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Status and Trends of Biodiversity


One of the major features affecting the biodiversity of Panama is the Isthmus of Panama and its geological history. The diversity of ecosystems includes: several types of humid tropical forest, coastal and marine ecosystems and freshwater systems. The Catalogue of the vascular plants of Panama (2004) identifies 9,520 vascular plant species, 1,144 of which are endemics. Several woody plants, identified for their high demand on the national and international market, include the caoba (Swietenia macrophylla), Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) and the shaving-brush tree, among others. The avifauna is the most diverse group, with 972 species of birds registered in Panama (Audubon Society, 2006). Among other taxa we find 218 mammals, 242 reptiles, 182 amphibians and 275 fish species. There is a large list of threatened mammals including deer, tapirs and felines. Some of the main threats to biodiversity include: destruction of habitat; contamination of ecosystems; species trafficking; genetic erosion; and over exploitation of several commercially important species. In Panama, the average deforestation rate has reached 50,000 hectares annually due to demands for agricultural lands and extensive livestock grazing. The country’s vegetation is classified into 24 categories (Berger, 2000) recognized by UNESCO, which include forest, savannah, marshland, albinas, mangrove, aquatic plant formations both floating and submerged, moorland vegetation, areas producing firewood, forest plantations both homogeneous and heterogeneous; and 7 others that do not fall within the UNESCO classification system, which include productive systems and coral reefs. Together with its forest coverage, the country has a number of rivers flowing into the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, creating conditions to support a wide variety of aquatic and land based flora and fauna. The Atlantic region, falling within the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, sustains the greatest forest coverage in the whole country and enjoys the greatest diversity of ecosystems and species of flora and fauna under conservation, which are relatively stable and healthy.

Number and Extent of Protected Areas

The National System of Protected Areas (SINAP) represents the principle force for the conservation of the country’s extraordinary biological richness in situ. With 65 official designation protected areas, Panama has 2,600,018.050ha of land under the National System of Protected Areas, which covers about 34.43% of the total land area.

Twelve (12) protected areas are internationally recognized including: The Darien National Park, World Heritage Site (1981) and Biosphere Reserve (1983); the Friendship International Park a World Heritage Site (1990) and Biosphere Reserve (2000). The Volcan Baru National Park; the Fortuna Forest Reserve, the Palo Seco Protected Woodland Area, The Bastimento Island National Park, the Volcan Wetland Lagoon and the San San Pond Sak Wetland, which also form part of The Friendship International Biosphere Reserve. Five (5) wetlands recognized as Ramsar Sites: the Punta Patiño Wetland (1993), the Gulf of Montijo Wetland (1990), the San San Pond Sak Wetland (1993), the Eastern Region of the Bahía de Panamá Wetland (2003) and the Damani-Guariviara Wetland (2004). The Portobelo National Park (1980) and the San Lorenzo Woodland Protection Zone-Protected Landscape (1980) were declared as World Cultural Heritage sites also.

Percentage of Forest Cover

By the year 2000, the country had placed 44.91% (OIMT-ANAM 2000) of its forested area under conservation measures and the net rate of deforestation for the period 1992-2000 was 41,321 ha, representing a recovery of almost 6,000 ha/year compared to the immediately preceding period (1986-1992) through a combination of reforestation and regeneration of native forest. The rapid and constant decrease of the forest coverage in Panama during the period 1992 - 2000, that represented a 4.0% (c.a. 3020 km) of the total surface of the country, alerted to unsustainable practices in the primary sector and to place in evidence the threats to the conservation and availability of forest at future.

During the period 1992 – 2004, reforestation has gained a surface equivalent to 0.6% of the national territory (46,136 hectares). From the total reforested hectares in Panama per year, between 1992-2004, we observed a clear variability in the pattern of reforestation activities through time. Since 1992, there was a successive increase of reforestation activity, because the Reforestation Incentive Law. The law lost power in 1996, and there was a dwindling of activity in the next two years. This was followed by an increase in 2002, and another decrease within the last two years. Possible reasons for this reduction are: the lack of a market, and the addition of Article 80-C into Decree-law 170, 27 October 1993, which decreased the incentive measures for reforestation and other projects established after 27 December 2002. Another factor affecting the fall of reforestation activities is the enforcement of the Fiscal Reform, issued in January 2005, which eliminates some of the incentives established in Law 24 of 23 November of 1992. In the 1992–2004 period, the provinces that have presented major reforested areas are: Panama, with 15,584 hectares, and Chiriqui, with 7,345 hectares; the provinces with smaller reforested areas are: Herrera and Los Santos, with 1,107 hectares and 1,469 hectares, respectively. The challenge faced by authorities is the promotion and support, through wider participation of all key stakeholders, the establishment and management of forest plantations throughout the national territory, in order to increase the reforested areas during the next few years. This situation can be accomplished with new incentives and by including small, local farmers in the plantation records. It is also necessary to implement the Sustainable Forest Development National Plan, the National Reforestation Plan, the National Forest Policy and the Forest Development and Protection Fund (FONDEFOR); as well as to promote reforestation among small farmers in rural areas, specifically high poverty areas.

National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan

Major features of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

The National Strategy contains a long-term vision, formulated largely from a consultation process, and presents several general strategic objectives. The overall objective of the National Strategy is to establish a coherent framework of national, sectoral and regional policies oriented to the protection, conservation, restoration, utilization, knowledge and valuation of biodiversity, with the aim of contributing to an elevation in the quality of life for the Panamanian population. The 7 key components and the strategic axis for conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable distribution of benefits arising from biodiversity include: scientific research and technology; education and awareness; and technical and financial cooperation. Each axis contains specific actions and responsibilities for each sector for conservation, use and distribution of benefits derived from the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Implementation of the Convention

Measures Taken to Achieve the 2010 Target

Presently, ANAM is carrying out a set of processes to elaborate some studies closely related to biodiversity policy. For example: the elaboration of Rules to access Panamanian genetic resources and its sustainable use, as well as the benefits arising from such, for the implementation of article 71 of the Environmental General Law; regulation of articles 94 and 95 of the Environmental General Law concerning “Exploitation, management and conservation of the marine and coastal resources in the protected areas of Panama”; regulation by law of the proceedings, administrative and technical rules to incorporate the sustainability and rationality concepts into the exploitation of flora, fauna and water resources; regulations to establish the proceedings and technical mechanisms for creation of protected areas to be included into the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP), through laws, rules, regulation bylaws and/or municipal agreements; the elaboration of technical and jurisdictional regulations for ecotourism at the national level, in order to guarantee the conservation of natural resources and sustainable development through general public participation.

October 2004, the National Environment Authority signed a Memorandum of Understanding with some environmental NGO´s of Panama (The Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Audubon Society of Panama, CATHALAC, Centro de Estudios y Accion Social Panameños, Asociacion Nacional para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza – ANCON, Red de Reservas Privadas) in order to support the national government in the application of the Working Program concerning protected areas, adopted in COP7 of the CBD.

There is also a project developing in the frontier protected areas concerning Basic Tools for the Joint Management of Parque Internacional La Amistad – Costa Rica- Panama, organized by the Costa Rican National Institute of Biodiversity (INBIO) and the Botanical Department of the London Natural History Museum, supported with the funding of the Darwin Initiative Foundation of London. This project considers vegetation sampling tours to identify unique vegetal associations of this frontier area with high biodiversity and which are a priority for conservation plans. Elaboration of the maps of these sites are expected for the joint management of this binational protected area.

The general objective of the National Biodiversity Policy, is to place the biological and genetic resources as the “the core of a national strategy and its connections with the economic and social development process, taking into account the challenge to improve the competitiveness of the country by improving life quality, decrease of poverty; and integration of the local and indigenous people and sustainable development”.

The National Environment Authority of Panama through its Wildlife and Biodiversity Department and the Legal Office coordinated some consultation workshops with different national specialists in flora and fauna, to up date the legislation concerning endangered, threatened and endemic species of Panama to 2007.

Panama, participated in the preparation of the Project “Conservation and Sustainable Use of Neotropical Native Crops and Wild Relatives of Crops in CENTRAL AMERICA (plus COLOMBIA, MEXICO and BELIZE)". Problem Statement and Project Rationale: The Mesoamerican region is the origin of numerous plant species which are food sources (including beans, corn, Capsicum, and Cucurbitaceae). Preliminary assessments in countries of the Central American region have shown that, despite the advances in genomics, the genetic diversity that is most interesting and vital for future crop improvement is poorly studied and used. The constant threat of deforestation and other impacts of the agricultural activity in Central America further increases the need to identify areas, rich in wild relatives of crops, develop strategies for their conservation, and at the same time implement agricultural land use strategies that will contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The practice of replacing local plant varieties with modern varieties, and single-crop farming result in an erosion of the in situ maintenance of key food crops. So far the region’s food security is largely based on relatively few species (mainly corn, rice, and beans), with little emphasis on the full exploitation of the available wild biodiversity. Technical support and guidance for sustainable use of farm and forest biodiversity resources will be provided to local communities. To be strategic, such support needs to be based on sound knowledge bases and supportive policies and institutions. To this effect, the Project will support the use of state-of-the art technologies and policy modifications to prioritize in-situ conservation efforts. This approach would provide a continuum of applied research and capacity building that will reduce pressure on wild relatives of agronomic crops in Central America, providing more stable livelihoods and better living standards for the local populations while also yielding important global benefits. This project would complement the overall biodiversity conservation goals of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor with specific and specialized focus on the agriculture/conservation interface, both at the levels of genetic diversity and the level of sustainable use of land and plants. A coalition between leaders of Mesoamerican Biological Corridor at the political, scientific and private sector levels is leading to a series of on-going actions. These include: (i) in situ conservation activities in each of the project countries (ii) applied research activities in country and at regional levels; and (iii) funding and implementing of activities through networks such as Mesoamerican Plant Genetic Resources Network (REMERFI). In addition, country representatives (in most instances the Ministers of Agriculture) in the agricultural network are now holding joint meetings with their environment counterparts, ensuring that inter-sectorial priorities (such as agricultural biodiversity) are fully integrated in the national rural development and agricultural strategies.

This Project carried out status analysis of the three Conventions (Climate Change, Combat Desertification and Biodiversity), working with the National Focal Points and different stakeholders, the output is a participative consulting process to determine the needs and priorities in capacity building in human resources, systemic and institutional for Panama, for the implementation of these three conventions. The outcome of this project is to identify and select the synergic priority areas on these Conventions and prepare strategies and action plans, programmes and projects into the synergic and priority thematic areas. We are finishing up the status analysis of the Conventions, and preparing the strategy and action plan in the synergic priority areas of NCSA.

Initiatives in Protected Areas

An analysis of the diverse natural processes of the protected areas, their current situation, the connectivity of the ecosystems, the extent to which these eco systems are represented within the SINAP, the health of the habitats, conservation of key species, biological diversity, the conservation of endemic species and the natural state of evolutionary processes, indicates that the vital processes of the protected areas within the Atlantic region have been preserved almost unchanged, with pristine environments and a high degree of conservation. This is not the situation in the Pacific region, where the most important protected areas are at risk and show a very high degree of intrusion and fragmentation of habitats.

In addition to the protected areas, 15,103.4km2 (20%) of the Panamanian territory is made up of five reservations and one indigenous territory established by law. The traditional methods of land use employed by the indigenous populations have contributed to the conservation of some areas of great biological importance, mainly in the Atlantic region where the majority of the reservations are established. However, the level of poverty in which these people live, and the pressures of population growth, is putting environmental conservation in these areas at risk.

The National Environmental Strategy (ENA) approved in May 1999 defines the strategies and organizational criteria for environmental management over the long-term (2000-2020). The ENA has provided support for the development of specific environmental management tools, such as the National Biodiversity Strategy (2000) and the National Action Plan for Panama’s Biological Diversity (2000), which were developed with a focus on sustainable development, and were consistent with the UNDP country plan for Panama 2002-2006 and the Millennium Development Goals. These actions also agreed with Panama’s ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1995.

As a result of the need to strengthen SINAP, the in situ conservation program of the National Action Plan for Biological Diversity gives priority to: the prevention of the degradation and deterioration of terrestrial ecosystems; to coastal, marine and freshwater areas; to the restoration of the flora and fauna populations under threat in these areas; and to the reduction of genetic erosion within these populations. To complement this approach, the ex situ conservation program of the Plan defines strategies for efficient use of scientific research areas, and for the integration of the users (communities and entrepreneurs) of natural resources and the biological diversity of an area into conservation activities.

SINAP was established by means of a Board Resolution of INRENARE in 1994 (Resolution JD No.09-94), as one of the commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB). As a result of the approval of the General Environmental Law (Law 41 of 1st July 1998), which set the general framework for environmental management and the establishment of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) as the governing body for environmental policy at a national level, SINAP was relegated to an article in the abovementioned law (Article 66 of Chapter II Protected Areas and Biological Diversity, under Heading VI On the subject of Natural Resources), which had to be developed by means of further regulations. The need was therefore recognized for legal regulation, which recognized the strategic importance of the country’s protected areas and incorporated the benefits accrued to the country as a result of their protection, both nationally and internationally. A draft law has been prepared by ANAM, which is still under review and which will shortly be submitted to the Counsel of Ministers and the Assembly of Deputies.

In October 2004, the National Environment Authority signed Memorandums of Understanding with some environmental NGOs (The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society of Panama, Centro del Agua del Tropico Humedo para America Latina y el Caribe, Centro de Estudios y Acción Social Panameños, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, Red de Reservas Privadas), commonly named NISP (National Implementation Support Partnership Agreement), to support the implementation activities of the protected areas working program, initially its elaborate action plan for 2006-2009. Presently, ANAM, with the support of The Nature Conservancy, is working in the ecological representative Gap Analysis of the National System of Protected Areas of Panama and the Ecoregional Planning Initiative for Central America. In addition, it also started the elaboration of the Strategic Plan of the National System of Protected Areas.

The Protected Areas Effective Management Monitoring Programme (PMEMAP, in Spanish) of the SINAP is a tool that the National Environment Authority uses to measure and assess the effectiveness in the management of 35 protected areas. The PMEMAP, rising from the Central American initiative Monitoring Strategy of Protected Areas, is a simple low cost tool which enables data collection that leads to better support and strengthening of protected areas management and is presently oriented to make decisions.

In 1997, the National Environment Authority (ANAM) initiated the management of this tool with three capacity building workshops, which lead to the first adaptation of the strategy to national scenarios, performed with the support of PROARCA/CAPAS.

In 2001, supported by United Status Agency for International Development (USAID), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Natura Foundation/FIDECO, contracted two technicians to support ANAM in the implementation of monitoring throughout the country, establishing databases and carrying out a census in order to compile and centralize the general information of each protected area into the system.

In 2002, 36 protected areas of SINAP kept their data baseline (present state of management), created a database for the National Service of Protected Areas and Wildlife (SNAAPVS) with overall of the information of the protected areas of the country, and is carrying out the assessments.

In 2002-2003, ANAM members of local areas and the headquarters, made a complete review of all indicator proposals for the Central American Region with PROARCA, and they have been adapted to the Panamanian context. As a result of this adaptation, from the 45 initial indicators, 14 were modified.

In January 9, 2004, Official Resolution N˚AG-0007-2004 was issued in order to approve and adopt the effectiveness-monitoring program of protected areas management of the SINAP.

Initiatives for Article 8(j)

The Atlantic Panamanian Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project (CBMAP), operated by the National Environment Authority of Panama (ANAM), promotes actions and contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity on the Atlantic side of the country, through land use practices which comply with biological, social and economic priorities, and improve the quality of life of indigenous and local communities.

Indigenous communities are among the poorest populations of the country. According to the life levels, public-opinion poll of the Planning and Economic Policy Ministry of Panama (MIPPE), for 1997, the rural income per capita per year is estimated at 1,036 dollars U.S., while the indigenous was only 330 dollars U.S. As a result, it is estimated that poverty affects 37% of the general population, but is as high as 85% in indigenous communities. From this study, the provinces of Darien, Bocas del Toro and the east of Chiriqui, joined with the Kuna Yala indigenous district, were identified as the major poverty centers.

The CBMAP project signed a memorandum of understanding with the indigenous communities to improve: the coordination and participative processes; the land use conflict mediation; and the co-management of protected areas and buffer zones.

About 450 indigenous leaders have participated in the training workshops organized by the CBMAP project, focusing on issues such as: environmental legislation, organization and community partnership. Through the CBMAP Project, 100 sub-projects were implemented in indigenous communities (handicrafts, agricultural and forestry, fisheries cultivation, reforestation, ecotourism and solar energy), 73% of which were carried out by local indigenous people formed from different ethnical groups: Ngobes-Bugles, Kuna, Naso Teribe, and Embera.

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