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Diving Panama: 4 Weird, Beautiful and Potentially Threatened Species to Look For

Pat Green   Sep 21, 2021

When traveling to tropical climates, many adventurers chose to ditch the beach and sign up for scuba diving lessons, looking for the chance to witness underwater flora and fauna. After all, 71% of the earth is covered with water, much of which remains unexplored. Waters on either side of the Panama isthmus offer unique opportunities for viewing different marine habitats, and the chance to see some interesting wildlife. Unfortunately, there are some species that could be on the decline. Here are a few unique species you might recognize while diving that are potentially losing their habitats.

Hawksbill Sea Turtles

One of the most endangered species of sea turtles, and possibly the most beautiful, Hawksbill sea turtles enjoy the warm, sandy coves found on the eastern side of Panama. They can grow up to one meter in length, and live for up to 50 years. They can be distinguished from other turtle species by their sharp, pointed face and their bright, dappled shell. Though safe to approach when scuba diving, never attempt to touch or “ride” a sea turtle.

Upside-Down Jellyfish

This jellyfish is best known for its quirky behavior– unlike other jellies, it flips it’s belly over on the ocean floor and waves its tentacles toward the surface. Cassiopeia xamachana can be found in seagrass beds and mangrove swamps, and they resemble a kind of brown-and-blue oceanic flower. While technically not endangered, the habitats they prefer are two of the most threatened on earth. When scuba diving or snorkeling, be sure not to touch, as upside-down jellies can sting!

Whale Sharks

Also on the endangered list, whale sharks are the largest fish found on the planet. Whale sharks are truly gentle giants that travel large distances feeding off plankton. Their docility makes them popular for sight-seers and scuba divers on vacation in tropical waters. This species is also one of mystery: it is still unknown how large whale sharks can grow, and no diver has ever witnessed a calving.

Cauliflower Coral

Sometimes called brush coral, cauliflower coral can be identified by the presence of surface growths that resemble warts. Though the vegetable and the skin affliction both sound unpleasant, this coral can range wildly in shape and color, making each growth beautiful and unique. Though population numbers are unknown, like many corals all over the world, cauliflower coral is considered an at-risk species simply because coral habitats worldwide are in decline. When scuba diving, be careful not to break or damage coral branches.

These are only a handful of species that face risk; Panama is known for incredibly biodiverse waters. By being a mindful diver, you can help protect some of its most unique and stunning wildlife.