Target: Silvano Vergara, Administrator of the National Environmental Authority
Goal: Tighten restrictions on the development of Panama’s forests to protect bird habitats.
Every year, one million birds stop off in Panama during their migration from North to South America, but now the birds’ chosen habitats, Panama’s mangrove forests, are threatened by development and lax government restrictions. Tell Panama to protect not just Panamanian wildlife, but wildlife from all over the western hemisphere—tighten government restrictions on developing the mangrove forests.
Until recently, Panama had moderate constraints in place to protect the mangrove forests from overdevelopment. In 2009, the government officially made 330 square miles of wetlands off-limits to developers. The move was in accordance with the 1971 Ramsar Convention, which declared that the signatory countries would not allow any alteration of wetland habitats. However, the Supreme Court recently eliminated the Convention’s restrictions, claiming that the government did not adequately consider public input when ratifying the treaty.
Complicating matters is the Panamanian government’s commitment to growing the economy. Development projects help spur economic growth, which makes it tempting for the government to relax environmental protections. In fact, many fear that the court’s decision to suspend the provisions of the Convention was unduly influenced by the economically-driven government.
The wetlands are not without champions, however. The mayor of Panama City, Roxana Mendez, has ordered a scientific investigation of the impact of development in the wetlands. Until the results of the study are in, she has blocked any further construction from taking place in the wetlands near Panama City. Meanwhile, environmental groups like the Audubon Society have joined residents of the surrounding areas to voice their concern for the mangrove forests and urge the Panamanian government to renew and strengthen its pledge to protect these important and unique ecosystems. Join them and tell Panama’s National Environmental Authority to establish legally-protected mangrove forests in Panama.
Dear Mr. Vergara,
Every year, one million birds use the mangrove forests of Panama Bay as an important resting place during their migration to South America, but with the suspension of the conditions of the Ramsar Convention, these birds are threatened. Do not let the desire for a robust economy negate environmental protections. Please re-establish governmental protection of Panama’s mangrove forests.
A healthy economic climate is, of course, a desirable situation for any country, and in these uncertain economic times, it is an increasingly rare achievement. Panama’s position as the nation with the fastest-growing economy in Central America makes it tempting to jettison environmental concerns for the sake of further economic progress, but a disregard for the environment within Panama will have repercussions far beyond national borders. The birds that rely on the mangrove forests come from all over North America; eliminating a key habitat for them could affect their populations, throwing other ecosystems—in both North and South America—out of balance.
Furthermore, the mangrove forests act as a natural breakwater for coastal communities, protecting them from flooding. About half a million people live close enough to Panama Bay to be affected by floods, and these people rely on mangrove forests to keep their families and communities safe. For them, construction projects will not bring prosperity; they will instead wreak havoc on established communities.
Finally, according to ABC News, construction accounts for only one part of Panama’s economic success. Tourism and shipping in the Panama Canal have also boosted Panama’s economy. Concentrating on growing either (or both) of these sectors could help remove some of the pressure from Panama’s mangrove forests. In fact, a government protection and promotion of the mangrove forests’ importance might even help fuel ecotourism.
Panamanian citizens, along with the people of many other countries, depend on the mangrove forests of Panama Bay. Do not dismiss them for the sake of turning a profit. Re-establish government protection of Panama Bay’s mangrove forests as soon as possible.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: mikebaird via Flickr