After a couple of months working in Armila, Amanda and I have decided to take a short break to see some of the rest of the country (we really only know the town of Armila and a couple of locales in Panama City; hardly enough to say you've "been to" a country). Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí are on the itinerary.
As we sped away from Armila in a fiberglass launch, leaving it in its small bubble of relative isolation, we felt satisfied knowing that we were leaving behind three projects that were being run on their own, without need for our direct supervision. These are 1) The construction of a community-run guest house that will open up opportunities for the broader community to get involved in eco-tourism; 2) The excavation of an aquaculture tank, which in six months will be producing hundreds of pounds of affordable fish per month, enough to keep pressure off of turtles and their eggs as a potential source of protein; and 3) a community-powered sea turtle nesting beach monitoring protocol which will help Armila gauge the abundance of their sea turtle population.
As if to see us off on our short tour, a leatherback turtle continued nesting until around 7:00 AM, long enough for me to come across her on my morning patrol the morning we left. These monitoring efforts for the next two weeks will be under the direct supervision of local ANAM official Delfino Evans.
Our underlying goal in all of our work here is to develop local capacity for conservation, catalyzing rather than taking charge and leading projects. As long as benefits are broadly understood, the community is able to organize itself around a common goal and see to its completion. Thus, most of our work is focused on reaching across these cultural boundaries to communicate the potential of certain projects and help the community take their development into their own hands, on their own terms.
Our short break is looking to be productive so far; on the first morning in Casco Viejo, we walked into a café where the current president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, was sitting in the corner, sipping his coffee and reading a newspaper with his face on the front (he owns the newspaper). I walked up to him and introduced myself, and told him about the exceptional leatherback turtle population that his country hosts. His eyebrows expressed some surprise at the fact that Panama was such a globally important place for turtles. Luckily, I was wearing his old campaign baseball cap that day, and he greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake.
In other good news, my computer’s shot hard drive was replaced for a mere 120 dollars at the only Mac Store in Panama, and I will dedicate the next week or so to restoring all the lost data. More updates to come now that I have a word processor.