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Ecotourism and Protected Areas: Governance, Empowerment, Community

Protected areas (PAs) are globally recognized as key socio-political strategies for sustainable tourism development and conservation biodiversity. Given their importance, various international institutions call for the increased protection of 30% of land and sea by 2030 through protected areas. Protected area systems, however, are not a panacea for solving global biodiversity degradation. PAs have been tied to negative outcomes for resource dependent communities living near these areas such as land dispossession and access restriction. This complicated issue results in PA management becoming a ‘wicked problem’ . During October, 2021, I conducted qualitative field research in the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park (BINMP) located in the touristic destination of Bocas del Toro (BDT), Panama. The Panamanian economy (and especially BDT) relies heavily on ecotourism and nature-based tourism. The Panamanian government aims to have 30% of their marine areas and coasts protected by 2030. This could potentially include the expansion of the BINMP, one of the most important attractions of the country and considered a prime example of ecotourism. By conducting research inSalt Creek, a specific community found in the surrounding are of the BINMP, the purpose of this study is to understand how policy decisions, and communication between different actors over time changes governance structures of PAs, and how global institutions influence the decisions taken by a country, which in turn impacts local livelihoods. By incorporating a multi-dimensional empowerment framework, we aim to examine communities’ and government officials’ perceptions toward Protected Areas and their potential expansion. In this conference I will present my methodology and preliminary results from the field. Through my participation in this conference, I seek feedback and advice from fellow qualitative- focused colleagues.