Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park has a key role in the protection and conservation of terrestrial and marine habitat since its creation in 1988.
How can the natural resources of the Bocas del Toro archipelago best be managed in order to promote conservation and sustainable use also considering the socio-economic environment?
This isn’t an easy question, in fact, tourism in the region affects both human and ecological activity and the effects of this tourism boom in Bocas del Toro on human and natural resources has yet to be fully quantified.
The goal is to promote a sustainable tourism while taking in consideration marine and terrestrial ecology, socio-economics, culture, and environmental policy, but we still have a long way to go in order to achieve that.
The park protects forests, mangroves, monkeys, sloths, caiman, crocodile, 28 different species of amphibians and reptiles including the rana roja, typical of that area. Also, Playa Larga on Isla Bastimentos is a very important nesting site for sea turtles, that use it as a nesting site from April through September.
The park was structured and developed under a species-specific approach to the protection of marine ecosystems, its main goal was the one to preserve a “representative sample of the marine and coastal ecosystems” of the region, considered at risk.
A second thing to take in account for the creation of the park was its use for recreational and tourism purposes, and regarding this topic issues arose.
The populations that lived there and depended on the area were not asked for feedback regarding limits and use of terrestrial and marine resources, and this led to numerous problems.
For example, indigenous Ngöbe communities that utilize the resources of the area felt that their right and need were not taken seriously and in consideration when maturing the park’s limits. The limits infringed upon the Ngöbe’s subsistence territories, and the prohibitions settled did not take in account that the Ngöbe rely heavily on fishing in the area as a subsistence strategy and a mean of surviving.
This condition led to a feeling of resentment by local residents who had traditionally relied upon the resources and who were threatened by what they considered coercive conservation.
Bocatoreneans of different cultural backgrounds are convinced that their need were ignored by Panamanian government, changes were instituted without consultation, and this allowed corruption to flourish.
This situation is not completely solved nowadays, even with the development of a more sustainable and respectful tourism and a more conscious participation in it of the population.
There are still many problems to face in order to achieve a good balance and to protect this beautiful area in a right and regardful way.