Smithsonian to coordinate planning for Panama's Coiba National Park/World Heritage Site

Scientifically informed tropical forest and reef conservation



Coiba National Park, Panama
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On May 17th the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed a contract authorizing funding for the Smithsonian Institution to implement the project: "Promoting Marine Conservation in a World Heritage Site in the Tropical Eastern Pacific," --the revision and updating of the management plan for Panama's Coiba National Park and Special Marine Protection Zone. The project is coordinated by Conservation International (CI), the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and UNESCO's World Heritage Center.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) will direct the process of revision and updating of the current plan, which was originally prepared by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) in 1996. Over the next 18 months a process will be implemented to develop a realistic, modular management plan while promoting improved quality of life for residents of areas within the zone of influence of the park.

The Coiba planning team, at the request of Panama's National Environmental Authority (ANAM), is composed of professional Panamanians who provide expertise in diverse areas such as protected area planning, geographic information systems, terrestrial, marine and fisheries biology, law, architecture and civil engineering. Law 44, which marked the creation of the Park in 2004, stipulates that the team will work closely with ANAM, which manages park operations, and the Panama Maritime Authority which manages the Special Marine Protected Zone in the Park. The choice of a scientific research organization as coordinator of the planning process, as proposed by ANAM, is a significant step toward truly informed conservation and sustainable economic development.

"Coiba is still a truly wild place where we can study migrating marine mammals and coral biodiversity. We want to keep it that way, but without closing it off to fishing, ecotourism and other sustainable activities," explains Dr. Juan Maté, STRI project coordinator.

Coiba National Park forms part of the Eastern Pacific Marine Conservation Corridor composed of the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Cocos Islands (Costa Rica), and Mapelo and Gorgona Islands (Colombia). The Galapagos and Cocos Islands are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These five protected areas will contribute a group of experts in ecotourism and natural areas planning who will provide support in kind to the development of a Plan for Public Use for Coiba National Park. In this sense, Coiba will be a pilot project for the implementation of a planning project for other World Heritage sites in Central America.

On July 14, 2005, UNESCO's World Heritage Site Committee approved the Republic of Panama's request to declare Coiba National Park a World Heritage Site. This decision not only recognizes efforts on the part of Panama's civil society, government institutions and non-governmental organizations who worked to give the area National Park status under Law 44, but also underscores an international commitment to conserve the biological, historical and cultural treasures of this protected area.

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The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), a unit of the Smithsonian Institution, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, furthers understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. www.stri.org


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