The Little Islands with Big HeartsMay 18, 2017
Bocas del Toro, Panama is growing and changing every day in very positive ways. In the last few years there has been a big increase in the number of visitors to the archipelago and Bocas is becoming a top travel destination.
People come to Bocas del Toro by the hundreds for several reasons, but one of the most common is the natural setting of brilliant blue skies, crystal clear turquoise waters and jungles teaming with wildlife. On a simple bike ride to the beach chances are that you will see either a sloth or monkey, but probably both.
And the Caribbean Sea is a treasure trove of life as well. With a boat ride to other islands you can spot dolphins, or find a spot to snorkel and witness the beauty of our coral reefs. You can see a wide variety of brightly colored sea stars, schools of translucent squid showing off their kaleidoscope of iridescent colors, a smorgasbord of vivid of sponges and a host of other reef dwellers. A trip to one of the more secluded beaches may bring you in touch with a nesting sea turtle bigger than you, or a swarm of tiny hatchlings making their way down the sand into the waves to begin their life’s journey.
The word that many locals use to describe the island chain is preciosa, meaning, beautiful and precious, and it is. It is also very delicate and needs to be treated with care to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy this little piece of paradise. There are proper ways to “be one with nature” and at the same time, protect it. We found an expert to guide us through the safe ways to enjoy the surroundings.
Ginette Bariteau of Scuba 6 Eco Diving on Isla Bastimentos said “I have always been a pain in the butt conservationist and when we took over this dive shop part of our mission statement is to forge a path to a more sustainable dive industry that others can follow. I truly believe that the tourism industry in Bocas can continue to grow without destroying the very things that bring tourists here in the first place. Scuba 6 Eco Diving is fully committed to being a true sustainable and eco-friendly dive operation and we hope that others will follow. We are passionate about the marine environment and love to share our knowledge.”
“We are on a mission and through our unique eco dive briefings we aim to help our clients experience a better and more personal and meaningful connection with the marine environment. I firmly believe in the following statement made by Baba Dioum, a Senegalese conservationist: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”
This dive company knows exactly what is needed to preserve nature and all her children; they are the first Blue Certified dive shop in the world. The certification is “Developed by Ocean First Institute (OFI), in partnership with Sustainable Travel International. Blue Certified provides scuba dive operations with the tools to perform better for themselves, the environment, their local community, and their customers. The Blue Certified program team walked Scuba 6 through the 3 P’s of business sustainability that include economic, environmental and socio-cultural best practices. The Blue Certification Award gives Scuba 6 Eco Diving bona fide recognition for its work as a sustainability leader in the dive industry.” They are the perfect place to go for some fun conversation, advice on conservation and some engaging discussions not to mention some pretty special dive experiences.
They believe that you do not need a special tour to go see the dolphins, and you probably have a better chance of seeing them in a more natural way, by taking a slow boat ride through the islands. When the boats start chasing the dolphins, they are no longer acting naturally. Even worse is the feeding of these mammals to increase viewing opportunities.
“This has become a wide-scale problem the world over.” Ginette told me, “Feeding fish or any other species can lead to them becoming reliant upon that food source. It makes fish more aggressive towards divers and can lead to species interacting with others which they would not naturally come into contact with. It can also lead to corals getting smothered in algae as fish no longer eat the algae but eat the food instead. It also increases the amount of nutrients in the water leading to an imbalance within the ecosystem.” It is not just the dolphins that should not be harassed, but all other sea life as well. “Interactions between divers and snorkelers and certain marine life especially fish and shark feeding has become a wide-scale problem the world over,” Ginette told me.
The shallow waters around the islands are a haven for sea stars, bright orange and yellow creatures who, for their bad luck, seem more like a prop for a photo. One of the most common mistakes that visitors make is taking the starfish out of the water to take a picture with them. This can, and will, kill the creature. There are better ways to catch their beauty. The waters in Bocas are so clear, that you can stand near one and take a photo of them, capturing them and all their beauty while not disturbing them.
The same goes for the nesting sea turtles. There is a responsible way to see nature at its best. There are a couple of tour operations that educate tourists and locals on the proper ways of watching the gentle giants make their way up onto the same beach they were born years and years ago, to complete the journey they started on these very shores. For more information on these amazing tours check with The Sea Turtle Conservancy at their website, http://www.conserveturtles.org/.
There is one thing that everyone can do while visiting the pristine shores of Bocas del Toro and that is to be sure to never leave anything that was not there when you arrived. When you go out, take a small bag with you so you can remove all your trash including cigarette butts. One of the biggest threats to all living creatures is the amount of discarded items left to wash out to sea. All of us have seen the horrific pictures surfacing about the deadliness of trash when it comes to sea life. Whales, birds and turtles all have been killed needlessly, and we can prevent even more deaths by acting responsibly.
If tourists and locals combined make a conscious effort to protect the incredible wildlife that makes Bocas del Toro beautiful, people will witness the magic of nature for years to come. Words from the very wise conservationist, John Muir, are good to keep in mind when you come to visit, “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” Be respectful to the planet and all of her creatures everywhere you are. If we all do our part Bocas will be precious for a long time to come!