Panacetacea: Archipelago of Bocas del Toro
Profitable wildlife ecotourism can mutually benefit humans and wild animal populations resulting in successful conservation and sustainable economic development of human communities. However, poorly planned ecotourism activities and infrastructure can have serious impact on the environment offsetting its benefits. The Bocas del Toro (BDT) region sustains one of the largest boat-based tourism industries in Central America. Thousands of tourists visit every year to observe dolphins, coral reefs, starfish beaches, and indigenous communities. In 2008 the Government of Panama evaluated the status of BDT tourism industry as part of their national plan for sustainable development. The study revealed a rapid, disorganized, and unbalanced growth of the industry in the area. Despite this evaluation, the Government of Panama has approved the expansion of tourism infrastructure and arrival of cruise ships lines to double tourism capacity in the next year.
Already the ecotourism industry is having a clear impact on BDT ecosystems e.g., runoff due to coastal development is affecting coral reefs, famous starfish beaches are running out of them due to souvenir demand, and an uncontrolled increase in the boat fleet is causing dolphin fatalities due to boat strikes. Without the proper management plan any future increase in tourism can have serious consequences on the marine biodiversity of this area. BDT is in urgent need of scientific and community driven initiatives that ensures the sustainable development of ecotourism activities while leaving up to its expectations of protecting biodiversity and promoting awareness about our oceans. This project of Panacetacea aims to collect baseline data to identify sensitive marine habitats, establish an ecotourism monitoring program, promote sustainable ecotourism practices, and involve the public in developing strategies for mitigation and prevention of negative environmental impacts in the area.