Home Institution

Duke University

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


The Kuna people are dependent on marine resources for sustenance, income, and protection. Coral reefs, mangrove stands, and sea grass beds provide food and shelter for marine animals which fuel the bodies and economy of Kuna communities. However, practices such as traditional coral mining and overfishing threaten the future of these resources. Recent scientific surveys have recommended the establishment of several larger Marine Protected Areas in Kuna Yala, in order to conserve habitats and allow the gradual repopulation of marine animals (Guzmán et al, 2003). The Kuna General Congress, the autonomous government of the Comarca of Kuna Yala, has the sole right and responsibility to enact and enforce regulations dealing with the management of resources.

This study analyzes the current state of marine resource management in the area of Yandub, Kuna Yala, focusing on the perceptions of stakeholders. Several small management efforts are currently in place in Yandub, including certain fishery prohibitions and a local Marine Protected Area. Information about the strategies, priorities and challenges of management was collected through informal interviews with fishermen, divers, and community leaders, as well as a survey of community members.

Results from the survey responses indicate that the wider community is becoming aware of the need to conserve their resources, particularly coral reefs and sea turtles. This may reflect the activities of past projects which focused on educating children and adults about the importance of conserving these endangered species. Divers and fishermen of the community confirmed the declining trend of their prey, describing the state of lobster and other sea food animal populations as “bad” or “very bad”.

Many community members also recognize the persistent challenges to resource management in Yandub. Contamination and lack of waste disposal were identified as problems which have long been neglected by the local government. Other major challenges are a lack of planning, lack of implementation and monitoring, and the transitory nature of past management projects. Many individuals also expressed the need to take ownership of resource management by drawing from Kuna traditional knowledge, which emphasizes the connection between humans and nature.


Environmental Health and Protection | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy


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