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Panama has emerged as one of the key traders of shark products and as a gateway to critical shark habitats throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Coiba Island and surrounding waters, a UNESCO World Heritage site and national park in the Gulf of Chriqui, are considered to have some of the richest marine biodiversity in Panama. Utilized by divers, sports fishers and traditional fishers, it is also a key tourism destination.
The area is an important site for whitetip sharks, highly migratory endangered scalloped hammerheads and whale sharks. Although dive operators have noted decreased shark numbers, especially hammerheads, in the past two decades, baseline data for the park is lacking and prevents a full understanding of the abundance, distribution and diversity of shark communities and associated fisheries.
Artisanal fisheries, including the use of longlines to catch sharks, are legally permitted in many areas close to the park, and there are pending plans for large-scale developments on the island that would significantly increase impacts to fish populations. The need for action is urgent as Coiba is currently teetering on the edge of a red listing as a World Heritage Site in danger if the threat of unsustainable fisheries is not abated.
The proposed project aims to reverse the decline in threatened shark species in Panama by:
In collaboration with partners, MarAlliance will develop a grid of randomly selected sampling stations that represent different habitats within Coiba National Park and then initiate both long-term standardized monitoring using baited underwater camera systems (BRUVs) and a citizen science project focused on sightings and photo identification of sharks and rays – all in relation to known dive and fishing sites. Throughout the course of this 16-month project, we will address the issue of limited understanding and field capacities in shark monitoring science by training four cohorts of community researchers and University of Panama students, as well as traditional fishers, captains, and local guides.
Through our quarterly community presentations and consultations, coupled with social and community diffusion derived from participatory research, MarAlliance will increase education and understanding of sharks with local fishers in two key fishing communities, engage visitors and the tourism operators based in Santa Catalina, inform park decision-makers and management both locally and in Panama City, and educate and inspire a broader Panamanian public through social media.
Funding from the Footprints Network will be used to support field costs associated with monitoring including: local project assistant costs; local travel and accommodation; boat and captain, fisher assistant hire; scuba diving costs for two people; local meeting costs; printing costs for posters, surveys.
MarAlliance has a very good relationship with local tour operators, guides, and local organizations and government agencies. It has also established strong community relations and partnerships through its citizen science work and the involvement of fishers in participatory research at other sites MarAlliance works. Local community engagement and capacity building of partners on the ground is a key component of its work. Throughout the project, MarAlliance will partner with MiAmbiente (Environment Department), Aquatic Resources of Panama (ARAP) – Fisheries Department, COIBA AIP - Scientific Council for Coiba, tour operators in Santa Catalina, and fishers primarily from Hicaco and Santa Catalina.
Our project will create a permanent sampling method and sites and lay the foundation for the longer-term change in attitudes and behaviour that are required for locally-led conservation of sharks and rays. The project’s engagement of visitors, local guides, and traditional fishers in scientific monitoring, citizen science and the educational outreach will provide a catalyst to long-term and lasting change in reversing the declines of sharks and rays in Panama.
The citizen science and fisheries-independent assessments dovetail with our sister project on small-scale fisheries assessments with Coiba-dependent communities. All generated information will provide requested inputs for policy- and decision-making for sharks at the local and national levels, enabling Panama to better meet its World Heritage and international convention obligations and provide a project with high replication potential to other countries bordering the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
A 170km hiking route in the highlands of Hurghada, the Red Sea Mountain Trail is mainland Egypt's first long-distance hiking trail. Founded in 2019 it is the sister project of the award-winning Sinai Trail – a 550km hiking route in the Sinai. The Red Sea Mountain Trail has already won backing from Egypt's Ministry of Tourism.
The project was developed by the Khushmaan clan of the Maaza, one of Egypts biggest Bedouin tribes, in collaboration with the international team of trail developers who worked to create the Sinai Trail. It is 100% owned by the Maaza today. A Bedouin Sheikh oversees the Red Sea Mountain Trail, ensuring its operation benefits the local community.
Hiking tourism is new here. The Bedouin community of Hurghada has never worked in this field. The funding from the Footprints Network will be used to conduct training sessions that will give Bedouin guides the best possible chance to succeed in this new work. The guides will carry this trail into the future.
If they succeed, the trail will succeed and grow into a strong, sustainable project that supports the wider Bedouin community. Funds will be used to train older and younger Bedouin tribesmen in essential guide skills, including Wilderness First Aid, group management and the English language.
This project is managed by a Bedouin community that has shared a close physical, economic and spiritual relationship with the natural world for centuries.
This Bedouin community is on the front lines of managing trail tourism and is better qualified and more committed than any other stakeholder to protecting the assets of their homeland that remain so central to their survival today, including both the natural environment and its resources, and the customs and traditions of its Bedouin communities.
The project will organise training to build the skills and capacity of the Bedouin community. The goal is to give them the training they need to guide people in the best, safest, most inspiring, knowledgeable and responsible way.
The training will cover 3 areas:
The Red Sea Mountain Trail is a community initiative. It was developed from the beginning by members of the local Bedouin tribe and it remains 100% owned by them today. Ongoing development of the Red Sea Mountain Trail is overseen by Sheikh Merayi Abu Musallem the leader of the Khushmaan clan of the Maaza, and his primary role is to ensure the trail benefits the Bedouin communities around it.
The initiative falls squarely within Maaza Bedouin lands and they have been involved in every aspect of trail development. All hikes on the Red Sea Mountain Trail must be done with tribal permission from Sheikh Merayi Abu Musallem and all hikes must be guided by Bedouin of the Maaza. Only Bedouin of the Maaza tribe can currently work on the Red Sea Mountain Trail and they work in numerous occupations, from guides to cameleers, drivers and cooks. This is a Bedouin project and they will be at the heart of everything.
The Sinai Trail will partner with the Red Sea Mountain Trail in delivering at least some of the training.
The Red Sea Mountain Trail seeks to grow a new adventure tourism industry in Hurghada. It is expected to grow into a stable, successful tourism initiative, based on several factors including:
The trail took 5 years to be developed. Now it has launched, the focus will be to see it grow into a successful tourist destination.
The Red Sea Mountain Trail works to address two key issues: