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Project Spotlight: The Gulf of San Miguel, Panama

Since 2008, EcoLogic has worked with communities in the Gulf of San Miguel to help them find ways to better balance their lives with the health of the gulf ecosystem upon which they rely, and to better protect it from exploitation.

egret_no_cloud_cmpThe Gulf of San Miguel is an area of more than 30,000 hectares of mangroves and coastal habitat on the Pacific coast of Panama; it represents 17 percent of the mangroves found in Panama, which has the most mangroves of any country in Central America.  The gulf is fed by the Tuira, the largest river in the country, and given the rich biological diversity present, many small fishing villages have established themselves here over the years.  The gulf also lies within the easternmost province of Darién which includes lands traditionally inhabited by indigenous peoples including the Kuna, Emberá, and Wouanaan.

EcoLogic partners with Fundación Natura, a national Panamanian non-profit, that provides some funding and strategic support to the project, while EcoLogic collaborates with the communities to do most of the practical work.  Five villages undertook community meetings and consultations in order to identify their concerns and articulate them to EcoLogic.  The results informed the project’s design to ensure it advances local priorities.

There were four areas identified of particular need: the safe waste management of both garbage and sewage; the protection water sources and water quality; the strengthening of local fishing groups and the adoption of sustainable fishing practices; and the establishment of a federally recognized Protected Area within the gulf.

A mangrove is a tidal swamp, basically a tract of muddy land that contains trees and shrubs that tolerate salty water, and have tangled above-ground root systems that create dense thickets. While humans may not particularly enjoy a swamp as a place to live, it is habitat favored by many species of fish, birds, and mammals, often as a place to raise their young. For example, it is estimated that a third of all fish and marine species are born and raised in mangrove swamps along coastlines throughout the world.

Several efforts are underway to provide solutions to these problems. Microwatersheds have been formally mapped and conservation management plans prepared. A greenhouse was built to raise native tree seedlings for reforestation, and thousands of trees have been transplanted. Community members selected a latrine model and adapted it for the area; several were successfully constructed as “pilot” projects, and now many families are requesting latrines. Local fishermen have attended workshops on sustainable fishing practices, and have begun adopting different methods and using different equipment. They have also organized into a consolidated fishing organization, and they are helping project technicians and partners to gather the data needed to formally petition the Panamanian government to grant protected status to part of the Gulf of San Miguel.

EcoLogic could not do this important work without the generous help of our donors and friends, and we thank you. We plan to expand these efforts and we hope you will consider helping us protect the Gulf of San Miguel for future generations of people, but also for the birds, fish, and animals that consider it home.