ESCUDO DE VERAGUAS
Escudo de Veraguas is is one of the most beautiful places in Panama. On the northern caribbean side of the Panamanian istmus is a group of islands that few have ever visited. Here there are no hotels, restaurants or tourist spots. The best way to travel to Escudo is by boat from Bocas del Toro during the months of September to November when the Caribbean Sea is calm. After two hours traveling, we set up our base camp in a white sand beach with tropical vegetation. The islands are a favorite for turtle nesting, the location of the eggs waiting to hatch had been marked by turtle conservation groups. Due to its remote location artificial light doesn't interfere in the nesting process allowing more babies to survive. We where not there for the turtles, our group had traveled to this remote location to practice our favorite sport: freediving.
We traveled in search of a good spot through a beautiful channel speckled with tiny islands; the scenery was spectacular. The trip was a mixture of depth training and fun exploring. Freediving is a sport that connects you with nature and yourself. It encourages you to push limits you didn't even know you had. Breaking imaginary boundaries set in your brain. It teaches you that you can achieve a lot more than what you think is possible. Lessons which should also be applied in life outside the water. When you submerge your mind must be clear and focused. All external thoughts fade away and you begin a meditation, only you and the ocean exist at that moment.
We where almost done practicing when my focus shifted to the fact that I hadn't seen a single fish in our three hours in the water. At such a remote location, I had high hopes for thriving marine biodiversity. Unsustainable fishing methods has the Bocas del Toro area depleted of fish, and it was sad to see the effects of overfishing and poor capture methods had reached Escudo de Veraguas. As a Marine Protected Area it should be thriving with species, and it wasn't. Due to its remote and isolated location, proper care of the reserve was not being implemented. Investigating about my observations, I later find out that in fact the 'artisanal' fishermen of the area where looting all the marine life due to demands from the restaurants in Bocas del Toro. Living only seasonally on the island their homes had freezers stock full of lobsters and fish. Finally I had found out where all the fish had disappeared to. This was such a strange concept to me; a beautiful location with such a sad mentality. Hopefully this could be corrected so that marine species can find a sanctuary here and the island can return to its abundant aquatic origins.
SWIMMING IN CAVES
Back at the beach, we set off to freedive while exploring the coast surrounding where we had set up camp. The water is always such a nice temperature in Panama. As we swam out to discover the unknown, I observed the the rocks covered in bright algae. Immediately, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter three swimming squid. It was the first time I saw them alive in the wild. One of my favorite things about being in the ocean is that after a lifetime of exploring, I still keep having incredible moments such as the first time I see a new animal. There seemed to be more fish on this side of the island, although they where mostly small. An invasive species, the lion fish, also made its appearance. I wondered if populations where high in the area which could also account for the general lack of fish. The rocky formation of the island had caves and underground tunnels. It has been an amazing experience to freedive and explore Escudo de Veraguas.