Earth Day 2017 Celebration in Pablo A. Barrios Refuge

The Azuero Earth Project celebrated Earth Day this year in collaboration with other local organizations with a series of events in late April. The activities included:

  • A mangrove reforestation near the Pedasi port, in the Pablo A. Barrios Wildlife Refuge, with the Pro Eco Pelaos on Friday April 21st
The Pro Eco Kids hike to the mangrove reforestation site.
  • An Earth Day Celebration on April 22 on Arenal/Bajadero Beach with the local Hospital, Tourism Authority (ATP), Pedasi Municipal Government, CiMA Pedasi, OPC Panama, Tortugas Pedasi, the Barrios-Velasco family, Ministry of the Environment, Hablas Tortuga? and community members;
  • A Sunday Brunch in Las Tablas to benefit the Azuero Earth Project and its programs

The celebration on April 22 started off with a walk to the beach, followed by a beach cleanup that collected more than 49 bags full of plastic, cans and other recyclables, foam, and even some articles like a toilet seat, tires and pieces of scrap metal. Cleanup volunteers documented the quantities and types of beach trash to send this data to a national network organized by PROMAR. It is so important to remember not to leave our trash on the beach!

The winners of the annual Pablo A. Barrios photography contest were also announced on Earth Day. There were 11 entrants and 30 submissions in 3 categories: the Pablo Barrios Wildlife Refuge, Nature, and Ecotourism.  The event also included a sand sculpture building contest organized by Tortugas Pedasi y Hablas Tortuga?, traditional music, games for youth, and more.

c. Edith DĂ­az, Winner of the RVSPAB category of the 2017 R.V.S.P.A.B. photography contest
c. Santino Sirtoli, Winner of the Nature category of the 2017 R.V.S.P.A.B. photography contest
c. Santino Sirtoli, Winner of the Ecotourism category of the 2017 R.V.S.P.A.B. photography contest

We thank everyone who participated in these Earth Day weekend events and we hope to repeat them in future years! Meanwhile, we invite community members to get involved with our Pro Eco Kids youth group and Refuge Shared Management Committee initiatives. For more information please call (507) 995-2995 or write to gricel@proecoazuero.org

AEP attends Agroforestry conference in Darién

Carmela and Rebecca at the entrance to Nicholas Bravo's Agrotourism farm
Carmela and Rebecca at the entrance to Nicholas Bravo’s Agrotourism farm

Cattle farming is the principle cause of deforestation in Panama, and as you may well know, the word “ganadería” comes from ganar.  The idea of agroforestry is to find an ecologically based natural resource management system, in which both the farmer and the Earth can benefit. Saturday, November 22, members of Azuero Earth Project staff attended the first symposium on Agroforestry, hosted by the University of Panama Darien Campus.  Although far from our home base of Azuero, many of the experiences shared and lessons learned are valuable across the country. The international group of expositors included Fernando Uribe from Cipav in Colombia, Diego Tobar from CATIE in Costa Rica, as well as NGOS working in Darién. With over 100 participants, the energy of the symposium was high, with many questions asked after each presentation. After the day’s events, we were invited to the farm of Nicolas Bravo, a farmer with agroforestry farm in Sazoncito. His farm is truly a labor of love, and from just 5ha, he harvests of 200 different products. Walking through the managed forest, we were impressed to learn how well thought out each planting was, and hearing the lessons of what work and what didn’t.  Bravo told us that each day he is learning from the soil, and that if you listen, the earth itself will tell you what you need to know.

Captain Wiljem Zitman: How to Identify Marine Mammals in Their Environment

Last Tuesday, January 21st, a crowd of local fishermen, boat captains, and amateur nature enthusiasts gathered on the terrace of Casa Pasa to listen to former sea captain and naturalist Wiljelm Zitman deliver a captivating presentation on the identification of marine mammals in their environment. Capt. Zitman’s talk introduced the wide diversity of cetaceans that can be found frequenting the waters off the Azuero peninsula and the techniques that can be used to recognize them.

A group of spinner dolphins c. Wikimedia Commons
A group of spinner dolphins c. Wikimedia Commons

Identifying a fleeting whale or dolphin from the rocking helm of a boat can be a real challenge, even for experts. Capt. Zitman explained that there are techniques that are used to lump groups of closely related cetaceans together, giving the casual observer an accurate way to classify what he or she has briefly seen. Observing an animal’s behavior is one of the most important keys to identification. The Common Dolphin, like the Spinner Dolphin, is highly gregarious and often associates with pods that number in the thousands. Bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins, on the other hand, form smaller groups. Physical characteristics such as color, size, beak and melon shape, dorsal fin placement, and the shape and size of the blowhole all help classify these mysterious creatures.

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Humpback whale c. Wikimedia Commons

Capt. Zitman left plenty of room for anecdotal discussion. Several fishermen realized that what they may have been calling pilot whales were in fact, false orcas. Others grew excited when they learned that humpback whales weren’t the only behemoths they might find: Fin and Sperm whales, as well as Orcas, have been spotted off the coasts near Pedasi.

The audience grew excited and left the presentation beaming with energy and enthusiasm. Capt. Zitman’s talk undoubtedly left a positive impression on locals, as most of the crowd hung around afterward, eager to ask questions. Knowing how to correctly identify an animal and its behavior is an important step in its conservation. Hopefully these skills will be transmitted through generations to come.

Field Guide to Marine Mammal Identification

Capt. Zitman’s Presentation here (in Spanish), complete with descriptions of different identifying traits

AEP Participates in SUELO Knowledge Exchange

Roman speaks about sustainable tourism c. Roman Yavich
Roman speaks about sustainable tourism. Photo: Rose Cromwell

AEP Director of Media and Development, Roman Yavich, joined a group of artists, scientists, and NGO leaders at a multidisciplinary residency in the Veraguas Province in Panama on the subject of soil. The event was organized by Estudio Nuboso, a project of Ela Spalding.

By bringing together Panamanian and international artists, scientists, NGO leaders, and residents of the Arrimadero fishing community, the residency aimed to break the institutional mold of knowledge-sharing to spark conversations and ideas on the broad topic of soil. Participants included Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientist, Tony Coates, who presented the 70 million year-old geo-history of Panama’s Pacific coast line and the “pillow lava” that punctuates the picturesque scenery of the Arrimadero beach. Other presenters shared knowledge and experience on topics ranging from soil biology to anthropology. Roman drew on eight years of experience in sustainable tourism to hold an open conversation and presentation on the pros and cons of tourism development and its impact on land rights of current residents of Arrimadero.

Roman’s participation in this event is part of AEP’s broader efforts to engage with the Panamanian nonprofit sector and develop relationships with organizations working on sustainable land use in Panama.

 

AEP Participates in Suelo Knowledge Share

Roman delivers a presentation on sustainable tourism to conference attendees c, Roman Yavich
Roman delivers a presentation on sustainable tourism to conference attendees c. Roman Yavich

AEP Director of Media and Development, Roman Yavich, joined a group of artists, scientists, and NGO leaders at a multidisciplinary residency in the Veraguas Province in Panama on the subject of soil. The event was organized by Estudio Nuboso, a project of Ela Spalding.

By bringing together Panamanian and international artists, scientists, NGO leaders, and residents of the Arrimadero fishing community, the residency aimed to break the institutional mold of knowledge-sharing to spark conversations and ideas on the broad topic of soil. Participants included Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientist, Tony Coates, who presented the 70 million year-old geo-history of Panama’s Pacific coast line and the “pillow lava” that punctuates the picturesque scenery of the Arrimadero beach. Other presenters shared knowledge and experience on topics ranging from soil biology to anthropology. Roman drew on eight years of experience in sustainable tourism to hold an open conversation and presentation on the pros and cons of tourism development and its impact on land rights of current residents of Arrimadero.

Roman’s participation in this event is part of AEP’s broader efforts to engage with the Panamanian nonprofit sector and develop relationships with organizations working on sustainable land use in Panama.

AEP and local environmental leaders attend environmental seminar

Community course group before the mangroves tour, c. Belgis Madrid

Members of the Pedasí and Los Asientos communities represented the province of Los Santos in a week-long environmental seminar sponsored by the City of Knowledge and INADEH. Belgis Madrid and Manuel Cedeño represented the Los Asientos silvopastoral cattle association APASPE, Katheryn Franco represented the ecotourism cooperative of Pedasí (Cooperativa de Ecoturismo y Servicios Múltiples de Pedasí, Pedasí Ecotourism Cooperative), and Euribiades Diaz represented the fishing cooperative of Pedasí (Cooperativa Virgen del Carmen, Fishing Cooperative Virgen del Carmen of Pedasí). This seminar in Divisa focused on training community leaders to understand environmental management and contribute to the solutions of environmental problems.

Belgis Madrid commented, “I learned to value environmental resources and to look for alternatives in businesses.” Belgis also commented that he enjoyed the course because it allowed him to connect with other environmental organizations.

Katheryn Franco particularly enjoyed a trip the seminar took to the mangroves along the Santamaria river where she learned about the importance of the mangrove ecosystem. “I liked the course because it was very interesting and I learned concepts that I did not know, such as the steps to create a good environmental business”, commented Katheryn Franco.

Guardians of the Forest promote Eco-tourism in Cerro Hoya

The eco-guides of Cerro Hoya National Park with Peace Corps volunteers Jessica Fort and Abigail Borst, c. Guillermo Duran

Cerro Hoya National Park has a new group of eco-guides called “The Guardians of the Forest.” The group is composed of neighbors from El Cortezo and La Tronosa communities who, with the support of Peace Corps Volunteers, have decided to share part of their knowledge about the flora and fauna of the region.

Cerro Hoya National Park protects more than 33,000 hectares of ocean and land that span from the coast up to 1500 m in elevation. The park forms part of the largest remnant natural forest patch in all of Azuero and also protects the forest with the highest elevation in all the peninsula, Cerro Hoya itself (1478 m in elevation).

Cerro Hoya National Park, c. Guillermo Duran

One of the biggest attractions of the park is the “carato parakeet,” (Pyrrhura eisenmanni), a species of parakeet that only exists in this national park, and depending on the time of year is easily spotted. In the high elevations of the park you’ll also find “monterillo” trees (Quercus sp.), a type of tree that within Panama can only be found within Cerro Hoya and in the highlands of Chiriquí and Veraguas. In Cerro Hoya’s forests, you can also observe large groups of spider monkeys and other species that due to the deforestation and hunting are now very scarce in other regions of Azuero.

Carato Parakeet, c. Guillermo Duran

The members of Guardians of the Forest have served for many years as guides in scientific expeditions within Cerro Hoya National Park as well as the La Tronosa Forest Reserve. In 2011, they decided to undertake ecotourism training with the support of the Peace Corps and in this way better organize themselves to serve national and international tourist groups. Depending on the amount of time that you would like to stay in the region, they can plan short day trips in La Tronosa Forest Reserve or multiday trips to summit Cerro Hoya itself. All tours leave El Cortezo community, located 40 minutes from the town of TonosĂ­.

Cerro Hoya National Park, c. Guillermo Duran

Groups interested in contacting Guardians of the Forest can leave them a message with their info at the number 6440-9751 or write to the email Abigail.borst@gmail.com.

This article appeared in El Pedasieño, the local town newspaper. Click here for a copy of the article.

 

 

 

Marco DĂ­az presents two decades of research on Isla Iguana

Isla Iguana, c. Marco DĂ­az

What do we know about Isla Iguana beyond the fact that it is a beautiful place to visit on holidays? Marine biologist Marco L. Diaz, who spent twenty years from 1987 to 1997 researching this paradise, presented his findings to the community at the Azuero Earth Project office on December 15.

Isla Iguana has experienced significant changes in vegetation and animal populations over time. Once the farm of Minsín Espino, Isla Iguana originally shared many of the same tree species as mainland Azuero and the Perlas islands. Today, however, its vegetation has been severely affected by human interference. “In the places where the rice fields exist, there is still no vegetation, perhaps because of the large quantities of agrochemicals used,” Marco explained. Isla Iguana was originally the peak of a mountain, transforming into an island as the sea level rose over 420 feet since the last Ice Age. Most recently, the landscape has changed as a result of several bombs detonated since their placement on the island in World War II. While the detonations’ full effects are not truly known, we do know that the bombs have exploded sections of the coral reef. The most recent bomb detonation was performed just a few weeks before Marco gave his AEP talk.

Although its terrestrial diversity is low because it is a small island with no fresh water, Isla Iguana is home to a vibrant coral reef. Today, the island is home to at least 240 species of fish, 20 species of birds, 11 species of reptiles, and 17 species of coral, including two species of coral yet to be identified. Isla Iguana gets its name from the iguana that makes its home on the island, the black iguana being the most common type seen by visitors.

For those who plan to enjoy Isla Iguana in the future, Marco reminds visitors to treat the island with respect. While you view wildlife and snorkel, please refrain from playing loud music, touching the coral, and drinking alcohol. Bring back all your trash and belongings when you leave. Keep all flora and fauna on the island to enjoy their natural habitat. If we follow a few basic rules, Isla Iguana will remain in good condition for generations to come.

For more information on Isla Iguana and Marco’s presentation, visit Marco’s AEP Guest Experts page and website.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

CEASPA Promotes Responsible Whale Watching and Snorkeling

c. José Julio Casas

The Panamanian Center for Studies and Social Action (CEASPA in Spanish) presented their project: “Use of Marine Resources for the Development of Sustainable Economic Alternatives in Communities on the Azuero Peninsula” in Pedasí with the goal to motivate initiatives of the Pedasi Association of Fishing Producers and Tourism Services. The project is coordinated by Jacinta Viveros. CEASPA has offered previous trainings on organizational development. These training sessions aim to ensure that those dedicated to tourism activities offer dependable, safe and environmentally-responsible services while transforming those services into activities that directly benefit the community.

c. José Julio Casas

Key tips for responsible whale watching and coral reef use from the CEASPA presentation in PedasĂ­:

  • Take advantage of the diversity of cetaceans. The cetacean family is made up of several species, including whales, dolphins and porpoises. If during the search for a particular cetacean species you find another type, take advantage of this sighting and give it the attention it deserves. Do not scare away this cetacean; that sighting may be the success of the day.
  • Know the environment and associated fauna. Other animals besides cetaceans may appear during the sighting trip, which may or may not be directly related to seeing cetaceans themselves. Overall, they form an important part of the learning experience. Become knowledgeable about the turtles, sea birds, schools of fish and other marine life that may appear during the watching season. This knowledge can aid in whale sightings, while at the same time promoting protection of the surrounding environment.
  • Promote the protection of coral reefs. Coral reefs, called “forests” of the ocean, are underwater ecosystems. They provide a habitat for many marine species, protect the coast and serve as “guardians” for the offspring of different species. Best practices and responsible use of coral reefs ensure that future generations can enjoy these natural wonders that surround, protect, feed, and entertain us.

CEASPA Presentation (in Spanish)