Can local environments survive the ‘Survivor’?

So, my friend Scott Van Pelt, who has been managing a bed and breakfast on Isla Contadora hosted a reporter from the USA a few months back. Scott showed the reporter the destruction left behind by an international film crew shooting a “Survivor” television show. Scott explained to the reporter that we have had similar issues with reality tv shows in Bocas del Toro. The reporter gave me a call. I explained to him about what happened on Bluff Beach last year with El Desafio as well as the problems we have had with other reality tv shows filming throughout the archipelago in the past.

You can take a look for yourselves. What are your thoughts on reality tv shows filming in delicate environments? Should it be allowed at all?

Green Living Project – Austin Premier

Just a quick reminder to any of you living in Austin, Texas – the Green Living Project is doing an Austin Premier of its Best of Global Sustainability program in Austin on March 24. See here for more information. Tranquilo Bay is included in Green Living Project’s Central American Expedition. We will be represented onsite by Panama Boutique which is a subsidiary of JB Journeys. Panama Boutique will have information about Tranquilo Bay and why you should choose Panama as your next vacation destination. Have fun!

Punta Valiente Community Project

Punta Valiente is a beautiful area in the indigenous comarca of the Ngobe Bugle people. We take guests over to hike the lovely terrain and spend time on the beaches when the weather permits. It is a unique experience that our guests truly appreciate. This excursion is a bit farther a field than most that we do, but it is well worth the boat ride.

Audrey Blocker, the current Peace Corp volunteer on Punta Valiente, has applied for a loan from the Peace Corp programs to build a bridge for the community. She explains the process herself in this open letter to the community: http://bit.ly/eDMzOY

What we like about this process is that the community must participate and put forward at least 25% of the funding for the project. We have found that the projects which really make a difference in the long term are those where the community has buy in from the beginning. These projects where the community must either participate in the construction of or the funding of the project have a much greater return on investment than those where the community is a recipient of a gift.

I made a donation on behalf of Tranquilo Bay. It takes very little time. You can donate $5 or more to the project. The community is providing over 50% of the overall cost of the project through their own labor. The project needs around $3600 to begin the bridge. Thanks for considering this project. Please forward this information to anyone who might find this project interesting as any donation helps. Thanks.

Green Living Project

Earlier this year, we participated in Green Living Project’s Central American Expedition. The folks from Green Living Project came down to Bocas del Toro to check out how the community is supporting sustainable tourism. Tranquilo Bay, La Loma Jungle Lodge and Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance all participated. Check out this video and the page on Green Living’s website to learn more about their experience.

Tranquilo Bay & La Loma from Green Living Project on Vimeo.

Coral Spawing Video

Here is a video that the Smithsonian put together about Coral Spawning Studies here in Bocas. This study was also referenced in the STRI October Newsletter referenced here. The coral is experiencing some bleaching here in Bocas del Toro over the past month. The local dive shops in conjunction with STRI are pulling together information to determine how many of the reefs here are affected.

Travel with a purpose

Last year around this time the US Ambassador to Panama, Barbara Stephenson, visited a variety of USAID funded projects in Bocas del Toro. I was fortunate to be included in one of those meetings as the Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance was created out of one of these USAID funded projects. The ambassador suggested that I look into Rick Steves’ books. So I did.

All of Rick Steves’ books and most of his website are related to travel to specific locations or tours, etc. that he himself offers. He has radio and television shows on public broadcasting in the United States. So, you could say he is well-travelled and has been exposed to many different countries and cultures. Given that I wasn’t going to be traveling to any of the specific locations for which Rick Steves has books, I selected a book which struck a cord with me: Travel as a Political Act.

Travel as a Political Act is a bit of an extreme title. I found it to be more of a book about traveling with a purpose. The book works through how to travel more thoughtfully to any destination. This is something that is extremely important to anyone who wants to participate in sustainable tourism. Our world is so interconnected at this point in time that to better understand people outside our own country helps us even within our own country or country of residency.

I personally came to realize how interconnected our world was several years ago. Do you remember when the oil and gas prices were climbing on a daily basis? It was crazy. All of my former colleagues in Houston, Texas were thrilled with the increasing prices as it meant their own personal incomes would increase. Bonuses, etc. are based upon the financial health of the corporation. Makes sense. Or does it?

As that oil price goes up for developed countries, it also goes up for developing countries. Granted, in developing countries the amount of oil and gas used is far lower than in developed countries. The cost of oil was driving up the cost of transportation for everything. So the cost of living here in Panama increased drastically. The cost of living on an archipelago went up even higher since most things must be transported over to the islands in one form or another. Only certain things can be produced right here in the archipelago. A large contingency of people living here in Bocas del Toro are below the poverty line. How do they deal with this increase in cost of the very basic things they need? It isn’t easy.

Now, the price of oil went down about six months later. The price of the goods on the islands did not go down. The blame was based upon the transportation costs. Baloney. People somehow stomached the increase and therefore the store owners refused to reduce the price. The difference in transportation costs was now going directly into the vendors’ pockets. The price of fuel went down but the cost of goods did not. All of this was before the world economy began taking hits. So it was before the blame could be based upon inflation. Panama has since raised its minimum wage to offset some of this increase in the cost of living. It was a pretty substantial increase, fifteen percent or more, with less than one month’s notice to employers, but it still isn’t enough for these people living below the poverty line as most of them do not work regular jobs.

What this process taught me was that those of us in the developed world have no idea how these types of price increases effect the rest of the world. We see only what affects ourselves.

Rick Steves brings out the point that people who travel with a purpose have a much broader outlook on life than those who do not. When you expose yourself to other countries and other cultures you learn to look at things differently. The book as 9 chapters and is about 210 pages long. The first chapter goes over how to travel with a purpose. The last chapter brings some of the different things that you have learned during your travels home.

To me, traveling with a purpose goes directly along with both sustainable tourism and geotourism. While everyone may want to take a trip to a Disney park at some time in their lives, this trip is not travel with a purpose. Traveling to Central America, spending time in nature and amongst some of the different cultures located there can fit within all three: travel with a purpose, sustainable tourism, and geotourism.

If you are interested in sustainable tourism or geotourism, I would suggest you check out Rick Steves’ book Travel as a Political Act. I didn’t consider it political, but I did take away a variety of different points that will help me make more out of all of my future travels and work here in Panama.

Upsetting Turtle News

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Photo Taken April 14th 2010 by Ron Dennis.

Survivor´ is building on the sands at Bluff Beach for another filming of the “Reality TV” show. Turtles are nesting nightly at Bluff Beach. It’s leatherback turtle nesting season! A group of us are fighting for the turtles. If you want to send an e-mail showing your own outrage, please send it to info@discoverbocasdeltoro.com and we will make sure it gets seen.

I Spear Lionfish

Lionfish are trying to take over the reefs here in Bocas del Toro. They are a problem. I have pulled this information from the I Spear Lionfish.org website.

In May 2009, Alfredo Joseph, a staff member of Bocas Water Sports, was scuba diving at a local reef called The Playground when he saw feathery fins gently wafting around a large outcropping of coral before vanishing from sight. Alfredo swam around the coral head to see where the fish had disappeared to. It hadn’t gone far. Waiting on the other side, unafraid and firmly holding its ground, was a fish Alfredo had never before encountered in Bocas waters. He snapped a photo and upon returning to the shop, showed it to BWS owner Jon Schneiderman who was immediately alarmed. Jon asked Alfredo to return to the spot the next morning and try to capture the fish alive, which he did. That afternoon, Jon sent a photo of the new invader along with a warning article to the Bocas Breeze, which we published in our July 2009 issue. Jon knew firsthand what damage these fish had done to reefs in Florida and hoped that it couldn’t happen here.

Ten months later, his worst fears have come to pass. Bocas is overrun with lionfish.

Jon Schneiderman took matters in hand from the very beginning. He and his divers have captured many lionfish and taken them to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for DNA testing. He has also given his staff the green light to spear any lionfish they see when not teaching a class or guiding a tour group. It is hoped that other dive shops in the area will follow Jon’s example and help to reduce the lionfish population by any means and methods available.

After researching the invasive lionfish problem for several weeks, Allene Blaker founded a non-profit organization called
I Spear Lionfish (www.ispearlionfish.org) (also on FaceBook). Her intention is to spread the word – locally and globally – about the Bocas lionfish invasion in the hopes that we can generate enough interest and support to do something about it.

She has had t-shirts made up, ordered decals, has been printing and distributing flyers, and presented Bocas mayor
Dr. Joe Anderson with a summary of the lionfish problem Bocas faces. In that report, she expressed the need for Panama’s Minister of Tourism Salomon Shamah to be aware of the ecological and economical ramifications that could occur if the government does not also take measures, or help with ours, in an attempt to reduce and control the lionfish population.

Before anyone jumps in the water and starts spearing lionfish, however, he or she needs to know the dangers involved. The dorsal, anal and pelvic spines of a lionfish are, as already mentioned, poisonous. Even a small brush with one spine can result in intense pain that may last for hours. And that may be the least of the victim’s worries. (See an article that details First Aid and suggested treatment of lionfish stings.)

We want to encourage everyone to join the I Spear Lionfish organization to learn more about the species and the environmental war we need to wage against them. Our immediate and far-reaching goals are to minimize the damage lionfish can do through community education. We want to teach divers how to identify them, how to safely capture or spear them, and even how to clean and cook a lionfish (they are a considered a delicacy).
Information is available here.

It’s time to repel the invaders, stop the infestation and save our reefs. You can buy decals and t-shirts at the Bocas Breeze office, Super Gourmet grocery store, and the Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance Information Center. Support the cause!

My friend Chrystel

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My friend Chrystel is not going to return to Panama. Her body was positively identified yesterday afternoon in Haiti.

I can’t imagine what Eric, her fiancé, is going through and has been through these past few weeks. I can’t imagine what Chrystel went through immediately following the earthquake. I can’t imagine what all of her family and friends are going through around the globe.

I can tell you that it has been uncomfortable for me, but so what. I am a bystander to some extent and if I could do anything to take away any of their pain and suffering I would gladly do so.

Ironically, I only knew Chrystel for about a year. It was a very intense year, but still only a year. She came to Bocas del Toro to work on an USAID project designed to create and implement a destination management organization for the archipelago. She accomplished her goal. She met, fell in love, and was engaged to be married to Eric.

We were smitten with the idea of a destination management organization for Bocas so we began working with Chrystel early in the process. She ran into a fair amount of resistance and encountered more than a fair share of challenges, yet she proceeded. That is the kind of person she was. Dedicated. Stubborn. Giving. Complicated. Real.

She was in Haiti on a similar tourism project. It was just getting started, in fact I believe she had only arrived in Haiti the same day as the earthquake. It isn’t fair, but as we all know, life isn’t fair. She is only one of the people that this natural disaster has taken from us. There are many other people whose lives are forever changed based upon this earthquake.

So what do we do? We remember the lessons we learned from these people. We remember why they crossed our paths. We remember them. We do all of this in whatever way works for us.

Chrystel – I will miss you. I will remember you each year as I light my candle on my birthday cake – January 22 is our shared day. We would not have our fledgling organization (BSTA) if it wasn’t for you. Thank you for crossing my path. Thank you for pushing me to work on these issues. Thank you for being an example to us all.