Protecting the Las Perlas environment
PANAMA. Growing worldwide concern about global warming and the environment, has filtered down even to those seeking an alternative life...
PANAMA. Growing worldwide concern about global warming and the environment, has filtered down even to those seeking an alternative lifestyle or second home, as they look for “tropical paradises” that fulfill not only their retirement or vacation dreams, but also preserve the planet.
Panama has made a major step towards meeting both needs with the creation of the Sustainable Tourism Association of Las Perlas (CAMARA) involving representatives of the main development projects in the Archipelago.
It’s mission is: “â?¦to follow the highest ethical standards in promotion of sustainable tourism development demonstrating a strong sense of social responsibility and respect for the environment.” The Association meets weekly to plan its program while still ensuring the creation of a high quality tourist destination.
CAMARA is using as its benchmarks the Grenadines, the British Virgin Islands (where the world’s most ‘green’ project, Sir Richard Branson’s Mosquito Island, is unfolding), and the Galapagos Islands.
Already earlier plans for a large international airport on Isla Del Rey have been shelved, and visitor targets have been drastically reduced in the interests of preserving the environment.
A previous study called for the development of an airport to service a targeted 350,000 tourists. CAMARA has set a reduced target of 125,000 tourists and visitors to the Archipelago.
A greater understanding of the unique global importance of the Archipelago has been gathered in recent years through vital scientific research carried out by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the UK government’s Darwin Initiative. The research has centered on the Islands’ pre-Columbian archaeological heritage and environmentally fragile marine bio-diversity.
One of the first issues CAMARA is tackling is the ecologically debilitating practice of stealing beach sand for construction.
Already, several beaches have been totally depleted on Isla Saboga, Isla del Rey and Isla San Jose. The CAMARA has launched a campaign under the slogan, “No Beach - No Work”, involving delivery of subsidized sand to the islands.
The Association has opened a consultative channel of communication with Dr. Hector Guzman of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Says Dr Guzman: “The Las Perlas Archipelago is of global importance in terms of its environmental bio-diversity. I am therefore delighted to be involved in this unique and important Association.”
I feel that this sort of initiative will be incredibly beneficial for the future of Las Perlas in terms of marrying protection of the environment; conservation of its delicate ecosystems; integration of local community interests with economic regeneration in this fragile environment.”
Dr Guzman is an outspoken advocate against mining of sand in the Archipelago: “The extraction of sand is potentially one of the largest environmental disasters that Las Perlas faces today. I applaud the CAMARA for its proactive work to provide solutions to this problem and I only hope that the Autoridad de Turismo de Panama as well as other authorities support the idea of stopping sand mining around Las Perlas for the long-term benefit of all.”
A second initiative in the pipeline is the establishment of a permanent Emergency Room for the islands located in San Miguel, Isla del Rey – the newly equipped facility represents an initial investment of around $20,000 and funding is being raised from within the membership of the CAMARA.
In addition, each project within the Association is running its own social and environmental integration programmes. For example, Isla Saboga and its investors has just begun a $15,000 refurbishment of the local community school including provision of computers, Internet, air conditioning and hygienic canteen facilities for its 80 pupils.
One of the primary goals of the CAMARA is to create Archipelago-wide collaboration to reduce costs for logistics, transport to preserve resources and minimize damage to the environment by reducing waste and unnecessary fuel-use.
George Novey Jr, President of CAMARA and Director of ARAP, the Marine Resources Authority said: “One of the major issues we face as developers and promoters of these beautiful and unique islands is the lack of social infrastructure throughout the Archipelago. The challenge is to be able to facilitate a high level of training for the local population.”
One of the founding members of CAMARA has already started its social infrastructure program by joint venturing with local NGO, Fundacion Las Perlas. The initiative foresees a five-year program including beach certification, community housing, entrepreneurship and micro-loan system, installation of a garbage handling and recycling system, training for local communities, composting, landscaping and small-holding and, culture and folkloric heritage programs.
“Training and employment in local communities is critical to the Sustainable Tourism goals of CAMARA. Said Novey: “Already around 10 percent of the Islands’ biggest community, San Miguel, Isla del Rey, is employed on a nearby development project on Isla Viveros. Saboga already employs around 20 percent of its own local community”. Several other developer members are starting projects targeted at Las Perlas’ main attractions such as the world-class sport fishing destination marina at Punta Coco.
One of this years principal marketing initiatives in Las Perlas will be the introduction by Cuna de Vida, Isla del Rey, of an Explorer Mini Cruise Ship; a 40-cabin luxury floating hotel which will run 5-day cruises starting in the Canal and touring the 200 islands of the Las Perlas. In addition, a 5-star ferry service from Panama City to Las Perlas will be launching in August.
The CAMARA is actively working to integrate the Archipelago’s 3,000 people and 6 main communities through a Public Private Partnership between any organizations with interests in the Las Perlas.