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Panama Bay: Decision Sends Mixed Message

World  (tags: animals, conservation, ecosystems, endangered, environment, habitat, habitatdestruction, government, protection, nature, trees, Sustainabililty, water, wildlife, world, politics, ethics )

- 2230 days ago -
But last Friday April 5, the Panamanian government did a flip-flop, boldly reinstating environmental safeguards in a court decision. While environmentalists initially rejoiced, a parallel decision made by the government left as many doubts as assurances.


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JL A (281)
Friday April 12, 2013, 12:37 pm
Panama Bay: Decision Sends Mixed Message

By Emma Bryce

Panama City edges into the bay (Photo by thinkpanama / CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Bay of Panama—made up of a rich patchwork of wetlands, mud flats, and mangrove forests—is vital habitat not only for two million migrating birds like western sandpipers and whimbrels, but for turtles, monkeys, and jaguars. On top of that it is a key source of the nation’s seafood industry.

So when the Panamanian court agreed last April to strip the bay’s protections, environmentalists rose up. Fueling their ire were plans to line the shores with golf estates, country clubs, and condos.

But last Friday April 5, the Panamanian government did a flip-flop, boldly reinstating environmental safeguards in a court decision. While environmentalists initially rejoiced, a parallel decision made by the government left as many doubts as assurances.

Hotels and apartments already take up much of the wetland. So the reinstatement is key. “I think this is a victory,” says Matt Jeffery, senior program manager of Audubon’s International Alliances Program. “But it is a first step in a longer—I don’t want to use the word ‘battle’, but that’s probably what it might end up being.”

Almost 200,000 acres were set aside as protected land in 2009, and the bay is known as a Globally Important Bird Area. In addition the Ramsar Convention recognizes the protected area as a Wetland of International Importance too.

But now the government has begun investigating the possibility of reducing the size of the Ramsar site, despite the court decision. “[The announcements about reinstated protections] came out after that happened,” Jeffery says. “That’s why everyone’s scratching their heads right now,”

Chipping away at the area’s Ramsar status could diminish the bay’s overall conservation standing. Ramsar places wetlands on an international pedestal, making them subject to international scrutiny and defense, since the convention binds signatory countries to an agreement to conserve their wetland habitats. If the only safeguards in place are state-controlled, that leaves the bay open to the whims of the sometimes opaque Panamanian government. Many of the government’s decisions occur behind closed doors, Jeffery points out, which does not bode well.

Rosabel Miro, Panama Audubon’s executive director, told Audubon Magazine last year, “If those Panama wetlands are lost, then you break the chain of wetlands that you need for successful [bird] migrations.” Also sacrificed would be the important city buffer mangrove forests provide against rising seas, and the filtering effect of the forested strip on urban run off.

Panama’s urban growth can’t be put on hold, and there are some necessary industrial developments that are part of the mix as well—like airport extensions. “The city is a city; it needs to expand. I [just] don’t think there’s ever really been an attempt to find [a] balance,” Jeffery says. “What we’re seeing now is a political fight before the realization that a balance can be developed.” Development can happen, so long as it doesn’t encroach excessively on the bay. Management plans could also help to highlight wetland areas of key importance to wildlife.

For now, conservationists are on hold. Jeffery says he’s not certain that the government has made significant enough arguments to reduce the size of the Ramsar site. Audubon—together with Panama Audubon and the bevy of other Panamanian conservation groups that have taken up the cause—will keep pushing. “Obviously there needs to be a huge amount of engagement with the community, with media, to keep the pressure on,” Jeffery says.

He adds that if Panamanian authorities successfully undermine the wetland’s status, it will, ominously, be the first government in the Americas to disrupt Ramsar boundaries. So far, 165 countries have signed onto the convention.

Ruth M (235)
Friday April 12, 2013, 3:29 pm
Lets hope things will go the right way more often to protect habitat !!

. (0)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 8:35 am
This is always how it starts; not with a bang but a whimper. Slowly they leech away at it until the developers and other firms get in there and strip it of the natural resources. Constant vigilance is the order of the day if the country's beauty is to be preserved.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 1:55 pm
Isn't this sort of like a backhanded compliment??

Mike M (8)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 3:52 pm
Well sooner or later they will sell out and it will all go down the drain just like the good old USA

Saturday April 13, 2013, 4:46 pm
read and noted on 4-13-13 lets just say that panama is flipping and flopping just like the united states does from time to time,but i hope that they stand there ground and keep protecting the environment and wildlife,but money will always talk and that will be a very sad day if that is surely to happen just seems like everyone gets consumed by the thought of greed they need to do the right thing here and do not cave under any pressure.

JL A (281)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 5:04 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last day.
You cannot currently send a star to EDWARD because you have done so within the last day.

Sandra ;atterson (59)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 5:51 pm
noted,not all of us from the USA are uncaring assholes .Somethings are better left unsaid.Thanks for the article

JL A (281)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 7:28 pm
You are welcome Sandra. You cannot currently send a star to Sandra because you have done so within the last day.

Birgit W (160)
Sunday April 14, 2013, 2:13 pm

Winn Adams (179)
Sunday April 14, 2013, 2:38 pm

JL A (281)
Sunday April 14, 2013, 5:18 pm
You are welcome Winn.

Melania P (123)
Thursday April 25, 2013, 2:24 pm
Mmmm thinking about this
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