What do you do when your food supply gets low? Look for food elsewhere.
Yet for people living in poverty across the globe, following food is simply not an option – poor economic conditions often leave people no other choice than depleting the natural resources near their homes.
Such is the case in coastal Panama, where fishermen have rapidly depleted vital fish stocks in order to provide for their families.
Now through the creation of a grassroots organization called ARTURIS, former fishermen and other poor residents can improve their lives while promoting conservation. The organization’s success proves that when given the option, the choice between destruction and sustainability is not a hard one: continue to depend on an increasingly unproductive fishery, or start your own business while having less impact on your home.
With the help of Conservation International (CI) and Panamanian organization ANCON, ARTURIS members have been trained for new careers in the tourism industry. Ninety-five percent of participants have seen increased household incomes, and now rely on their new businesses as a primary source of income.DISCOVER: CI works with communities all over the planet. Find out more about these unique partnerships.
From Fishing to Tourism
Off the Pacific coast of Panama, Coiba National Park protects a coral reef that harbors more than 700 species of fish and is a vital stop for migratory species like tuna, sea turtles and marine mammals. In recognition of its richness of life, UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site in 2005.
Yet just 20 kilometers (12 miles) away in Veraguas, one of Panama’s poorest provinces, poverty is forcing people to overfish coastal waters, often employing destructive fishing methods and threatening the long-term food supply and primary livelihood of coastal villages. The country’s scenic beaches and vibrant corals hold great tourism potential, yet large-scale tourist activities and coastal development often do more harm than good, escalating both environmental and social ills.
LEARN MORE: CI and partners are working with local communities to develop sustainable tourism that benefits both people and nature.
In order to capitalize on the region’s natural beauty and pursue more profitable livelihoods, fishermen from 13 villages came together to form the Sustainable Tourism Rural Association, or ARTURIS, an organization dedicated to reshaping local economies through responsible tourism.
With the help of Conservation International (CI) and Panamanian organization ANCON, ARTURIS members have been trained for new careers in the tourism industry. The program provides information on business management and low environmental impact practices like alternative energy use, recycling and proper waste management. Members participate in field exchanges where they work with existing tourism operators to learn more about how to run a business. After this training, CI and UNESCO give the participants seed money to start their own businesses.
IN DEPTH: Find out how CI and partners use economic incentives to instill positive change for the environment.
ARTURIS currently has 30 members with a variety of jobs catering to tourists, including tour boat operators, cooks, grocery store owners and artists.
Raising Voices (and Incomes)
In the five years since ARTURIS was established in Veraguas, there have been remarkable changes in local communities and ecosystems. Ninety-five percent of participants have seen increased household incomes, and now rely on their new businesses as a primary source of income. As a result, fishing pressure in and around Coiba National Park has been reduced.
The project has also had an unforeseen social impact. Although fishermen were the initial target of the project, women may have gained the most from its efforts. Take Andrea Ortiz. Before ARTURIS, she didn’t have a stable job; now, as a restaurant owner in the village of Guarumal, Ortiz’s new business is the basis of her family’s income.
The organization’s members have also become more conscious of the environment, both as individuals and as a group. Several participants have conducted beach cleanups and attended workshops promoting green business practices.
ARTURIS is emerging as an important stakeholder in Panama, empowering villages to have a greater say in local development. Its members have already worked with municipal governments to draft local tourism development plans. So far, four municipalities have agreed to consult with ARTURIS before pursuing development projects, and this system has already prevented several unsustainable projects from moving forward.
ARTURIS may be small-scale in design, but its impact on communities is clear. By empowering local people to make new livelihood choices and influence development decisions, the replication of this model in neighboring villages will continue to prove that communities and ecosystems can – and must – coexist.
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