At Bocas del Toro in Panama, I had the excellent opportunity to explore coral reefs for an entire week. From assisting with a research project to free snorkeling, my time in Bocas was incredible. Following my visit, I have a newfound appreciation for marine conservation and biodiversity. And considering oceans cover more than half our globe, understanding of these aquatic habitats is essential. This is because we depend on our oceans more than we may admit. From deflecting a significant amount of the sun’s light energy to structuring some beautiful ecosystems, oceans impact our life more than we know.
This message was personally driven home while observing a four-foot long stingray that had been butchered for meat. Washed up on the shoreline, I appreciated just how majestic this sea-faring creature was, despite the jagged cuts that adorned either side of its back. This awe was also met with a particular kind of disappointment that I’ve rarely felt in life. This example of reef disruption still stands out among my other amazing experiences at Bocas, but in a way, I am appreciative of it; the image of the butchered stingray is a testament to the importance of ecological education.
Those who are passionate about biodiversity can have no better impact than educating their communities. For example, educational programs and responsible reef expeditions could foster sincere appreciation for this gorgeously complex ecosystem. Those who fish in Bocas, or anywhere for that matter, may think twice about butchering large rare reef species if they appreciate their role in reef dynamics. And if we, as ecologists and conservationists, can educate others about the interconnectedness of ecosystems, we’ll have established a protection that could improve how our species interacts with our natural surroundings.