I love the sea. I’m a fisherman and a diver. Anytime I get the opportunity to be somewhere that I am in or on the water, I’m good. I’m happy!
About 12 years ago some friends invited me to visit them in Panama. I was living in Colorado at the time, so the nearest thing to an ocean there was my bathtub. I jumped at the chance to explore a new world where my friends promised a wonderful adventure was awaiting. They were right.
My first experience was Panama City. Big! With skyscrapers of a style and magnitude to compare to the towers of any US metro. Downtown, the streets were teeming with unforeseen diversity and action. All this built on the sea and home to one end of a fascinating river-ditch, the other end of which was connected to another sea only 60 miles away. And then… my final destination. Bocas del Toro.
A tropical archipelago. Nine major islands with hundreds more scattered throughout beautiful coral-infested basins and waterways. Sand beaches, a giant fishery and a clear blue ocean. The populace was addicted to bright smiles and Caribbean music. A cold beer was thirty-five cents. I had found my tropical paradise!
Over the course of the next few days I was on or in the water so much I began to feel like being dry was abnormal. Everywhere we went the water was beautiful and snorkeling was fantastic. I had been diving throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Hawaii. I had even lived on the East Coast of Florida where I dived, fished or swam virtually every day for several years. And yet never had I encountered the amazing array of fish, sea-life and colors that I was seeing here in every little mangrove coral basin and reef that I ventured into. There were tropical fish beyond numbers of every kind imaginable. Rays, turtles and huge schools of Jacks were common sights. In the wildly complex structures of corals, sponges, and seaweed, treasure after treasure was waiting to be discovered.
There were tiny, delicate seahorses, beautifully colored and often festooned with long trailing adornments that made them blend even more into the seaweed they clung to with elfin tails. Coral shrimp, colorful crabs, morays, feather-dusters, urchins and anemones of every size color and variety adorned a coral landscape created with the imagination of Mardi Gras.
More often than not I would enter the water and simply curl my legs under me and float face down, drifting past a nature show that can never be fully described. I shall always regret that I was not able to photograph any of what I saw during that trip and the subsequent trips to the reefs of Bocas del Toro during the next two years.
As Life would have it, there were a few years when, for whatever reason, I did not return. When I did finally find my way back, I could hardly wait to re-enter the underwater cosmic environment that I remembered so vividly. Imagine my surprise when I could not find the dramatic scenes I envisioned in any of the places that I recalled. Since I now had my own boat, I thought that perhaps I was confused, so I hired some of the water taxi drivers I knew to take me to places we had frequented a few short years before. Unfortunately, what I discovered was not a momentary memory loss but a loss of something far greater in magnitude.
What my first-hand experiences demonstrated and subsequent research later confirmed is that the entire planet had been stricken with the acute loss of many of our reef-building corals. The truth is that even when I first experienced the beauty of the Bocas del Toro coral reefs, they were already stressed and in decline. I probably even witnessed some of the early warning signs but failed to recognize them.
It is human nature to always expect that what you have today is the standard for “normal” and that conditions, weather patterns, relationships, whatever, will remain the same today as they were yesterday and will be so into tomorrow and forever after. The reality is that many of us who were born before 1980 can testify to major changes in almost every aspect of our lives and the world we live in. Some were good and for some we wish we had an “undo” key. The destruction of the world’s coral reefs is definitely one of those conditions desperate for a “restart.”
I still live in Bocas del Toro, Panama and it is still a beautiful tropical island paradise but now I have resolved that it is time for me to put my finger on the “restart” button and do whatever I can to help restore one of the most dynamic, complex and critical ecosystems in our universe. As such, I have entered into the fast-moving, and ever-expanding waters of the world of Coral Restoration. Stay with me as I describe in detail what happened and why and then take you into my new world where we can and will be making changes with Panama Coral Restoration Center.
Todo es Bien
~Doug Marcy, Founder