Protect Coral Reefs of Bocas del Toro, Panama

Target: Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama

Goal: To promote reef conservation and reduce unsustainable tourism practices used by the people on the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Bocas del Toro is a coastal province of northeastern Panama, consisting of 9 major islands. Spanning 155 miles, these islands are some of the most biodiverse and self-sustaining coral reefs in the Caribbean. Bocas del Toro reefs are brimming with marine life, from the endangered manatee to other sea creatures such as electric rays, sea turtles and a large variety of reef fish.

Unfortunately, with the increase in Panamanian population, as well as the growing interest in this archipelago from tourists and foreign developers, the reefs are beginning to suffer even more than they have in the past. Locals have long been benefiting economically from coral collection and fishing. However, with tourism recently flourishing, locals have been encouraged to over-collect and overfish to increase revenue. While this helps Bocas del Toro’s economy, the reefs can’t sustain much longer.

Coastal real estate development is gaining popularity and with this comes deforestation, environmentally- unfriendly construction and, finally, operation of the establishments. This all leads to a release of harmful pollutants into the waters surrounding the reefs, resulting in light-deflecting sedimentation. Without light, the coral begins to degrade. Another issue with the increased onset of local tourism is the activities that come with visiting a foreign area. Tourists engage in snorkeling, diving, boating and other various activities that lead to water pollution as well as direct damage and breakage of the coral.

The key to finding a balance between bringing in both tourists and the resulting monetary profit, while simultaneously protecting the beautiful coral reefs of Bocas del Toro, is promoting more sustainable practices surrounding tourism.

The first step toward reducing the impact humans have on the reefs is education. Tour guides and instructors should have the responsibility of teaching tourists how to have a fun vacation but still respect the coral beneath their feet. The next step in promoting ecotourism is gaining the favor of lawmakers. Regulations can then be set and laws enacted to prohibit unsustainable overfishing and coral collection for souvenirs.

Tourism and the development of Bocas del Toro’s coasts is directly impacting the coral reefs surrounding the islands. Marine scientists have conducted some research on the problem and laws exist already regarding issues such as overfishing but they are not being enforced. We need as much support as possible to show the Panamanian government just how detrimental these activities are becoming to this ecosystem and people everywhere are concerned. I urge you to sign this petition and demand that more effort be put into conserving the coral reefs of Bocas del Toro.


Dear President Ricardo Martinelli,

The coral reefs surrounding Bocas del Toro span 155 miles of the province’s island shores. They are not only a beautiful sight to see, but also a means of food for the locals as well as a safe haven for hundreds of species of marine life.

However, this self-sustaining ecosystem is quickly becoming endangered by the unknowing tourists exploring its beauty, locals and large companies practicing unsustainable fishing techniques and foreign developers setting up establishments along the coasts of Bocas del Toro. Many tourists don’t realize that the anchors they use to dock their boats can damage and break off the coral beneath them just like a lot of developers and fishermen are more concerned about the money they bring in from their businesses, rather than the harm they are doing to marine life.

A solution to these troubling issues is better management and protection of the coral reef. By training tour guides to warn visitors of the damage they can accidentally inflict during their daily activities on the ocean can provide a great relief for the reefs. Once more people are educated on this issue, the coral reefs can begin to heal. In order to ensure that developers and companies which employ fishermen can exist while still conserving the reefs, laws need to be made and enforced against environmentally- unfriendly practices.

I urge you to start helping the coral reefs in any way you can. Please consider creating environmental task management teams to spread the word about these issues, and enact regulations while enforcing new ones to protect the wonderfully biodiverse coral reefs of Bocas del Toro.

[Your Name Here]

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  • Lynn Juozilaitis
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