Panama shields more than 50% of its marine surface | future america | The USA Print

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Panama, a small country of less than 4 million inhabitants that connects Central and South America, has just taken a giant step in the fight against climate change and the protection of biodiversity. The Ministry of the Environment, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, announced this Thursday the largest expansion of the Banco Volcán Managed Resources Area, in the Caribbean Sea, a space for the protection of marine biodiversity. This area includes nine mountain ranges, with seamounts that exceed 3,000 meters in some points and where, according to the scientists involved in the project, at least 14 species of mammals live.

Of the 14,000 square kilometers, it will soon increase to 93,390. Thus, Panama shields 54.33% of the marine surface and becomes the second country in the world with such a high percentage, after Palau, in the southwestern tip of Micronesia. For Maximiliano Bello, Sea Public Policies advisor for Mission Blue, it is something exemplary: “It is one of the best news to respond to a triple crisis of pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity.”

The wealth of the country is vast. Panama is home to approximately 3.4% of the world’s amphibian species, 2.3% of its reptiles, and 9% of its known birds. Its waters also hide 220 species of freshwater fish and 1,157 types of marine fish. For this reason, a measure like this prioritizes the rich and irreplaceable ecosystems and the entire animal and plant world that inhabits them.

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A school of sharks in the Panamanian sea.sealegacy

The Volcán Managed Resources Area was originally designated in 2015 to conserve an underwater volcanic ridge and serve as a refuge and migration area for several vulnerable species such as tuna, dorado, and turtles. As well as endangered species such as whales, dolphins and sharks. “Marine diversity is key to turning around this global crisis,” Bello narrates. “We are very good at innovating, yes, but we still don’t know how to create entire ecosystems from scratch. That’s why we have to take care of what we have.”

“Panama is a leader in water conservation,” says Josh Tewksbury, director of Smithsonian Panama, in relation to the goal of conserving 30% of the marine surface by 2030. “These measures will put an end to illegal fishing and allow management much wider territory. In addition, it is part of a much more ambitious and regional process, ”he says. “The expansion of the Banco Volcán Managed Resources Area could help promote further scientific research and knowledge on marine biodiversity, migration patterns, conservation status, and the effects of human activities, including climate change, on ecosystems. seafarers in the region”, adds Joaquín Labougle, regional director of Blue Nature Alliance.

Experts hope that the expansion of this area will boost the Great Sea Flower Initiative, which aims to create high-level partnerships between six Caribbean countries – Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Panama – in an effort to protect the ecosystems of the southern Caribbean. The idea, according to Bello, is to put pressure on other countries: “It sets a very high bar for them. Among all of us, we reached an agreement in the Convention on Biological Diversity, that it was important to reach 30% of these, but why stop there?

An artisan makes a handmade boat, in a Panamanian maritime community.
An artisan makes a handmade boat, in a Panamanian maritime community.sealegacy

Although the measure is celebrated internationally, the responsibilities and challenges are endless. Initially the challenge was to define the area to be protected. The next will be management, monitoring and long-term maintenance. “It’s not enough, but it’s essential,” explains Tewksbury. “You have to work to really protect all the ecosystems that treasure the species. We must also give rise to regional structures, starting with this group of six and then be more ambitious and realize that what we do in Panama, on both coasts, is a model in which we unite governments for whom protecting these scenarios is a priority, as well as the people who depend on them”.

Among Panama’s own challenges, Tewksbury does not doubt: “Training, training and training.” “Panama and the region need greater training programs focused on the next generation of leaders. Science has to come from the nation itself to be truly powerful. You cannot protect what you do not know or understand and Panama has to get to it”.

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