SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 80

enforce conservation laws, but they can share the results of their data that show that protected areas are needed, that the waters surrounding Bocas del Toro are being overfished, and that coral reefs are dying from wastewater runoff and bleaching because of climate change. Seemann is currently working on a project called MarineGEO, which conducts regular observations of sites throughout the Bocas del Toro Archipelago to produce a public dataset that could perhaps serve as a resource for organizations that want to engage in conservation efforts. She wishes that there were more conservation initiatives in Bocas del Toro and hopes that her data can lead to an intensified conservation effort in the near future.

In addition, Seemann has conducted many environmental education projects, mostly with teenagers. One project, "The economic and medical use of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems in Bocas del Toro, Panama" taught people how they could use natural products in their everyday lives, such as algae as a massage cream. In projects such as the LimpiezArt project, Seemann and colleagues taught children about human impacts on nearby ecosystems and how they could personally improve their impact on the environment. During this project, local children decorated reusable grocery bags with marine organisms in the hopes that these bags could assist in reducing the waste generated from plastic grocery bags.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), an American non-profit, also plays a large role in aiding conservation efforts in Bocas del Toro. “Working in cooperation with local communities” is the motto of the STC in Bocas del Toro, and they have being doing just that since 2003. Today, the STC monitors eight beaches in the Bocas del Toro province for nesting and hatching sea turtles. To conduct this sea turtle monitoring and to reduce sea turtle meat and egg consumption, the STC hires people from local communities. In the last few years, the STC has been working with the educational community, tourism operators, and government committees to link the different stakeholders and act as a consultant for the general community. Georgina Zamora, the Coordinator in Environmental Education and Outreach Program at the Sea Turtle Conservancy, says that through the creation of informational material and media resources for these different stakeholders, it has been easier to engage in public outreach about conservation issues.

Linking Tourism and Marine Conservation

Both Seemann and Zamora think that conservation could be combined perfectly with tourism. Currently, Seemann and colleagues are working on a movie that argues that both tourists and locals need to reduce their garbage output and need to pay for the removal of garbage and recycling. The movie makes the point that locals would benefit from this arrangement because it would remove the garbage in the streets that discourages the tourists who keep many locals’ businesses open. Hotels that have polluted waters next to them from improper garbage disposal and wastewater systems will not attract more tourists in the future. “Tourists want to jump into the blue water from the dock of the hotel and be surrounded by colorful fish”, says Seemann. Even if it cost them more, cleaner waters and streets would improve tourists’ vacations and could reduce their plastic footprint, making them feel like they are helping the place they visit.

Tourism can help motivate local people to maintain healthy ecosystems. Right now, the dive tourism industry in Bocas del Toro is in critical danger. As more coral dies and more fish disappear, the people who come to Bocas del Toro to dive might opt to invest elsewhere. To not lose their businesses, locals are starting to realize that they need to fight for conservation. Restaurants are also facing the same problem. The fish that people love to eat, such as snapper and grouper, are not available on menus anymore because they are becoming increasingly harder to find. Seemann thinks that alternative species from aquacultures or invasive fish, such as lionfish, need to be offered on the restaurant menus in Bocas del Toro to help the reefs and to keep the restaurants with a steady supply of sustainable fish.