A corner of this country and of a water planet. Photo © Bocas del Toro Productions.
A blue mission comes to Bocas
by Bocas Hope Spot Coalition
In December of last year, Mission Blue announced its selection of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago as its newest addition to the Hope Spot family.
Mission Blue is an organization that inspires action to explore and protect the ocean. Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas called Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Currently, the Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations, from large multinational companies to individual scientific teams doing important research.
The Bocas del Toro archipelago is home to myriad important marine organisms including endangered sea turtles, a resident bottlenose dolphin population, over 120 species of sponge, three different species of mangroves and a diverse array of Caribbean coral species. Due to increasing human activity within the archipelago, many species that are already threatened or vulnerable, such as leatherback turtles and Acropora coral species, remain in a fragile predicament.
The marine environment of Bocas del Toro is unique and beautiful, but it also faces many threats, including: higher levels of nutrients, increased water temperatures, high levels of sediment in the water, and overfishing. While some of these issues are global, many are caused locally due to changes in land use – especially increased development and agriculture – or a lack of infrastructure to support the population, particularly with regard to treatment of wastewater.
Over the past 25 years, the Bocas del Toro archipelago has seen a rapid increase in tourism and development. Our small archipelago is home to 16,000 residents, and in 2012, the estimate of visitors to the area was 225,000. Bocas receives visitors from around the world who come to the archipelago to explore its rainforests, beaches and coral reefs. The tourism industry has created many benefits to local livelihoods, and the economy. However, the rapid growth has also negatively impacted our ocean environment due unregulated tourism practices and outdated infrastructure. It is crucial to curb the downstream impacts of tourism and development on the important ecosystems both within and outside of the marine protected area. An important goal as a Hope Spot is raising awareness and attention of the plight of coral, mangroves, and marine life not only in the Marine Protected Area (MPA), but in the archipelago as a whole.
The Bocas Hope Spot Coalition nominated the Bocas del Toro archipelago as a Hope Spot to bring attention and awareness to this economically and ecologically important region of Panama and the Caribbean. Our team consists of members representing the School for Field Studies, Caribbean Coral Restoration, The Sea Turtle Conservancy, Cacao Blessings, Mar Alliance as well as a few individual Good Will Ambassadors.
They have created a list of goals to accomplish over the next few years to make Bocas a top eco-tourism destination, with education of best practices and ocean conservation for tour guides and boat drivers being at the top of the list for year one. In the future they intend to work with Bocatoreños throughout the archipelago as well as the government to not only provide education about the amazing environment we have here, but also to encourage changes to systems in place that will help create and maintain positive change.
Our call to action is “No ocean, no Bocas.” Or “Sin el mar, no hay Bocas.”
Please follow the progress of the project on Facebook and Instagram @hopespotbocasdeltoro.
Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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