International

Protecting Mangroves in Panama to Create a Better Climate Future

A new project with the Panama Audubon Society combines science, policy, and community engagement.

Located on the narrow isthmus between North and South America, Panama offers some of the most important stopover and wintering habitat for migrant shorebird species in the Americas. Each year, between 1 to 2 million shorebirds use Panama’s coastal wetlands, encompassing mangrove forests, mudflats, estuaries, and freshwater marshes. In particular, there are 120 neotropical migrants known to use the Bay of Panama wetlands, including the Western Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover, and Willet.

As migratory shorebirds make their epic treks across the globe, they depend on healthy wetland habitat to rest and feed; however, wetlands worldwide are being lost at alarming rates to development and degradation. As their habitat is lost, shorebird populations are similarly affected with approximately 45% of Arctic-breeding shorebird populations showing declines.

Panama’s mangroves provide important ecosystem services for birds and people alike. Mangroves protect coastal communities from flooding, store carbon pollution in their roots and leaves, and provide habitat for a range of wildlife. Panama’s mangroves are also critical for the economy, providing nurseries for shrimp and commercially caught fish, a diverse industry that was valued at over $225 million a year in 2015. Despite these benefits, unchecked development, urbanization and weak enforcement of laws has led to environmental damage on mangroves and degradation or outright loss of habitat.

In order to counteract these impacts, we are excited to announce that Audubon’s International Alliances Program, working with the Inter-American Development Bank and in-country partner Panama Audubon Society, will begin a three-year project to elevate the importance of Panama’s mangroves, the carbon they sequester, and the biodiversity and livelihoods they support. We will do this by shifting perceptions on the value of coastal mangroves using a participatory approach that will include on-the-ground science, economic valuation of mangrove services, community engagement and constituency building, and support for shifts in policy. This work builds on over a decade of efforts in the country, including helping to secure protections for the Bay of Panama as a nationally recognized wildlife refuge.

A flock of Western Sandpipers. Photo: Karl Kaufman/Panama Audubon Society

As a result, Panama will be able to use this project as an example of how the country is reducing its emissions and adapting to climate change. This is a key part of Panama’s commitments to the UN Paris Climate Agreement, and the success of this project will drive international funding toward mangrove and coastal conservation.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to work with the IDB to support stronger climate adaptation efforts in Panama, building resilience in local communities and bird populations alike,” states Aurelio Ramos, Senior Vice President of the International Alliances Program. “Mangroves provide huge benefits to coastlines across Latin America and we hope that this project can serve as a model for building coastal resilience in Panama and beyond.”

We would like to recognize the contributions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Program and the Packard Foundation towards supporting our conservation work in Panama, allowing us to set the foundation for this new project. To learn more about Audubon's International Alliances Program, visit https://www.audubon.org/conservation/international.

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