Latin America & Caribbean

Panama protects wetlands from construction boom

A mangrove forest hugs the coastline of Panama City in this file photo from 18 October 2012 Image copyright AP
Image caption The mangrove forests were threatened by Panama City's rapid expansion

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela signed a bill on Monday aimed at protecting the wetlands outside the capital, Panama City, from a construction boom.

Under the new law, construction is banned in a 85,000-hectare-stretch (210,000 acres) of the Bay of Panama.

The wetlands are a key stopover and wintering area for migratory shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere.

Mr Varela's predecessor had encouraged construction projects in the area.

The new law, which came into effect on Monday, also bans logging, the removal of soil and any other activity which may affect the mangrove swamps.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Environmentalists say 30% of the world's Western sandpiper population migrate to the Bay of Panama

In recent years, the area around Panama City has seen fast growth with the construction of major residential, tourism and industrial complexes.

Environmentalists accused President Ricardo Martinelli of tacitly encouraging unrestrained growth during his time in office from 2009 to 2014 by lowering the fines for cutting down mangrove trees.

They say the move sped up the destruction of Panama's mangrove forests, 55% of which were lost between 1969 and 2007, according to United Nations figures.

About a million shorebirds migrate to the Bay of Panama every year.

The area is also home to anteaters, Central American tapirs and loggerhead turtles.

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