Coiba, 25 km offshore, is the largest island on the Pacific coast of Central America (50,314 ha, 34 km long by 21 km wide). The center of the island consists of broken terrain, with the high point at Cerro La Torre (416 m), and a broad valley extends back from Damas Bay on the eastern side. The national park includes several outlying islands, the largest being Jicarón (2,002 ha), Brincanco (330 ha), Uva (237 ha), Coibita (242 ha), and Canal de Afuera (240 ha). It also includes an extensive marine zone.
Coiba is the only site for the near-threatened endemic Coiba Spinetail, which is fairly common, and one of very few sites for the threatened Brown-backed Dove (the others being Cébaco Island, Cerro Hoya National Park, and El Montuoso Forest Reserve), which is common (Wetmore 1957, 1968, Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). Three-wattled Bellbird also occurs. Nineteen of the approximately 100 resident species are represented by endemic subspecies, and genetic analyses could reveal some of these to be distinct at the species level. Some of these subspecies also occur on outlying islands of the group (Olson 1997). Coiba contains Panama’s only significant population of the nationally endangered Scarlet Macaw. Barca Quebrada, a small islet off the south coast of Coiba, has a nesting colony of Brown Pelican (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989), and there is a small colony of Magnificent Frigatebird on a small islet near Uva (Wetmore 1965, Olson 1997).
Non-bird biodiversity: Coiba Agouti is restricted to the island, and Coiba Howler occurs only here and on the Azuero Península (Froelich and Froelich 1987). Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback Turtles nest, and American Crocodile and the salamander Bolitoglossa lignicolor occur (Castroviejo 1997). The park contains some of the best coral reefs on the Pacific coast and Orca and Humpback Whales are regularly seen offshore.
Habitat and land use
Most of the island is covered with moist lowland forest, swampy woodlands in the lower stream valleys, especially in the south, and some coastal mangroves (Wetmore 1957, Castroviejo 1997). Former agricultural areas used by the prison colony, primarily along the east coast, have now mostly reverted to second growth, but some cattle pasture is still in use.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Coiba previously served as an offshore penal colony, but almost all prisoners have now been removed. Although the park has great potential for tourism, development will need to be carried out with care. The present law specifies that only "low-impact" development will be permitted on the island.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The park has been the subject of studies sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI). The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's International Cooperative Biodiversity Group project is carrying out bioprospecting surveys of plants and marine organisms for compounds of potential use in medicine.
Coiba National Park was declared in 1991. A new law regulating development within has recently been approved, and the marine zone substantially expanded.