Ecosystem Approach Sourcebook - Case-Study Details

1. Project Details
Author or Responsible Organization IUCN / Nestor Windevoxhel -
Project Title The Ecosystem Approach implemented by local fishermen in Bocas del Toro
Date of Publication
Project Status Ongoing
Project Start Date
Project End Date
Countries Panama
Regions Latin America and the Caribbean
Funding Source Multilateral
2. Background to Project
Project Issue/Problem Statement Developing a participatory process to create an integrated management plan for the National Park involving all the stakeholders.
Project Description Bocas del Toro is a paradise on Earth. The colourful coral reefs, the diverse mangrove forests, the exotic islands with white sandy beaches, the coastal forests, the variety of species and the friendly population make you never want to leave again. Only recently have tourists discovered the beauty of Bocas del Toro in Panama. Unfortunately the rise of tourism has resulted in the unplanned development of the area, creating pressures on the ecosystems and causing environmental problems such as over-fishing of the lagoon and coral reef destruction. Local communities have lived here for many years and realise that their heritage is threatened by unregulated practices. That's why indigenous fishermen have put forward suggestions to the government to regulate the access to fishing grounds and to set certain areas aside for conservation. IUCN's Commission on Ecosystem Management in partnership with PROARCA (project operating in Meso America funded by a/o USAID and The Nature Conservancy) support this with the implementation of sustainable community management plans, based on the Ecosystem Approach. The main resource managed at this site is the marine ecosystem. The main stakeholders — fishermen, women and other local inhabitants — have been negotiating the right to manage coral reefs and associated fishing areas themselves, through the formation of local fisheries committees (COLOCOPES). With the assistance of two IUCN NGO members, Fundación Promar and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the COLOCOPES groups have formulated proposals for rules for fisheries management throughout the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. The COLOCOPES groups have identified seven community fisheries reserves, which include both exclusion zones (to be regenerated) and high-quality fisheries resources (where exploitation is to be better regulated). The COLOCOPES groups have also now created a regional, archipelago-wide fisheries association (ADEPESCO) to enhance their negotiation position with other, more powerful institutions. Local branches of the government agencies in charge of controlling marine resources and protected areas are increasingly supportive of the idea of community fisheries management reserves. Meetings now regularly take place between ADEPESCO and these government agencies to monitor progress and deal with problems. The protected areas agency welcomes ADEPESCO as an important complement to the Marine National Park Isla Bastimentos, while the marine resources agency is concerned about increasing pressures on local fisheries and is willing to consider constructive proposals to address them. Fundación Promar and TNC, along with the national agency in charge of marine resources, are exploring whether a clause in the new law of the seas provides suitable openings for community fisheries reserves. The national agency in charge of protected areas is interested in this approach, but is concerned that rapid tourism development in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago may need more stringent protection than can be provided by the community fisheries reserves. Ideally, their plans will both support and protect local stakeholder groups and their fisheries. All these ecosystem managers — partly complementary and partly competing, operating at different levels — are learning how to work together to address increasing pressures on the ecosystem. In the medium term, adaptive management issues may encourage a stepping up to involve the impact of adjacent upland areas on marine resources, as fishermen become more aware of the impact of silt flow from the mainland and the islands into the marine ecosystem.
Conclusions All stakeholders supported this initiative and a plan was developed to start the project. A test site in the archipelago will be selected by the communities according to certain criteria determined during the workshop, a community management plan based on the Ecosystem Approach will be implemented and a monitoring system will be set in place to check the sustainability. To disseminate the results to the stakeholders, and at different levels of the government a communication strategy will be designed with the help of IUCN's Commission on Education and Communication. The successful implementation of this project may well convince authorities and other stakeholders in the region that the application of a community based management system following the Ecosystem Approach is the way to guarantee the sustainable management of natural resources and sustainable development.
3. Sectors and Biomes
Sectors Fisheries
Biomes Forest Biodiversity
Inland Waters Biodiversity
Island Biodiversity
Marine and Coastal Biodiversity
4. Tools and Approaches
Tools and Approaches   Relevance
Public Participation 3-High
Protected Areas and Land Use Policy 3-High
5. Issues
Issues   Relevance
Ecosystem Approach 3-High
Governance, Law and Policy 1-Low
Protected Areas / In-Situ Conservation 3-High
Sustainable Use of Biodiversity 3-High
Tourism and Biodiversity 3-High
Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices - Article 8(j) 3-High
6. Ecosystem Approach
Principles and Operational Guidance   Relevance
(Only if NOT relevant)
Principle 1: The objectives of management of land, water and living resources are a matter of societal choices 3-High
Principle 2: Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level 3-High
Principle 3: Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems 3-High
Principle 4: Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context 3-High
Principle 5: Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach 3-High
Principle 6: Ecosystem must be managed within the limits of their functioning 3-High
Principle 7: The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales 3-High
Principle 8: Recognizing the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that characterize ecosystem processes, objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term 3-High
Principle 9: Management must recognize the change is inevitable 3-High
Principle 10: The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance between, and integration of, conservation and use of biological diversity 3-High
Principle 11: The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices 3-High
Principle 12: The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines 3-High
7. Lessons Learned and the Outcomes
Lessons Learned
Other Information See also the following case study in the ecosystem approach sourcebook 'The ecosystem approach: five steps to implementation'
8. References
References For more information on the project see or contact Nestor Windevoxhel -
9. Contact Details
Contact Person Ms. Diana Mortimer
Job Title Ecosystem Approach Officer
Organization Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Address Monkstone House, City Road,
Postal Code PE13 4LA
City Peterborough
ZIP/State/Province Cambs
Telephone +44 1733 866857
Fax +44 1733 555948
E-mail Address

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme