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Is Panama Risking Its Mangroves?

Article Summary:

Mangroves serve vital ecological and geographical functions in Panama Bay’s coastal environment. Earlier this year, the Panamanian Supreme Court removed environmental protections previously in place for Panama Bay, destining important ecosystems to their premature destruction.

Photo Credit: Pulsamerica UK

Original Article Text From Pulsamerica UK:

Analisis Profundo: The Mangroves of Panama Bay

Almost every day after work, as my car trudges slowly along Corredor Sur’s bumper-to-bumper traffic, I watch, if the tide is high, thousands of birds congregate throughout the coastline to feed.

Several sights crowd the evening scene: pelicans elongating their necks upward to swallow fish whole, groups of seagulls hovering motionless in midair, and the big splashes that compact shorebirds—snipes, plovers, turnstones and oystercatchers, among others—leave behind as evidence of their fearless dive at the speed of many miles an hour, beak first, into the ocean.

The chaos has been a daily constant of this coastal habitat way before my arrival to Panama, for hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of years. Indeed, the fertile waters of the Panamanian bay function as a necessary pit stop for multiple species of migratory birds as they fly back and forth from summer in the north to summer in the south.

To date, this fragile ecosystem has not been unaffected by human encroachment. Corredor Sur’s monumental bridge was constructed over fertile tidal mud flats, populated by thousands of shoreline critters. Deformed bird carcasses pasted on to the road are my daily reminder of progress’s collateral damage.

Yet ever since the mangroves that hug Panama’s Pacific coastline received environmental protection, Panama’s shores have, for the most part, developed in harmony with nature.

Earlier this year, the Panamanian Supreme Court removed environmental protections previously in place for Panama Bay, destining important ecosystems to their premature destruction.

Mangroves serve vital ecological and geographical functions to Panama Bay’s coastal environment. They are valuable nurseries for the fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and shrimp that feed both migrant and native bird communities. The destruction of mangroves will put the survival of all these species in Panama Bay at risk.

When a habitat is radically destabilized, organisms have one of two alternatives: adapt and evolve, or die out. When change as dramatic as the destruction of mangrove forests occurs, species that have existed in harmony with each other for thousands of years become severely disrupted. Without any time to adapt to these changes, species fail to adapt and evolve.

Yet species do not exist independently of each other. When one species fails, all those that are linked to it in some form or fashion will be forced to adapt to this change. Yet adaptation and evolution for multi-cellular organisms is measured in centuries, in decades only occasionally. For this reason, more often then not, dramatic change to environments is succeeded by waves of dramatic extinction.

The ecosystem of Panama Bay is particularly sensitive since it temporarily houses migratory birds species twice a year on their long voyages between North and South America. If mangrove forests are destroyed, it is unlikely that the communities of fish, shrimp and mollusks that lived with and within the mangrove forests will be able to survive them in large quantities.

What happens then, if the communities of migratory birds that refueled in Panama Bay are unable to find communities of fish large enough to feed them all? Some might be lucky enough to find alternate forms of sustenance. But in a concrete city that is extending outwards into the forest as quickly as it extends outward into the sea, most will likely not be lucky enough.

This sudden destabilization of the mangrove ecosystem is likely to have a direct impact on the human populations that have come to depend on these ecosystems as well, such as local fisherman. The residents of urban slums near the ocean, who are often seen carrying dead birds over their shoulders like once-breathing backpacks from the coast to, one can assume, their dinner table, will be forced to find an alternate means of sustenance, too.

President Ricardo Martinelli’s government has made the environmental protection of ecologically sensitive regions largely irrelevant, as he continues to utilize the power of the Supreme Court, packed with Martinelli-sympathizers, to remove existing protections over lands the President aspires to develop.

The Supreme Court’s removal of these protections is another step in the wrong direction for President Martinelli’s government, who has, time and time again, prioritized short-term monetary profits over long-term environmental sustainability. Martinelli’s obsession with a quick profit ignores a simple yet constant truth of human existence on earth: we have always existed within an environment, not above or without it.

These mangrove forests also provide shoreline protection against floods, waves, and wind. This shoreline protection is vital for communities near the coastline already prone to flooding during the rainy season, as many lie only a few feet above the Pacific Ocean. Already, this area has been greatly affected by flooding a number of times in the past twenty years. As many environmentalists have noted, destroying the mangrove habitats would also make Panama’s International Airport more susceptible to flooding than it already is. If this happens, the pace of development and growth is likely slow down, if only temporarily. Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Link to Original Article:

From Pulsamerica UK

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