A corner of this country and of a water planet. Photo © Bocas del Toro Productions.
A blue mission comes to Bocas
by Mission Blue
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 other innovative tools. 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.
In December of 2019, Mission Blue announced its selection of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago as its newest addition to the Hope Spot family.
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 negatively impacted our ocean environment.
The Bocas del Toro archipelago is home to myriad of 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.
With unregulated tourism practices and operators bringing large quantities of visitors to areas around the archipelago on a regular basis and considering the demands from tourism being placed on outdated infrastructure of Bocas Town which is unable to meet the demands of tourism, it is crucial to curb the downstream impacts of tourism and development to the important ecosystems within and outside of the Marine Protected Area (MPA). Tourism poses significant threats to wildlife and highly vulnerable species, and declaring the Bocas del Toro archipelago as a Hope Spot will bring much needed attention to the region and the MPA which has not been assessed for efficacy since 2005.
While tourists and residents alike enjoy the beauty and natural surroundings of the MPA, it is evident that below water, the ecosystems the park was designed to protect are in peril. Raising awareness and attention of the plight of coral, mangroves and marine life not only in the MPA, but in the archipelago as a whole is an important goal as a Hope Spot.
A local coalition nominated the Bocas del Toro Archipelago to become a Hope Spot to bring attention and awareness to this economically and ecologically important region of Panama and the Caribbean. Their team consists of members representing the School for Field Studies, Caribbean Coral Restoration, The Sea Turtle Conservancy, Cacao Blessings as well as several individual goodwill 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. They are teaming up with local and national government organizations to work together towards these goals.
The project’s call to action to tour operators, visitors, residents and government agencies is “No ocean, no Bocas.” Or “Sin mar, no hay Bocas”.
Please follow the progress of the project on Facebook and Instagram @hopespotbocasdeltoro.
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