When our partners at the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental in Panama (CIAM, called “the Environmental Advocacy Center” in English) emailed to ask what size rubber boots I wear, I was thrilled. As a marine ecologist, rubber boots mean fieldwork! Tromping around in the mud investigating marine species–fishes, crabs, birds, mangroves, and other great stuff–I could hardly wait to explore Panama’s rich marine biodiversity with our CIAM colleagues.
But upon our arrival into Panama City, Felix Wing and Tania Arosemena, (CIAM Executive Director and Legal Coordinator, respectively) met my colleague (ELAW Executive Director, Bern Johnson) and me with some tough news: all of Panama Bay’s mangroves–those spectacular, valuable species that Panamanians are fortunate to have growing right in their city–had just lost their protected status per order of a court. The court cleared the way for tourist and commercial development that would destroy one of the greatest places for birds to gather in the world. We would still be going to the field but we weren’t going to see protected biodiversity or natural wonders. We were going to a massive mangrove destruction and landfill construction zone that CIAM is working to challenge.
It was striking, walking through piles of trash with the bulldozers tearing down mangroves in the distance, and looking down to see crab claws and dead fish under our feet–evidence that only a short while ago a tidal creek, with mangroves stretching high into the sky, had flowed where we stood.
We’ll be writing more about what we learned from our CIAM colleagues and what we (and you!) can do about protecting Panama’s mangroves…and why mangroves are such important species for humans and nonhuman species, alike. Look for our Summer newsletter, coming out soon.
Heidi W. Weiskel