.

underwater explorations, directed by the biologist Wilfredo López, were carried out with the accompaniment of local rangers, under the coordination of Alberto Henríquez, at various points in this Ramsar site.

As part of the coastal biodiversity of the site, also, sponges were recorded, soft corals, hedgehogs, slugs and starfish, mainly.

Wilfredo Lopez, Master in Ecosystem Analysis and Management.  Photo: David alfaro.

According to Lopez, the coral was found in mangrove forest areas, between the 4 a 5 meters deep, on rock bottoms scattered in the bed, where they have been photographed for taxonomic identification with the help of international specialists.

For its identification, it had the support of Carlos Jiménez, associate researcher at the Enalia Physis Environmental Research Center, and Doctors Peter Glynn, Stephen Cairns y Jorge Cortés. further, It had the scientific support of Dr. Enrique Barraza, to ratify taxonomic groups and bibliographic sources.

The species of hard coral (Astrangia equatorialis) was first described by researchers Wyatt Durham & Laurens Barnard and 1952, of samples collected in a series of expeditions carried out between 1932 Y 1941 in Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica, with the Galapagos Islands as the main objective.

The Regional Coastal Biodiversity Project, led by IUCN in consortium with Goal and five local partners, with the support of USAID, works for the conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity of marine-coastal ecosystems in Central America, through the development of productive initiatives of value that promote rooting and strengthen the capacity for local self-management.

hard coral (Astrangia cf equatorial) New species of coral found in El Salvador. Photo: Wilfredo López/IUCN Barra de Santiago Complex, The Savior.

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About the Barra de Santiago Complex Ramsar Site: It is located between the departments of Ahuachapán and Sonsonate with an extension of 11 hectares and a half, includes an open sea marine-coastal zone of 26 km from the coast.

Throughout the area there are different mangrove ecosystems, swampy vegetation, flooded forests, streams and lagoons, as well as archaeological sites of Mayan-Pipil origin. It is the seventh declared Ramsar site in the country, Of the eight currently available.

This wetland supports multiple vulnerable and endangered species nationally and globally, flora and fauna, like birds, mammals, reptiles fish among others, including new coral find, In addition to housing around 75% of commercially important coastal fauna species in El Salvador.

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). Santiago Bar Complex, The Savior. This species is considered vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN red list. Photo: David alfaro.

There are records of more than 40 flora species, 69 invertebrates, 78 Of fishes, 16 of amphibians, 36 of reptiles, it is estimated that some 16 of birds and 46 mammal species.

It works as a shelter, breeding and feeding site for multiple species and serves as a bridge between the mangroves of the central coast of El Salvador and those of the Guatemalan coast.

Among some of the problems presented by this important ecosystem, are the coastal erosion of the mouth, contamination, siltation, Illegal logging and expansion of the agricultural frontier, among others. And despite the great importance of the site, does not currently have a Ramsar Management Plan.

There are some species conservation programs and Local Governance Tools, PLAS calls (Local Plan for Sustainable Use), for some Ramsar Site resources, where local communities have been empowered to better use the resources of the mangrove forest, executed by IUCN, with the support of marine specialists in coordination with local MARN resource guards.

*Information provided by the Regional Coastal Biodiversity Project led by IUCN with the support of USAID.