The past few days we dedicated most of the Principles of Resource Management course at TIBS to visiting and exploring three popular destinations for international tourism here in Bocas del Toro: Red Frog Beach Island Resort and Spa, La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm, and Tranquilo Bay Ecoadventure Lodge, all of them on Isla Bastimentos. These three sites are relevant to our studies of this area because, to some extent, they represent the three key tourism market segments: mass tourism, adventure tourism and ecotourism/nature-based tourism, and their properties are adjacent to the single marine park Bocas possesses, Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park (IBNMP).

As part of the Resource Management course it is important for the students to witness for themselves the management of the resources available at each ecotourism site we visit, in particular since the IBNMP incorporates critical habitats for both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, including reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, swamps and rainforests, along with the faunal communities they support. Also, it is important for the students to visit these sites and learn about the type of tourism that each business is developing, and directly observe the socioeconomic and environmental consequences of the rapid increase in tourism in Bocas.

The link between protected areas and tourism is as old as the history of protected areas. Though the relationship is complex and sometimes adversarial, tourism is always a critical component to consider in the establishment and management of protected areas (Eagles et al. 2002). The diversity and abundance of terrestrial organisms and habitats in Bocas del Toro supports an economy that is dependent upon the health of the ecosystem and the continued perception of Bocas as an “Island Paradise.” It is important to reconsider the environmental impacts of tourism, and formulate strategies that will allow tourism to continue as a viable industry and a sustainable alternative in Panama.

Eagles, P. F., McCool, S. F., Haynes, C. D., Phillips, A., & United Nations Environment Programme (Cambridge, Great Britain). (2002). Sustainable tourism in protected areas: Guidelines for planning and management (Vol. 8). Gland: IUCN.

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