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“Do You Like to Breathe?”

photo: Surgeonfish on evening dive at Cathedral dive site Coiba, Panama

Back on the Ethereal our lunch and dinner conversations revolve around the importance of marine systems to keep the planet functioning and humans breathing. How do we change perception of the ocean wildlife as resource made for human consumption, to the realization that life in the ocean is all part of a complex system, sequestering carbon, creating oxygen (more than all the rain forests combined), controlling currents and many other human benefits yet to be discovered? If the system collapses, the earth won’t be able to support human life, as Sylvia says, “Why protect the ocean? Do you like to breathe? Dah”! But, many people don’t know this, and many that do, refuse to believe it and act on it, bringing us us closer and closer to a point of no return.

In Coiba we have a Marine Park and a World Heritage Site, much has been done to protect this part of the ocean, which makes Coiba a “Hope Spot”. But even here, there are challenges of enforcement, gaps in science, and delays in implementation of the comprehensive management plan. Every dive site has five or six sport fishing boats, some illegally in the one mile “no take” zone that surrounds each of the islands. Though they are supposed to be practicing catch and release, even that can heavily impact the fish population. Hector explained that the long hours of fighting the fish on the line wears them out, and then taking them on the boat for a photo op stresses them further. Studies in Costa Rica have shown a high mortality with released fish, a study Hector would like to repeat in Panama.

As I watch the sun set, a full moon rises over the islands and surrounding sea, creating a glistening pearly stripe across the water, worry is replaced by inspiration and hope. Tomorrow we will meet with Panama’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ruben Berracol, (the President had a last minute change in schedule) and hopefully find an ally in support of blue Panama.