74% of Trees To Be Removed As Part of Park Remodelling


  • Simon Bolivar Park, a cherished public space in Bocas Town, is undergoing a major renovation as part of the Isla Colon road project.
  • The proposed redesign involves removing 74% of the park’s trees due to safety concerns and to protect structures, based on a forestry evaluation by Consultoría Ambiental Cáceres.
  • Regular Bocas visitor and arborist Mark Jakobs disagrees with the removal plan, suggesting that many trees could be preserved with proper care.
  • A community group has proposed saving at least five of the larger iconic trees for their cultural, historical, and ecological importance.
  • The Ministry of Public Works and the subcontractors of the project do not want to be responsible for leaving trees that were found to be potentially hazardous by the forestry evaluation.
Parque Simon Bolivar

Simon Bolivar Park, 1915, photo from Panama Vieja Escuela via Isla Colón – Raíces y Vivencias – Bocas del Toro.on Facebook

El Parque Simon Bolivar is the park in the heart of Bocas Town on Isla Colon. It was erected sometime in the early 1900’s, with photographs dating back as early as 1910.

Nowadays it remains popular place for locals and visitors to congregate and a central location for town meetings and festivities. The park is also known for its massive exotic-looking centenarian trees, which provide shady spots to sit, attract birds and really seem to leave an impression on visitors, with “trees” being a high ranking keyword among the current 549 Google reviews for the Bocas del Toro’s Simon Bolivar park.

On January 23, 2024, a meeting was held in the very park in question by subcontractors in charge of the design for the park remodeling. The new design was presented, which includes altering street access points for a new bus stop location, changing the area of the child’s playground, the addition of a stage area for musical performances and cultural presentations, the restoration of the historic gazebo and the removal of nearly three-quarters of its trees. There will be a reforestation of the park, according to the January 23 meeting.

A study was presented by the Chiriqui based company Consultoría Ambiental Cáceres which evaluated the state of the park’s trees and determined that the removal of three-quarters of the park’s trees is recommended in the benefit of public safety and to protect existing and soon-to-be-built structures.

“Where of the 50 individuals inventoried and evaluated, the felling of 37 trees is recommended (74%), since they have different conditions (some are diseased or dry, with the presence of fungus, crooked, inclined, with exposed roots, and other reasons), and would represent a danger to both structures (old and new) and the lives of passersby or users of Simón Bolívar Park in the short or medium term, for which will require felling or eliminating them.

In general terms, it is considered that the useful life of urban trees is short, compared to the same specimens in their natural state (Roman & Scatena, 2011). In the case of Simón Bolívar Park, many trees are affected by fungi, attacks of insects and/or various diseases, which strengthens the idea that vitality and the growth of such tree species will likely decline within a short period of time, a situation that is evidenced by Sjöman et al. (2015), Tubby & Webber (2010), among other authors who comment on the same situations also in urban parks.”

Examining the report, the 13 trees that will be spared are mostly royal palms (Roystonea regia). This is the most common species found in the park. One almendro, one roble and one “Panama” tree will also remain and be pruned.

Every single one of the massive exotic-looking trees are marked for removal; a eucalyptus, four banyan trees and the “guachapalí” tree.

You can download a PDF of the report here: EVALUACIÓN FORESTAL del Paqrue SIMÓN BOLÍVAR-BOCAS-DC

“As much as we would like to leave them, we don’t know if there are some of these trees that will fail. We must take care of that,” said one representative of the Bocas Isla Consorcio present at the January 23 meeting in the park. “It’s not for the design, it’s because the trees are old.”

A Counter Proposal from the Community

On February 10th, a group of concerned residents and local leaders headed up their own inspection of the park’s trees. The activity was conducted by Luis Mou Sue, Edgar Navalo, Natasha MacFarlane, Zabrina Zeild, Kelly Berube de De Caro, Linda Gillngham and others. Gillingham is a founder of Finca Los Monos, the first registered private botanical garden in Panama, specializing in conservation, planting thousands of trees and plants around the archipelago for the last two decades.

The reason for this intervention was to “avoid the loss of some trees that were considered in the report of ‘FORESTAL EVALUATION OF THE SIMON BOLIVAR PARK’ for their felling,” their report states. “It is our consideration that they are centuries old and that they are an iconic part of this public space.”

The group identified five of the larger trees they are sure can be saved with some care. This is to not lose the identity of the park. The trees identified were two guachapali, two ficus (banyan) and 1 alcornoque (cork oak).

In the report they made their case outlining six justifications for working to preserve the trees (1) cultural and historical value, (2) biodiversity, (3) compliment to the urban landscape, (4) role in the the ecosystem, (5) connection to the community and (6) carbon sequestering/climate change mitigation.

They also included detailed practical suggestions on how they believe the trees could be saved; including short-term and long-term pruning recommendations that aim to immediately mitigate public risk and maximize tree health.  One of the group members, Mr. Navalo is experienced in this field and is willing to offer his services to make this proposal a reality.

The counter proposal was submitted and considered for a redesign of the park. However, as of April 2, 2024, the park design that was approved does not spare the five trees identified and the same 37 trees originally identified as hazardous will be removed. The subcontractor does not want to take responsibility for trees that the report found sick or dead.

“Absolutely safe and sound trees that need to be saved,” Interview with Arborist Mark Jakobs

On February 12, 2024, The Bocas Breeze interviewed arborist Mark Jakobs, frequent visitor of Bocas and seasoned professional in the field of over 30 years, working in Europe, the US and New Zealand in recreational tree climbing and other tree related adventure tourism and also providing instructional training for up-and-coming arborists. Jakobs is the founder of The Treeclimbing Company in the Netherlands.

Mark Jakobs of The Treeclimbing CompanyHis personal assessment was that most of the trees are actually quite healthy, judging by the vibrant green leaves of the crowns. Jakobs believes a lot of them could be saved and any risk to public safety and falling on structures could be averted with some pruning and follow-up annual assessments and preventative removal of dead branches.

Mark pointed out some completely dead branches that look like they will fall soon. This is something that is normally identified during an annual inspection, that the branches take quite a while to completely perish, hollow out, break off and fall to the ground. Mark pointed out a large dead branch on a tree at the east entrance of the park and said “if the concern here is public safety, that branch should have already been trimmed. There is a real example of an imminent public safety risk,” the arborist explained.

When I revealed the details of the study to Mark, he was surprised by the rationale given to proceed with the removal of so many of the park’s trees. The exposed roots are a sign of the trees being resilient and adaptive to the urban conditions. The soil gets impacted from foot traffic and the roots are finding their best strategy to survive. Crooked and inclined trees also present little or no danger, contrary to the report, according to Mark.

Fungus on and around trees is to be expected. Though study doesn’t specify what exact kind of fungi are present; there are fungi harmful to trees and others that are completely normal for a healthy tree. Insects are another sign of a thriving tree that are mentioned as a justification for tree removal. Again, it doesn’t specify which insects, if they are termites or what. Mark says “Trees are a complete biological entity. There are supposed to be teeming with insects. That’s  what attracts the birds. It’s part of its value, really.”

Mark also disagrees with the “dry or diseased” diagnosis for many of the trees because of their appearance of the healthy green leaves on the crowns, which means the root system is functioning and they are getting sun and water. There are many “parasite plants,” or epiphytes, that should be cut back, in his opinion. These are the orchids and bromeliads that start to grow right on tree branches and though they can look quite beautiful, they will literally suck the life out of the branches and can jeopardize the trees’ health when overgrown with such parasite plants. Complete tree removal isn’t necessary when you can cut the epiphytes back, says Mark.

To conclude Mark’s assessment, he doesn’t believe many of these trees need to be cut down, personally.  Now that’s just him, a repeat visitor of Bocas with professional experience when it comes to tree preservation. “I think it would be of interest to leave the trees intact as part of the cultural and historical history of the area,” commented Mark. However he is just an outsider looking in and is in favor of whatever the community of Bocas del Toro wishes and is authorized by the will of its government. He assumes that this is something that has been presented to the community and it’s what the community wants. Not every community wants 100 year old trees, especially if the trees are deemed a danger to public safety.

Parque Simon Bolivar Bocas del Toro

Tree-Felling: Announcements, Publicity and Photo Opportunities

One thing that stands out from the evaluation from Consultoría Ambiental Cáceres is on page 22 where it recommends “to make good use of communication and publicity regarding the tree cutting that will take place for the refurbishment of the park, so that the community is informed and becomes aware of the action that will be carried out. In addition, given the emblematic nature of some trees that need to be felled, there may be residents or visitors who wish to take photographs in the park before the drastic change it will undergo.”

Aside from the January 23 meeting in the park, which was aired on local television, The Bocas Breeze is unaware of any other announcments, publicity or photo ops that were recommended in the study.

Peaceful Protest in the Park

April 1 began with our annual April Fool’s Day joke article that perhaps hit a little too close to home. Two hours after publishing it, we received word the proposal from the community to save the five large iconic trees was not accepted. The same 37 trees, including all the large exotic trees, are scheduled for removal.

Parque Simon Bolivar Bocas del Toro

Photo by Sophie Vans

News spread quickly among the community. For many, this was the first time they had heard of any plans to remove the trees. An effort was quickly organized to gather in the park at 5pm and demonstrate their wish to find a solution to save some of the iconic trees. A petition was passed around and at least 94 signatures were gathered. Here is an English translation of a statement from the group sent around as an invitation to support their effort:

“As part of the remodeling of our park, it is planned to tear down trees, those that are part of everyone’s memories. We are not against the project, only this type of actions, so we invite you to demonstrate peacefully today at 5pm…. and signing a petition to the Municipality to assert its role as administrator of the places of public use and is responsible for keeping said trees pruned and in good condition, which is what the Consortium that owns the project requires, to avoid knocking them down. Remember that if you are not part of the solution, you are the problem!”

Late in the evening on April 1, after the protest and signatures collected, we received word that there are ongoing talks between local leaders and authorities, to find a solution to save at least four of the five trees identified in the community’s counter proposal.

If these trees are to be saved, what is needed is the political will of local authorities to take responsibility for any risk presented by the larger trees that the community wants saved and to enact a plan of preventative mantainence.

Photo by Sophie Vans

Photo by Christin Fjeld Drake

The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.


  1. Larry Robertson Reply

    Scientific Information on Banyan Tree
    The Banyan Tree, scientifically known as Ficus benghalensis, belongs to the family Moraceae. It’s native to the Indian subcontinent and known for its extraordinary aerial roots and expansive canopy. These trees are among the largest in the world in terms of canopy coverage.

    A very robust tree that can live for almost 1,000 years.


    It is obvious that this publication prefers not removing the trees. Your “arborist” Mark Jakobs fails to mention and address the structural damage the trees are doing to the park and nearby structures. Perhaps the “arborist” does not realize that most of the tree’s structure is beneath the ground. I have lived here nearly 20 years, not just an occasional visitor, and as a licensed arborist and Forester for over 30 years, unfortunately in my opinion they should be removed. Sad your publication received the opinion of a lone “arborist” which favors your publication perspective.

    1. Nicholas Corea Reply

      Please submit your professional assessment and I will happily publish it. I did not know you were an arborist. Mark Jakobs was recommended to be interviewed by several Bocas Breeze readers because he is respected in the community for his work with trees. I would have gladly presented your assessment as well, if I had been aware of you. I approached the consulting group to have a deeper understanding of their impact study, but they told me they were not authorized to comment.

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