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Panama’s President Prevents Construction on Wetlands

A victory for environmentalists, the North American shorebirds, and the wetlands.

Photo of Panama City via Wikimedia Commons

The President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela signed a bill Monday that banned construction on a 210,000-acre stretch of the wetlands along the Bay of Panama. The law also prohibits logging, the removal of soil, and any other activity that may aversely affect the mangrove swamps, according to the BBC.

According to ABC, the area, located outside of Panama City, is a refuge for some 1 million North American shorebirds who pause there during their migratory path, as well as 30 percent of the world's Western Sandpiper population. The wetlands are also home to anteaters, Central American tapirs, and loggerhead turtles.

Varela’s recent law is a sharp change from his predecessor, billionaire businessman Ricardo Martinelli, who tried to encourage construction and development of the wetlands during his term by slashing environmental fines. In recent years, under Martinelli, the area around Panama City experienced rapid growth of major residential, tourism, and industrial complexes.

Environmentalists accused Martinelli of promoting unrestrained growth by lowering fines for cutting down mangrove trees, which, they claim, sped up the destruction of Panama’s mangrove forests. According to a United Nations report, 55 percent of Panama’s mangrove forests were lost between 1969 and 2007.

However, under President Varela, the wetlands, and the environmentalists trying to protect them, seem to have found a new ally.

North American shorebirds, photo via Getty Images

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