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The mangroves of Panama, a privileged stopover for migrating birds from the American continent

In the Bay of Panama, just a few kilometers from the skyscrapers of the capital, every year more than a hundred species of birds pass through the mangroves of Juan Diaz, its mangroves and fruit trees whose birds make their feed.

The mangroves of Panama are a “strategic stage” for migrating birds between the north and the south of the American continent which find there something “to eat and store the energy they need to continue the journey”, explains to the AFP Rosabel Miro, director of the Audubon Environmental Defense Society.

A tero lapwing in the middle of the waste in the mangroves of Costa del Este, in Panama, on March 16, 2022 (AFP – Luis ACOSTA)

Parrots, iguanas, crabs, shrimps and shellfish also abound in the marshy waters between the roots of mangrove trees.

Some birds come from the Arctic, Alaska, Canada, the jungles of Amazonia or even Chile and Argentina: yellow-bellied sugar bowls, tanagers, blackbirds, passerines… which migrate between South America North and South America.

“They stop here. They eat, they feed on what we leave them and what they find in the wetlands. It’s like a bathing complex” for birds, enthuses Rosabel Miro.

The mangroves of Panama (AFP - Tatiana MAGARINOS)
The mangroves of Panama (AFP – Tatiana MAGARINOS)

The Juan Diaz mangrove is closely monitored by the Ramsar Convention for the protection of wetlands, considered among the most important strategic habitats in the Western Hemisphere for bird migration.

According to Panama’s Ministry of the Environment, the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts are home to the largest variety of mangroves in the Americas, with 12 of the 75 species listed worldwide.

– Threatened ecosystem –

But these mangroves now only cover 165,000 hectares, less than half of what they were less than half a century ago.

An antenna measures humidity and carbon dioxide indices in the Juan Diaz mangrove, in Panama, on March 14, 2022 (AFP - Luis ACOSTA)
An antenna measures humidity and carbon dioxide indices in the Juan Diaz mangrove, in Panama, on March 14, 2022 (AFP – Luis ACOSTA)

Livestock and agricultural activity as well as construction and public works are the main threats to these coastal wetlands, according to the ministry.

And the birds must share the mangrove with cans, plastic bottles, tires or old shoes brought there by the tides.

“Everything carried by the rivers arrives at the sea, and then arrives in the mangrove”, deplores Natalia Tejedor, researcher at the Technological University of Panama.

Mangroves are not only valuable for birds: they protect coasts from erosion and support many commercial marine species.

Finally, they are effective sinks for carbon and greenhouse gases.

This is why the peace of the Juan Diaz mangrove is regularly disturbed by the crunch of footsteps of visitors watching over it: the instruments that pepper a 30-meter high tower measure the radiation of the sun, the capture of carbon and the ‘humidity.

Birds in the mangroves of Costa del Este, March 14, 2022 in Panama (AFP - Luis ACOSTA)
Birds in the mangroves of Costa del Este, March 14, 2022 in Panama (AFP – Luis ACOSTA)

The data collected makes it possible to know precisely the contribution of mangroves to the protection of the environment, explains Natalia Tejedor.

“How can we ask decision-makers to protect mangroves? (By showing) their benefits. Among other things for carbon capture”, explains the researcher. “Now, with the Paris agreements (to combat climate change), all countries are concerned”, she underlines.

Mangroves “are the first barrier between dry land and the sea, they are essential. They are quite simply the first forest that protects us”, pleads for her part Juliana Chavarria, technician of the Charbon Bleu project who studies this environment.

According to the Panamanian authorities, the country is one of the few that can boast of having a negative carbon footprint, that is to say that it absorbs more greenhouse gases than it emits. .

Plastic waste, in the Juan Diaz mangrove, in Panama, on March 14, 2022 (AFP - Luis ACOSTA)
Plastic waste, in the Juan Diaz mangrove, in Panama, on March 14, 2022 (AFP – Luis ACOSTA)

In the pre-Columbian indigenous language, Panama means “abundance of fish, and abundance of fish is abundance of mangroves.

To the extent that we protect these ecosystems, we will ensure our food and our resources”, underlines Juliana Chavarria.

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