Saturday, April 1

Panama’s mangrove forests recover

The first report of information system geographic (GIS) of the project Valuing, protecting and enhancing the natural coastal capital of Panama revealed an increase in mangrove forest cover in the Parita Bay between 2012 and 2021, due to changes in land use

The increase in mangrove area is due to better control of logging activities within protected areas and decreased use of the area for activities such as rice cultivation and shrimp farming.

The project for the valuation, protection and improvement of the coastal natural capital, developed by National Audubon Society and the Panama Audubon Society, in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, seeks to incorporate nature-based solutions (NbS) into national and regional planning and public policy.

Combining science, public policy and community relations, the $2.3 million project, managed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and with resources from the UK Blue Carbon Fund, supports carbon sequestration, biodiversity, human well-being and coastal resilience.

These efforts will be applied in the Bahía de Panamá wetland, with its mosaic of urban landscapes and mangrove habitat, and in Bahía de Parita, a rural landscape in a state of transition in the provinces of Coclé, Herrera and Los Santos.

“Raising the importance of Panama’s coastal mangrove ecosystems and related wetlands, highlighting the carbon they sequester and the biodiversity and livelihoods they support, to ensure their protection and improvement, is what is sought through this interesting project. “, Explain, Matthew Jeffery, Deputy Director for the Americas of the National Audubon Society

Why are mangroves important?

Forests are known to “capture” large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) , but few know that various marine and coastal ecosystems can also fix this element, even more than the forests in the Amazon.

Mangroves absorb huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. It is estimated that just 1 hectare of mangrove forest can retain up to 1,000 tons of CO2. Its soil emits low levels of methane due to salinity and this favors its capture. In addition, below the water, mangroves accumulate five times more carbon than on the surface.

Together with their associated wetlands, they provide important ecosystem services, including coastal protection, water purification, carbon sequestration, as well as serving as habitats for a wide variety of biodiversity, as well as supporting economic activities.

A 1997 study by Costanza revealed that large-scale global assessments estimate that mangroves provide at least US$1.6 billion each year in ecosystem services that sequester carbon, support coastal livelihoods and communities around the world.

The increase in mangrove forest cover between 2012 and 2021, due to land use change in Parita Bay, reflected in the first GIS report, is excellent news for Panama and the world. News like this shows us that valuing, protecting and improving coastal natural capital to combat the effects of climate change is possible combining science, coherent public policies and the commitment of the various actors in society: companies, NGOs, government, communities; for the implementation of nature-based solutions

Status of mangrove ecosystems in Parita Bay

The Pacific coast of Panama is home to more than 95% of the country’s mangroves.

The Bahía de Parita study area occupies an area of ​​47,297.32 Ha, and is located on the coastline of the provinces of Coclé, Herrera and Los Santos, characterized by diversity in terms of their agricultural and industrial activities, for their biological value, ecosystemic and cultural, and due to its importance for the migratory birds of the Dry Arch of the Panamanian Pacific.

Within the study area are the protected areas of the El Peñón de Honda Wildlife Refuge, the Sarigua National Park and the Cenegón del Mangle Wildlife Refuge.

The analysis through satellite images for the year 2021 reveals that the area of ​​mangrove forest was 28.31%, while for the year 2012, according to the map of Forest Coverage and Land Use (MiAMBIENTE 2012), the area was 24.83%, which indicates an increase of 3.48% or 1,645.54 hectares

It is important to emphasize that of the total area occupied by mangrove forest for the year 2021 in Bahía de Parita (13,397.46 Ha), 14.52% (1,945.56 Ha) are within protected areas and 85.48% (11,451.90 Ha), are located in protected areas. area not protected by the National System of Protected Areas of the Ministry of Environment of Panama.

Regarding the analysis of change in land use for the years 2012 – 2021, the comparison made by the GIS consultant for the project, MSc. José Miguel Guevara, reveals that within the area of ​​study, the categories that have presented growth in their surface are: the area occupied by albinos with an increase of 0.78%, the mangrove forest with 3.48%, the cultivation of corn with 0.13%, the coverage of low floodable vegetation with 1.41%. On the other hand, those categories that presented a decrease in occupation in the surface for the year 2021 are: the areas cultivated with rice with -1.44% and the areas dedicated to the shrimp farming industries with -1.52%.

From what the report concludes, the decrease in occupation of the surface in activities such as rice cultivation and shrimp farming have contributed directly to the recovery of mangrove forest areas and areas with low vegetation prone to flooding.

Why protect mangroves?

The Panamanian coastline is experiencing rapid urban expansion and development, which has contributed to a 68% loss of mangrove cover since 1980 (López Angarita, 2016). The eastward expansion of Panama City (population 880,000) has caused the largest proportion of mangrove loss in the country (Kaufmann, 2012). Further west along the Pacific coast, Parita Bay faces mangrove loss due to clearing for shrimp farming and salt production (Bolaños, 2012). This has negatively affected local communities, leading to coastal flooding and erosion, loss of livelihood opportunities, etc.

Plastic pollution associated with increased urbanization has also been identified as a threat to Panama’s mangroves (Panama Audubon Society, 2015) as it accumulates in mangrove sites, suffocating roots and causing deaths.

Given these pressures, the watersheds that flow into the bay are considered highly vulnerable to climate change (Panama’s Third National Communication on Climate Change) which raises major concerns for food security, local livelihoods, the economy, and biodiversity.

After decades of deterioration, mangroves and related wetlands and tidal habitat are now being recognized globally (Primavera et al. 2019) for the important role they play in mitigating and building resilience to climate change. along with other ecosystem services that benefit people and biodiversity.

New tools based on science and good governance will make it possible to adopt the necessary measures to manage mangroves for the benefit of all, without sacrificing biodiversity, water and other natural resources, as well as identify financing mechanisms for their management.