An Interview with Smithsonian Entomologist: Yves Basset

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama is dedicated to understanding and studying the unique biodiversity of the tropics. STRI’s history  began with the construction of the Panama Canal and the  interest in surveying the flora and fauna of the area for the purpose of controlling insect diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. After the Canal began operating, entomologists and biologists involved in these studies establish a permanent biological reserve on Barro Colorado Island which is located in the Gatun Lake.  Today, STRI is one of the leading research institutions in the world. Every year over 900 scientist from academic and research institutions  from all over the world visit the STRI facilities to conduct scientific research and studies.

Today we had the opportunity to interview one of the prominent entomologist in the world who has his base in Panama City.  Doctor Yves Basset talk to EcoCircuitos Panama team about his work with the tropical ecosystems and the importance of tourism and conservation to protect the tropical environment.  Learn more about his work on this very interesting EcoVideo.

EcoCircuitos promotes conservation and education through the tourism industry.   For more information about our academic adventures, contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com

EcoRevolution: Tourism and Conservation

It is almost impossible to completely remove our “footprint” in a expedition adventure, but we struggle to organize our trips and expeditions in a way that minimizes our impact and encourage our clients to do it as well.

Every adventure we create presents opportunities to educate our staff and clients.  By following the below classic responsible-hiking guidelines we are doing our part:

Trails and walking paths Stay on designated trails and walking paths. Cutting corners anywhere causes erosion and can damage ancient artifacts or historical locations. It is never acceptable to deface natural or human-made objects visited on a EcoCircuitos trip adventure.

Reduction and disposal of waste When possible minimize packaging and avoid using wasteful consumable goods. Our guides ensure that all trash is deposited in appropriate receptacles, even if prevailing norms are less strict. Garbage and organic waste is not to be buried or scattered under any conditions. Seek out recycling receptacles for paper, cans, bottles, foil, and plastic. Set an example and leave places cleaner than you found them, but be mindful of conveying a judgmental attitude towards local environmental sensibilities.

Bathing and washing When dedicated facilities are unavailable, these activities should be undertaken with buckets or wash basins well away from lakes, streams, and the ocean. Keep soap and detergent out of all water. Avoid wasting water and be aware that westerners’ water usage habits may be viewed as excessive in the local context.

Sanitation Use existing restrooms or latrine facilities. When there are none, walk at least 100 yards from trail, road, or body of water and dig a shallow hole (4 to 6 inches deep). Bury the waste. Do not leave toilet paper uncovered and, if safe, burn it before covering the site.

Fires In most countries we visit, forests are a precious and endangered resource. Therefore, the old-fashioned campfire or roaring fireplace is a conspicuous indulgence. Use kerosene as a fuel instead of wood.

Endangered species It should without saying that guests should not collect or purchase any items made from endangered plant or animal species. Importing products derived from endangered species into the United States is not only illegal, but it provides financial incentives for pillaging critical natural resources.

Plastic Plastic waste deserves special attention from conscientious travelers visiting developing countries. Conveniences in demand by western tourists are often delivered in some form of plastic: beverages, packaged foods, toiletries, and souvenirs. Unfortunately, poor countries face an expansion of non-biodegradable garbage on an unprecedented scale and most of them lack adequate processing infrastructure. Plastic wastes cannot be easily re-used or reprocessed and have numerous associated health risks.  The Trip Leader should seek out every opportunity to help EcoCircuitos guests avoid consumption of products packaged in plastic. In particular, water bottled in glass or canteens (which can more easily be reused or recycled) is always preferred over water in plastic bottles, even at additional cost.

 

12 Buddhist Eco-Guidelines – Inspiration

Buddha by EternalTraveler
Buddha by EternalTraveler

As we strive to cultivate a positive relationship with the environment, we need to first realize there are two facets to the journey – preserving inner happiness and maintaining outer ecological balance.

We encourage everyone to start with beautifying one’s mind and spirit and then extend outward to beautifying their environment.

Below are twelve guidelines when travel to a new destination:

 * Speak quietly – do not disturb others.

* Keep the ground clean – do not litter.

* Keep the air clean – do not smoke or pollute.

* Respect oneself and others – do not commit violent acts.

* Be polite – do not intrude upon others.

* Smile – do not face others with an angry expression.

* Speak kindly – do not utter abusive words.

* Follow the rules – do not seek exemptions or privileges.

* Be mindful of your actions – do not act unethically.

* Consume consciously – do not waste.

* Be grounded – do not live aimlessly.

* Practice kindness – do not create malice

Adapted from Living Affinity, by Hsing Yun (Lantern Books, 2004).

Ministry of Environment launches ‘Green Tourism Initiative’ in National Protected Areas in Panama

On the occasion of the World Earth Day, the Ministry of Environment of Panama launched the Green Tourism Initiative, one of the strategic priorities of Minister of Environment Mirei Endara.

D01A1460Endara noted that this Green Tourism strategy has several components that aim to develop a shared national vision and to prepare an action plan that will allow ecotourism to be a driver of economic growth and social inclusion, as established by the Strategic Governmental Plan 2015-2019.

To achieve this goal, the Minister stressed that it is crucial to have the support and involvement of key stakeholders in the public and private sector, NGOs, community groups, municipalities and volunteers, including their partner implementing institutions, the Tourism Authority of Panama and the National Institute of Culture.

As part of this initiative the Ministry of Environment issued a Decree, which supports the development of a National Action Plan for the Development of Ecotourism in Protected Areas of Panama. This reaffirms the commitment of the Government of the Republic of Panama to implement the components of the Green Tourism Initiative, said Minister Endara.

President Varela explained that the signed Decree promotes sectorial integration of the Ministry of Environment, the Tourism Authority of Panama and the National Institute of Culture in terms of ecotourism with the goal to develop, together with the civil society, communities and private companies a national vision towards a green, responsible tourism aligned to national and international standards.

“This way, we will promote a sustainable economic activity, valuing our natural resources, and promoting prosperity with equity,” stressed the President.

An Action Plan will be elaborated with support of Sustainable Travel International, “through a participatory process that should lead us to create a country brand for our ecotourism products, which will generate demand parallel to the increase of Panama´s ecotourism products “, said president Varela.

The president highlighted that “The action plan’s primary goal is to generate welfare for communities and organisations within and adjacent to protected areas.”

Minister Endara mentioned that some of these actions will be supported by the ECOTUR-AP project, funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Interview with Annie Young J. – Director at EcoCircuitos Panama

Questions by  Hedda Rumohr Berge

Norwegian journalist

HRB: What do ecotourism stand for?

AYJ:  Well there are so many different academic definitions…Ecotourism is a form of nature-base tourism.  But the one that I like refers to the concept that ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well being of our local communities. Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature and also cultural features from the past and the present.  It is also a form of tourism that promotes conservation, has low negative impact from visitors and provides economic benefits to locals.

HRB: Where do it come from?

AYJ:  Ecotourism is a sub-component of the field of sustainable tourism.  If you want to know a bit more of sustainable tourism in Panama, I invite you to learn from our Association:  www.aptso.org  (Asociación Panameña de Turismo Sostenible).

Ecotourism is connected to the conservation movement. It provided a highly source of revenue to natural areas that need protection.  I worked as a volunteer in the some local NGOs when I was younger and it was a good dynamic: conservation plays an important role in the promotion of ecotourism and both can work together.

Some good resources:  The Sustainable Travel International and the Ecotourism Society.  Both organizations offer important guidelines to the private sector that promotes ecotourism.

HRB: When did Panama start ecotourism?

ACY: I started learning about ecotourism in Panama in the early 90s when the conservation movement started growing here.  I had the opportunity to be a volunteer for ANCON, a local NGO that promotes conservation of land and also worked for The Panama Audubon Society, that promotes conservation for bird’s habitats.  These two experiences give me an important insight on how the conservation could be linked to the outdoor travel.  As volunteers we visited different areas in Panama to promote conservation and environmental education.  We did field trips with donors to see bird’s habitats to National Parks, private reserves, indigenous communities, and this was my first experience as an ecotourist.

Ecotourism is a niche market that is growing… sadly not so rapidly in Panama.   Some countries, some companies and some destinations have developed ecotourism policies and we should learn from those experiences.  We need to create policies in Panama for sustainable tourism.  We are on the race but a little behind.   Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and USA are interesting examples and we can learn from the good experiences.

HRB: What kind of people travel like this? and why should we?

ACY:  I feel that people today want to travel responsible and also want to receive guidance.  The ecotourists wants to behave responsible when travel: how can negative impacts be minimized while visiting sensitive environments and cultures?  How can we interact with local cultures without affecting them?  How can we contribute to the conservation of the visited areas?

People and travelers that are sensitive to these issues are the ecotravelers.  And to me those travelers are very important because they will demand sustainable services and with this demand good offer will arise and more conscious companies.  Ecotourism can be a highly effective tool for conservation, but it depends on committed tour operators, service providers that also want to work for the future generations.

HRB: Is the ecotourism growing? Or can it be only a trend?

ACY: It will keep growing if we have travelers behaving in a responsible way and committed with the principles of sustainable tourism. It will keep growing if more companies embrace a responsible approach in tourism and work not just for today.   Sustainable travel and ecotourism are the only way of traveling in our current world.  If we want to keep it for the future generations, this is the best way!

Annie Young J. founded EcoCircuitos Panama  in 1999. She is in charge of the Marketing and Sales Department and continually researches and creates new programs and adventures. Annie has a degree in Social Communication with an emphasis in Journalism from the University of Panama, a diploma in Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability from Stanford University in California and a Course on Environmental Management of International Tourism Development from Harvard University. She is the President of APTSO (Panamanian Association of Sustainable Tourism) and is committed to the conservation and social development of Panama through the promotion of sustainable tourism.

Smithsonian Discovers New Coral Species in Panama

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From Stri.org

On the first submersible exploration of Hannibal Bank in Panama’s Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site, Smithsonian staff scientist Hector Guzman found and collected a previously undescribed coral species. He named it Eugorgia siedenburgae for Joan S. Siedenburg, explorer and longstanding friend of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“Joan’s encouragement and passion for learning inspires many Smithsonian scientific colleagues in Panama,” said Guzman. “This new species name recognizes Siedenburg’s special interest in deep-sea exploration and her appreciation for marine life.”

During a STRI expedition in March, 2012, sponsored, in part, by Siedenburg, he collected a large specimen 63 meters (207 feet) under the ocean’s surface from the submersible DeepSee using a mechanical arm.

Eugorgia siedenburgae forms bright pink, bushy colonies with light-colored branch-tips. The soft-coral grows on rocks, debris, coarse sand or muddy sediments. This seventh species of the genus Eugorgia reported from Costa Rica and Panama brings the total number of species of this eastern Pacific genus to 13.

Guzman described the coral with Odalisca Breedy from the University of Costa Rica. “Nearly all of the surveys of soft coral diversity in the Eastern Pacific region have focused on shallow environments. Only recently have we begun to explore deeper into the ocean’s mesophotic zone,” said Breedy.

In twelve dives they collected 15 soft coral species, including sea pens, gorgonians and sea whips, three species of black corals and four species of hydrocorals including the lace corals Stylaster and Distichopora. In addition to Siedenburg, Guzman’s team included a fisheries biologist from the University of Panama as well as microbiologists and chemists from Panama’s government laboratory, INDICASAT, who joined the expedition. The microbiologists isolated bacteria from 104 tissue samples to look for chemical compounds to test against cancer and several tropical diseases.

Guzman hopes to return to Hannibal Bank to conduct a more extensive survey. In the meantime, he has presented information about the scarcity of commercial fish on this zone to the media and to policy makers.

Funding for the expedition and species identification were provided by the International Community Foundation; Panama’s Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas y Servicios de Alta Tecnologia, INDICASAT, Mission Blue’s Sylvia Earle Alliance and the Universidad de Costa Rica.