On Tuesday, November 3rd, while Panamanians celebrated Independence Day Holidays, heavy machinery unexpectedly entered and began cutting down tropical forest and mangroves near Galeta outside of Colon, Panama, report local sources. mongabay.com confirmed that the latest clearing has been carried out “almost in secret during national holidays so there would be no reaction from the public or the media.”
The clearing, conducted by a transportation cooperative called Serafin Niño, from Colon, is occurring in the buffer zone of the Galeta Protected Landscape and near Galeta Point Marine Laboratory, a facility of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The land will likely be used to store transportation equipment that moves cargo to and from the ports of Colon and the Free Zone.
Panama is home to the largest mangrove forests in Central America. Because the country lies outside the hurricane belt, its Atlantic mangrove forests are particularly rich, serving as a nursery for marine life including species important to local fisheries. They also provide sanctuary for birds. Mangroves and associated sea-grass beds also ensure a range of local ecological services including buffering against storm surge and flooding, water filtration to reduce sedimentation, and anchoring coastal areas from erosion.
Destruction of the mangrove forests is being fueled by port expansion and the burgeoning population growth. Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute estimate that on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal the mangrove cover has dropped from 5,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares in the last ten years.