Stab Magazine | Surfrider Argentina Prez Tells Stab His Intention Is To Protect Paunch
674 Views

Surfrider Argentina Prez Tells Stab His Intention Is To Protect Paunch

The man behind the controversial Bocas del Toro development offers his side of the story.

news // Jun 14, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The saga continues! After pleas from the local community and protests regarding Ernesto Gutierrez, the developer behind the controversial pier at Playa Paunch in Bocas del Toro, Panama, Stab has contacted Mr Gutierrez to give his side of the story. Ernesto tells us his intention was to protect the existing coral reef, not destroy it.

For the last four years, Ernesto has called Bocas del Toro, the archipelago chain on the Caribbean side of Panama, home. His commitment to keeping the beaches clean in front of his hotel, La Coralina.

Near Playa Paunch is a wave called Dumpers, named not for the way it detonates over shallow reef, but because the beach was used as a site to discard the island’s rubbish. Upon arrival in Bocas del Toro, Ernesto hired local Panamanians to clean 1,500 meters of beach every single day. His commitment to keeping the beaches clean in front of his hotel, La Coralina, is why Scott Balogh, owner of Red Frog Bungalows who has helped lead the opposition to the pier, calls Ernesto “Mr Paunch”.

image1

The pier is located 30 meters from the original site that got protestors in an uproar.

“Today On Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, I dedicate myself to take care and clean the beaches daily under my cost. It is remarkable the amount of garbage that we collect daily, left by the sea and also unfortunately, by many who come to enjoy the waves. I do it because it is the place where I live, where I enjoy its waves, and where I practice free diving on its coral, but also, to keep my commitment to give back to the sea and its beaches everything that I offer during my 50 years as a surfer.”

In the half century that Ernesto has ridden waves, he’s used his wealth acquired in the aviation industry to implement change for the environment.

“I am a conservationist, not of words but of facts. Since the creation of the six chapters of the Surfrider Foundation in Argentina and other countries, where I was the president during my seven years in office, I’ve made innumerable actions aimed at improving the environment, mainly beaches and the care of them. Also, from my position as President, CEO, and shareholder of the world’s leading airport holding company, came the creation of the first Ecological Airport in the world, built in the Galapagos Islands. I maintain untouchable areas of more than 26,000 hectares on the banks of the Rio Santa Cruz, returning to natural habitat an area of reproduction of endangered species, which was for years, expelled due to poor animal exploitation, among other things.”

Ernesto says his next passion project was to build a pier as a walkway for surfers so that they didn’t trudge on the live coral reef entering and exiting the lineup at Playa Paunch. He thought that by building the pier, it would cut down on the damage caused by surfers and boat anchors.

A win for the surfer, who’d avoid a painful rock dance, and good for the ocean as human touch can break coral or make it more susceptible to death and disease.

But many of people that Stab spoke to, didn’t see it that way. They saw photos of the plan that showed two boats alongside the t-shaped structure. Locals and expats alike interpreted the boats as a sign that the pier was not a walkway, but a private dock, sparking a controversy that Ernesto never saw coming.

Ernesto says, “the pier would only be used as a pickup and drop-off point in extreme situations.” The side of Isla Colon where Ernesto lives can become isolated as the road made of sand and coral that connects this part of the island can get washed away in storms.

“We have observed that the beach and reefs are in a process of daily degradation, where in some cases they have disappeared becoming dead rock. This is due to the action of the dumps we have been eradicating, but also by the actions of those who enjoy their waves.”

Screen Shot 2017 06 08 at 4.22.44 PM

Regardless of the intentions, the pier is now under investigation after local and digital outcry.

When surfers enter and exit the water at Paunch, they walk over coral 10-meters from where Ernesto planned on building the pier that’s been postponed for further investigation. Ernesto, as it seems, has already done his homework.

In four months, he estimates that 200 surfers enter and exit per day leaving at least 250,000 footsteps per year on the coastal coral. 
“With 5,000 boats operating daily, their anchors drag on the coral tearing at the bottom of the sea. This action is 100 times worse than the human footprint. Methodically, destroying the seabed.” says Ernesto.

Ernesto’s solution was the creation of a two-meter-wide-pier with eight poles embedded in rock, where he says, “life does not exist”. This pier, intended for entry and exit to the sea, was to be built at no cost to local residents, and with zero interference to the wave at Paunch, the channel, or the boats that moor there.

After speaking with Ernesto, Kelly Slater, whose Instagram post brought this development to the world’s attention, saw where Ernesto was coming from. “His talk made a lot of sense to me and quelled the misinformation I received. Why would he want to harm his home break or the safety in the water?” Kelly told Stab.

Ernesto says, that the pier is not to dock boats but only to embark or disembark people, the maritime equivalent of a loading zone at an airport.

He claims those who use surf as an economic resource have spread lies about him. “We would never have begun to think of building anything without the approval of the competent authority. We’ve been approved by the Ministry of Environment of Bocas del Toro, Panama Water Resources, the General Directorate of Ports, and Panama Maritime Authority,” says Ernesto.

The building of the pier does not drill into live coral reef according to Ernesto but only rock and to damage the coral reef would defeat the pier’s sole purpose.

Comments

Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up

Advertisement

Most Recent

7:11

What Happens When You Borrow A Pro’s Board?

Joyride: The Shrizz from PANDA surfboards.

Aug 16, 2022

2:17

Mick Fanning Samples California’s Finest Local Produce

Mayhem at Lowers.

Aug 16, 2022

Mountains Died So You Could Surf

The value of sand.

Aug 15, 2022

9:12

UPDATE: People Are Still Surfing ‘La Jetee’ in Reunion Island

Returning to the best & sharkiest air wave in the world, as seen in Mod…

Aug 14, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Female) Surfers

What the Stab reader survey teaches us about taste.

Aug 14, 2022

2:14

Kelly and Local Gal to Win Teahupo’o?

Local insights and a firing forecast.

Aug 13, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Male) Surfers

Insights from the 2022 Stab Reader survey.

Aug 13, 2022

16:04

Fear And Loathing in Mainland Mex

Parker Coffin, Harry Roach, and the Roark crew embark on an authentic Oaxacan (surf) trip.

Aug 13, 2022

Tahiti Preview: The End Of The Road For 72% Of The CT

And hello there, blob of swell.

Aug 12, 2022

3:24

While Everyone Flocked To Tahiti, Kelly Stayed in Jbay

...And proceeded to rip the hell out of it on a "borrowed" 5-finned Tomo.

Aug 11, 2022

1:38

Can A GQ Cover Boy Take Out Teahupo’o?

Kauli Vaast is your incredibly handsome Tahiti trials winner.

Aug 11, 2022

Watch: Ramble On With Caity Simmers 

An action-rich tour behind the scenes of her triumphant first voyage to Oz.

Aug 11, 2022

PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua

Cameras and drones are being seized on arrival, Stab spoke with two recent visitors.

Aug 11, 2022

Inside The Alternative Surfboard Marketing Machine 

Two of the biz's best — Matt Parker and Blake Peters — spill many beans.

Aug 10, 2022

The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo

Two Brazilian sporting icons killed brazenly by off-duty police officers.

Aug 9, 2022

The Pick-Up, Vans US Open: In The Belly Of The Beast

Finger flips, shaping with Zion Wright, slurpees, Hawaiian takeovers, and the king of Surfline rewinds.

Aug 8, 2022

Albee Layer Discusses His Not-So-Budding Acting Career And The Upcoming Film “Sweet Adventure”

"Matt and Nora were tripping a little harder than I was just because they weren't…

Aug 8, 2022

Zeke Lau & Bettylou Sakura Johnson Win The Vans US Open Of Surfing 

Hawaii dominates HB.

Aug 8, 2022
Advertisement