Panama Bay Regains Limited Protected Status

Today the Bay of Panama received a reprieve from destructive development as the Panamanian Supreme Court reinstated the protected status for the Bay of Panama wetlands, removing the temporary suspension it had placed on the protected area a year ago.  The Court noted,  “it is necessary to promote its conservation, protection and management for sustainable use for present and future generations."

“We commend this first critical step in securing the long-term conservation of this critical habitat; “said John Beavers, VP Audubon’s International Alliances Program. “There is a long road ahead but I am heartened to hear that the Supreme Court’s decision revolved around the need to promote the conservation and sustainable use of the Bay of Panama Wetlands for present and future generations.”

"The announcement of the Supreme Court is a good first step, but their final decision is still pending", said Rosabel Miró, Executive Director of Panama Audubon Society. "Continuing threats to the site remain, and we will continue our work with international agreements such as the Ramsar Convention to make sure this reprieve becomes permanent."

The BirdLife International Partnership is cautiously celebrating this new development after months of lobbying the Panamanian Government.

While Panama Bay was recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area and a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar convention, the Bay’s protected status was reversed by Federal officials in Panama in April 2012. Many of the amazing ecosystems of Panama Bay are threatened by rampant poorly planned development. Panama City’s ongoing building boom endangers these critical ecosystems by pollution and eastward urban sprawl. More than twenty-four migrant bird species from the U.S. and Canada that are of particular conservation concern depend on these habitats to survive. These include more than 30% of the global population of the Western Sandpiper and 22% of the global population of Whimbrel.   The Mangroves and wetlands of Panama Bay are also vital to other globally threatened wildlife including Jaguar, Tapir, Spider Monkey, American Crocodile, and Loggerhead Sea Turtle and support the fishing industry for the country. Essential wildlife habitats are being filled at an alarming rate to make way for cheap housing, high-end recreational developments and industrial zones.   

The National Audubon Society joined forces with the Panama Audubon Society in their battle to protect the bay.  PAS is addressing this with a public awareness campaign in eastern suburbs and further developing scientific justification, for the protection and management of the Bay’s sensitive coastal resources.  The project is reversing misconceptions of wetlands being wastelands of little economic value. Wetlands are not only vital for absorbing floodwaters, but essential nurseries for fish and crustaceans that form the base of Panama’s marine economy. 

The vital wetlands has been high on the agenda for Audubon, whose Board of Directors visited Panama in February to see for themselves the importance of this habitat for up to two million shorebirds a year. The group was led by Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold, and a fleet of Vice-presidents devoted to protecting wetlands that support the flyways that lace together North and Latin America.  Says Francis Grant-Suttie, VP for the Atlantic Flyway, “We now align our work along the flyways of the Americas—Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific. By connecting the Audubon network all along each of these migratory pathways for birds, we can weave a seamless web of conservation.” 

 More about Panama Bay threats in Audubon Magazine "Decision Sends Mixed Message"