Las Perlas off the beaten track

by Carina Forster

A weekend-visit to the picturesque archipelago of Las Perlas astonished me in several ways. While Panama is lush with occasional rain showers during the green season, the islands of Las Perlas hardly see any rain throughout the whole year. Just after a 1,5 hour boat ride from Panama City, you find yourself in a climate and landscape completely distinct from the rest of the country.

The islands are characterized by dry vegetation and palm-fringed beaches, which are amongst the most beautiful ones I have seen throughout Panama, with incredibly white sand and blue waters. The underwater world is spectacular with colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, turtles and rays. Furthermore, the islands are a paradise for bird lovers with hundreds of migrating species passing by in spectacular formations. From May to October humpback whales can be seen on their way to warmer waters.

Instead of visiting the well-developed island of Contadora, we decided to check out its larger, less developed and more economical neighbor Saboga. Without a doubt the beaches being just as beautiful as on famous Contadora, Saboga offers some nice hiking treks and deserted beaches just for your own. For adventurers, the charming village offers authentic local food and simple accommodation behind the police station with a spectacular view over the bay.

We asked a local fisherman to take us to Bartolome Island in the morning, having the little island completely for ourselves before other people arrived at around 11. This white-sanded Robinson Crusoe Island is perfect for snorkeling, with beautiful coral reefs and large colorful fish. And like if it was not perfect enough already, a large group of dolphins accompanied our little boat on the way back.

Blokarting: Sailing on Land

By Briana Reece

When people think of sailing, they mostly think they need water and a boat, but what if you could sail on land?

Blokarting, is an extreme sport created by combining hand gliding and land sailing, but what’s the difference between land sailing and blokarting?

Two words… hand steering. It all comes down to the fact that you can control the movement by steering your pod with the help of the wind.

The creation of this yatch dates back to 1999, when the New Zealander Paul Beckett, saw a fun, fast and compact toy, which would offer adventure to people of all ages, gender and even those with disability.

Now imagine you are placed into a small compact unit and it has two wheels in the back and one in the front. When you enter this small “cart or pod”, a seatbelt is placed around you and instructions are given. It sounds simple, you pull a rope to go faster, if you let it go your speed will decrease, and most importantly if you feel you’re going to tip over place your hands on the steering. Then you just sit back, grab the rope, place your hands on the steering and get ready to be blown away. Just make sure you’re not going against the wind.

The experience

It was scary at first, especially when you know you could tip over because of the wind. You feel like you´re in control, but at the same time you´re not because you´re depending of the wind to help you move. Having to pull or let go of the rope while trying to hand steer required coordination. It was like driving a manual car, the rope is your shift stick and clutch; and the hand steering is your steering wheel

There were times when one of my tires lifted, and my first thought was move towards the lifted tire and let go of the rope to maintain balance. It´s not easy at first, but once you get the hang of it, you´re able to enjoy the ride and feel the adventure, especially in every turn you take.

Having begun in New Zealand, Blokarting has managed to make its way to South Africa, Australia and will soon be available in the hidden and forgotten Island of Naos at Causeway, Amador.

Don’t miss this opportunity, check out Panama Landsailng Adventures for more information or contact us for reservations.

Sources:

http://www.blokart.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blokart

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_sailing

http://blokarts.co.uk/blokart-blog/4590803590

 

 

Zika Virus in Central America and Panama

The World Health Organisation advise pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant against traveling to Zika-affected areas due to risk of birth defects.

Zika cases have been verified across Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Travellers should take the basic precautions described above to protect themselves from mosquito bites.   The best protection from Zika virus is preventing mosquito bites. Preventing mosquito bites will protect people from Zika virus, as well as other diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes such as dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

This can be done by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

If Zika fever itself is usually mild, why is it getting so much attention?

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.

In response, CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

Is it safe to travel to affected regions?

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

Pregnant women in any trimester or women trying to become pregnant should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first.

What’s happening in Panama?

EcoCircuitos knows of no Zika cases having been reported by any of our clients and travelers, and the only area being affected so far is Kuna Yala in the San Blas Islands. However, local governments are beginning to advise women to consider postponing pregnancy due to the uncertainty of the virus and its connection to birth defects.

EcoCircuitos advice all tour passengers to travel sensibly, and to take preventive measures against mosquito bites, as one naturally does when traveling to the Tropics.  Any passenger who is pregnant or think they may become pregnant during or prior to their trip should contact their doctor and consider cancelling their trip in accordance with CDC/WHO advice.

We invite you to watch this video from WHO.

Best Diving and Snorkeling Spots in Panama

From: Dive Advisor

Panama was named after an indigenous word meaning, “abundance of fish.” This beautiful Central America paradise is one of the few places in the world where you can dive two oceans in one day. With the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean on its east and the cooler waters of the Pacific on the west, it’s just a two-hour car ride between them in some places. Panama boasts 1,207km of Caribbean coast and 1,700km of Pacific coast.

On the Caribbean side, divers come for the abundance of colorful reef fish and corals. When rating the best diving in Central American, Bocas del Toro always comes up with its white sand beaches and many calm and the Bastimentos Marine National park. It’s a great place to learn how to dive and the marine life make it a great place to keep diving. Another popular spot on the Caribbean coast is Colon, only two hours from Panama City. Just offshore, the Portobelo National Marine Park has beautiful corals and the area is filled with a history of pirate battles and sunken ships.  Sir Francis Drake died at sea in 1596 and his body, clad in a full suit of armour and in a lead coffin, is thought to be off the coast of Portobello.

On the Pacific side, cooler waters and currents make encounters with pelagic common. Lucky divers can see several species of shark, whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and more. Coiba National Marine Park is often referred to as the Galapagos of Central America and has the second largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Pearl Archipelago also offers great options close to Panama City.

Just nine degrees north of the equator, Panama is hot and humid year round. The rainy season is May- November and the dry season is December-April (with less humidity and almost no rain.) Panama is not in the hurricane belt, but it can get strong winds from nearby storms. Air temperatures throughout the year range form 20-32C, being a bit cooler in the winter/dry season. Water temperatures vary between coasts. The Caribbean side the water can be as cool as 25C in the winter and as warm as 28C in the summer. Coiba can get as cold as 20C during winter and reaches a high of around 24C in the summer.

Best Spots to Dive in Panama

Coiba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 38 islands. Lonely Planet says it’s “The best diving to be found along the Pacific Coast from Columbia to Mexico.” Coiba gets the big stuff. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive including white-tip reef sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and occasional hammerheads, bull, and tiger sharks. Whale sharks are common visitors from December to April. Humpback whales are seen July through October and orcas and pilot whales frequent the area. Large schools of mantas and mobula rays sometimes swim by, and most dives have turtles, schools of large fish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and dolphins.

On the Caribbean side of Panama, close to the Costa Rica boarder, is Bocas del Toro. This archipelago of nine large islands includes the protected area of Isla Bastimentos National Marine. Bocas is known for its well-preserved hard and soft corals. Being outside of the official hurricane zone, away from large cities and river mouths, the coral is very healthy. It is estimated that 95% of the coral species found in the Caribbean Sea can be found within the archipelago.

Tiger Rock is rated one of the best dive sites around Bocas del Toro, and is three rock pinnacles that rise up from the sea floor at 40m. It’s an advanced dive and can have strong currents, but is a good place to see sharks, rays, large fish schools, whale sharks and dolphins. Its location requires perfect sea conditions for boats to be able to get there. Dolphin Rock is another offshore rock formation where sharks can be seen and has lots of colorful fish life. The diving is also very good around Zapatillas Cays, another more distant boat ride.

Closer to town, Bouy Line is a poplar shallow site (near a deep water channel buoy) that has sea horses, lionfish, crabs, and lots of morays. Hospital Point is near the north end of Isla Solarte and has healthy cauliflower and brain corals on a sloping wall. The dive usually has a slow current and is 15m deep max. Sashek is another drift dive between Bastimentos and Carenero that has rare long lure frogfish. Airport is a protected site good for training dives, and has lots of coral.

Also on the Caribbean side, but further southeast is Portobelo National Park. This is also a popular diving area with great marine life. Being closer to Panama City, people come directly from the city to dive this area that has great reef dives and several wrecks.

Water temperatures on the Caribbean side are warm year round (23-27C) and a 3mm is usually plenty. On the Pacific side, colder currents bring waters (15-23C), so a 5mm will be comfortable. For those doing deep dives in the winter, thermoclines can be present, so a 7mm might be useful.

If you are looking for good snorkelling one of the best spots is the San Blas Archipelago.  In this Guna land is forbidden to dive with a tank but here you will find one of the most untouched coral reefs by mankind. The reef holds its beauty for decades now since people do not pollute the waters around it.  The Kuna Indians or Guna indians live from the sea and hunt on it. They hunt the reefs and sandbanks by using simple snorkeling gear and do not over fish their own waters because they only take what is needed to stay alive. They are scared that scuba dives will kill the great schools of fish and leave the Kuna without food to survive. They will preserve the coral reef for future generations this way.

The rich sea life and the crystal clear water will give you plenty enough time to drift away from the world above water. One of the easy places to get in touch with this sea life is the shipwreck near Isla Perro. This place is perfect for people not used to snorkeling or scuba diving but also gives people that have done it before a nice challenge to spot all the sea life around the ship. Don’t forget to bring your underwater camera because spotting a wild turtle, shark or octopus isn’t a rare sight in the waters around the San Blas Islands.   The best way to snorkel in San Blas is charter a sailing boat.  EcoCircuitos Panama organize this adventure for you.

Sailing in the San Blas Island, the Guna Archipelago

San Blas Archipelago, also known as the region of Guna/Kuna Yala, is formed by 365 coral islands and remains one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean for sailing charter. The best and most privileged way to discover San Blas is by sailing among its white sand islands and beautiful turquoise waters. Come on board and discover it with us!

Day 1: Arrival to El Porvenir in San Blas at 6:35 in the morning. We will pick them up for embarkation on our sailboat to start the charter. We will sail to Cayo Limon. Snorkel on a sunken ship covered in multicoloured coral and surrounded by crystal clear waters. Anchor at this idyllic spot to enjoy sunset and spend the night.

Day 2: After breakfast, we set sail to Salardup. Stroll on a small island, inhabited only by a Kuna family in charge of the cocunut palms. Swim and snorkel among the nicest coral reefs. Delicious fresh fish and seafood barbecue aboard.

Day 3: We will pull up the anchor and set sail to Coco Bandero, a group of extremely scenic islands, described by many, as the most beautiful in all of San Blas, with their white sand beaches and pristine waters.

Day 4: We will set sail at noon and enjoy a couple of hours of sailing among the islands of San Blas, we may fish on our way to Wichuwuala, where we will visit a small Kuna villag to discover their traditions and craftworks.

 Day 5: Guest’s disembark soon in the morning in El Porvenir, to take the flight back to Panama City.

 Note: Itinerary may be adapted by the skipper to weather conditions and, as far as possible, to the guests’ preferences.

Price per person: $740.00 for a minimum of 4 passengers traveling together.

Prices include:

– Rental of the boat with crew

– Boat and passenger’s insurance

– Fuel and water tanks

– Sheets

– Dinghy with outboard engine

– Snorkeling gear

– Fishing gear

– Meals on board based on fish, seafood, fresh local vegetables and fruits

– Drinks on board in reasonable consumption (water, sodas, fruit juices, beer, wine

and local rum)

 

Prices do not include:

– Fly tickets and transfers to San Blas

– All expenses outside the boat

– Local taxes: 10 USD per person approx.

 

Some suggestions:

Climate:

– Tropical weather, below the Caribbean hurricane zone, with temperatures between

28 and 33ºC (80-90ºF). Seawater temperature around 28ºC (82ºF)

 

What to bring:

– We recommend to pack lightly in soft luggage for storage reasons. Most of our

guests tend to pack more than they end up using. Life on board is casual, so bring

some shorts, summer cotton clothes, a long sleeve shirt and long pants, bathing suit

and towel, cap or hat, sunglasses, a light rain jacket, sandals or reef runners and sun

protection.

Slow-moving shallows put the heat on Bocas Coral

From STRI.org

Snorkel-perfect coral reefs in the calm, mangrove-fringed waters of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago are expected to be among the hardest hit by warmer temperatures that lead to coral bleaching and mortality, a new study finds. These shallows in Panama’s Caribbean are characterized by low water flow, allowing water to reach precariously high sea surface temperature (SST) when compared to areas with greater water movement.

Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach of the University of Virginia tapped into a wealth of long-term monitoring data collected by STRI scientists around the Bocas Del Toro Research Station, including coral bleaching records. Their models were published this May in the journal Coral Reefs.

“By 2084, almost all coral reefs are susceptible to bleaching-induced mortality, except for a region of relatively lower thermal stress along the outer boundary of the archipelago,” they write. “By 2084, only corals exposed to open ocean currents are predicted to survive.”

corals

 

There are some caveats. The key to heat-induced coral bleaching is not a single blast of hot water, rather long-term exposure to above-threshold temperatures. This is measured in degree heating weeks (DHW). By the end of the study period DHW >8 °C-weeks were modeled for the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts widespread bleaching and significant mortality under these conditions. By comparison, DHW values during a 2010 Bocas bleaching event ranged between 2.3 °C-weeks and 9.5 °C-weeks.

Some coral species may adapt to higher temperatures. The study’s models predict that areas flushed by cooler water will have a higher chance at surviving well into the future.

Li and Reidenbach studied modern water-flow patterns, simulated heating scenarios for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, and quantified local thermal stress on coral reefs. While previous studies have looked at SST impact on corals at a large scale, the researchers focused on a much smaller spatial scale, which is less common. The fine scale of their work better lends itself to the creation of mitigation strategies for marine protected areas in Bocas.

“Our findings are also likely applicable to many coral reef regions worldwide, and in particular reefs that are found in shallow and partially enclosed coastal regions with long water retention times,” they conclude.

Panama fish catch 40 percent larger than reported

By STRI

Panama is said to mean “abundance of fish.” Until recently Panama was also synonymous with bountiful fisheries. A new study estimates that between 1950 and 2010, the haul was so considerable officials could not keep tabs on more than a third of the catch. As fish stocks dwindle, this revelation may contribute to establishing sustainable fisheries in Panama and the region.

For three years Héctor Guzmán of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues from the University of British Columbia compiled official data and dozens of studies of off-the-books fisheries. They cautiously estimated that almost 40 percent of the total catch — including tuna, lobster, shellfish and shark — was unaccounted for.

“We estimated missing and under-reported components very conservatively so this is likely still an underestimate of what is being removed,” said Sarah Harper, of UBC’s Sea Around Us Project who was the lead author on the study published in Marine Fisheries Review. Guzmán and UBC’s Kyrstn Zylich and Dirk Zeller co-authored the research.

The discrepancy is due to minimal reporting of bycatch by commercial vessels and a dearth of data from recreational, subsistence and artisanal fishers. Illegal fishing by foreign vessels and catches by Panamanian-flagged ships operating from foreign ports also play an important role.

“We were not surprised by these alarming results,” said Guzmán a marine ecologist known for research that underpins regional conservation policy. “This is the first fishery baseline made for Panama. We hope to promote an open and all-inclusive dialogue to implement management tools for sustainable fisheries.”

The researchers recommend an overall reorganization of the fishing sector to include better monitoring, planning and surveillance of fishing zones and better managed marine protected areas. Curtailing carte blanche commercial fishing licenses, which are sometimes species indiscriminate, would also help, said Guzmán.

From anchovies to Sharks

Panama’s industrial fisheries developed in the 1960s to harvest herring and anchovies for fishmeal and oil for export. The scallop fishery reached its apex in the 1980s and collapsed without recovery in 1991. Shrimp, tuna, lobster and conch harvesting continue, with many populations now in decline.

Relatively new targets are sharks, especially hammerheads, for sale of shark fins overseas. Sharks are often harvested in inshore areas, including vulnerable nurseries. “There is likely substantial under-reporting of catches by domestic vessels and possibly a large number of sharks being caught by foreign vessels operating illegally in Panamanian waters,” the authors wrote.

Under-reporting of catch is not unique to Panama and improved monitoring does not have to be prohibitively costly. “Resource-limited countries can still effectively monitor their fisheries by implementing regular, non-annual surveys,” said the authors. “For Panama to retain meaning in its name (“abundance of fish”), fisheries management will need to make substantial improvements.”