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Update From Panama: Visitors From Ocean Courier

By Amanda Gibson

Welcome, Ocean Courier!

This month we had the pleasure of hosting Ocean Courier, a project of The Ocean Foundation. Ben and Teresa, project coordinators and expert sailors, are sailing around the globe filming small but important conservation efforts and sharing the message of ocean conservation. Armila had the honor of being their first stop.

Teresa, Ben, and Chris having fun in front of the camera. © Amanda Gibson

I never know how newcomers will react to life in the town, but Ben, Teresa, and cameraman Chris embraced the experience in all its aspects. They didn't mind the dirt floor of their cane and thatch house, responded when called by new nicknames, and even adapted to the flexible local approach to appointments.

In order to tell the story of conservation in Armila, we talked with local artisans, leaders, and musicians, about the music, ecotourism, tilapia, and environmental education projects in process (more detailed blogs to come).

After watching the performance of the local folkloric group, Gammibe Gun Galu, Teresa asked the groups' director, Santiago, ho

w his music related to the preservation of sea turtles. He took a moment, looked down at his flute and said, “These flutes are here now and will be here in the future because we care for them. It is the same w

ay with the turtles and other animals: they will be here in the future because we protect them."

The event I most enjoyed was at the school. Kindergarten teacher and member of the “Leatherback" conservation group, Yrelia, had the kids make sea turtle pictures out of sand, leaves, and shells. In the middle of the art project, Yrelia called out to the class:

“When people ask if turtles come to our beach, what do we say?"

A kindergartener shares her sea turtle drawing. © Amanda Gibson


“What are the turtles' names?"


Kids can make anything sound cute. Kids talking about their sea turtles nearly made me melt.

Ocean Courier also got to visit the ecotourism cabin we are in the process of constructing. This cabin will be managed by an elected committee and will help the benefits of sustainable tourism to reach the wider community, rather than the select few who can afford their own cabins.

Ben asked what we thought of the impact of ecotourism in the town. I answered that since the community is moving in that direction, my opinion didn't really matter. My role is to help the tourism bolster local protection of turtles, rather than break it down.

A spontaneous audience formed around a recording session. © Amanda Gibson

But Ocean Courier's visit did make me think. The visit gave local students, teachers, and conservations a new audience with whom they could share their work, their culture, and their turtles. And they were excited to share. At the same time, Ocean Courier made the perfect audience, thrilled to learn and see all they could.

With great visitors like Ocean Courier, ecotourism opens the way for a once-in-a-lifetime exchange. It reminded me that,

though we may travel to see flora and fauna, the kind of guests we are to our human hosts make all the difference.

What's your #1 tip for being a good guest?

Stay up to date with Ocean Courier to see the Armila as the pilot episode of their docu-series!

Construction begins on a new ecotourism cabin in Armila. © Amanda Gibson

Filming Gammibe Gun Galu, a local folkloric group. © Amanda Gibson


Amanda Gibson is Oceanic Society's first fellow, who spent her fellowship (2013-2014) living and working with the Guna indigenous community of Armila in southeastern Panama on a variety of conservation and community development projects. Amanda is a graduate of the College of William and Mary.


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