Nature Canada's past work in Panama and Mexico
From 1999 to 2006, Nature Canada, the Panama Audubon Society in Panama (PAS) and Amigos de Sian Ka'an in Mexico (ASK) developed an initiative to promote nature-based tourism in and around the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and the Upper Bay of Panama. This work was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The project strengthened the capacity of Nature Canada's partners ASK and PAS to carry out integrated conservation and development (ICD) work. Both organizations improved their skills and shared their experiences regarding participatory processes aimed at improving the livelihoods of poor communities while promoting the protection of nature. In the Mayan communities of Punta Allen and Chunyaxché and the Panamanian communities of Chinina, Chepillo and Pásiga, the project ensured the participation of women and children, offered training to broaden the communities' skill-sets, facilitated the sharing of expertise and experiences, and increased environmental awareness.
While poverty, environmental problems and threats to the conservation status of these key areas for biodiversity are still pressing issues, many men and women in these communities have become empowered to better tackle these issues. For example, one of the cooperatives in Chunyaxché is earning considerable income from the nature tours they conduct, while in Chinina, citizens organized to oppose a sand extraction project that threatened to impact the areas where they fish. In addition, children in all of the participating communities learned about the links between their wellbeing and the state of their surrounding environment, increasing their appreciation of nature.
Much work remains to be done, but the achievements of this project have increased the chances of success for conservation and development in the Upper Bay of Panama and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. In February 2009, the Upper Bay of Panama officially became a protected area.