Country Profiles

Panama - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Panama is located in the world’s most biodiverse region and on the isthmus linking Central and South America, with unparalleled access to the flora and fauna of three different bodies of water, namely the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Chiriquí and Gulf of Panama. Panamanian forests provide an important biological corridor for species migration. The country is however particularly vulnerable (it is only 100 km wide) and at risk to experience multiple natural disasters and severe impacts from activities linked to climate change, which can easily disrupt this corridor through the destruction of habitat, among other consequences. Significant land use changes are also occurring in the country as a result of agricultural expansion, urban sprawl and tourism.

Protected areas currently comprise 3.5 million hectares, accounting for 38.66% of the national area (35.85% land, 2.81% marine). In the 2010-2013 period, an analysis conducted on the goods and services provided by the 25 protected areas established at this time estimated their economic value to be 226.25 million Balboas per year. Panama has also identified 57 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), of which 53 are also Important Bird Areas (IBAs), and 20 (35%) of which overlap with protected areas.

The agricultural frontier has expanded throughout almost the entire country, at the expense of forests and mountain ecosystems. According to land use classifications, 25% of the country (1.8 million hectares) has a potential for agricultural and livestock production, while the rest is suitable for forest use with severe limitations on suitability for agriculture (the actual use for agriculture and livestock production has however been estimated at between 2.8 and 2.9 million hectares).

The development of roads, power lines, hydroelectric plants, among other infrastructure, triggered by urban sprawl into buffer zones around protected areas, such as Chagres National Park and other protected areas in the Panama Canal watershed, is transforming natural conditions with effects on biodiversity. In addition, the buffer zones around the Volcan Baru National Park and La Amistad International Park (a transboundary protected area with Costa Rica) are particularly affected by land and water pollution resulting from the use of agrochemicals, sewage dumping, among other factors. A similar situation is occurring with respect to the San San Pond Sak River which is a carrier of chemicals used in plantain production which, in turn, is affecting the habitat of manatees.

The results of poorly regulated tourism development are evidenced in the Bocas del Toro province, comprised mainly of islands off the Caribbean coast, where risks of pollution and degradation on marine and coastal ecosystems, overexploitation of species, such as lobster and crab, and land speculation are on the rise. Inadequate waste management on the northwestern Kuna Yala islands, including the Narganá protected area, is affecting the state of coral reefs. The Panama Canal, which is currently being expanded, provides an significant pathway for the introduction of invasive species from both the Atlantic and Pacific sides, as well as an opportunity for species to blend together, making the country particularly vulnerable to this threat type.

Although the rate of deforestation fell nationwide in the 1992-2000 period, compared to the previous 1986-1992 period, certain parts of the country are pressured today by both selective and indiscriminate extraction of hardwood species and/or by the removal of vegetation cover for agricultural purposes. These pressures are more common in the forested areas of Bocas del Toro, Darién and the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, including in buffer zones around protected areas. While the main causes of deforestation in Panama are linked to expansion of the agricultural frontier and habitat transformation due to infrastructure development, it is also driven to some extent by mining, mainly for gold and copper. Also, four critical areas subject to drought and land degradation have been identified as Cerro Punta, Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, dry forest and the Veragüense Central Savannah.

In Panama, as in other countries, amphibian populations have suffered drastic declines, to the point that some species have probably disappeared from the wild, due to the emergence of a fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The main threats to Panamanian biodiversity are associated with the expansion of the agricultural frontier, land use changes, deterioration and loss of soils, deforestation and habitat fragmentation, water and soil contamination, creation and expansion of human infrastructure inside protected areas, other human hazards, climate change and natural disasters, and emerging diseases.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Panama’s first NBSAP was completed in 2000. The country is currently revising and updating the NBSAP, including developing national targets, with the intention to complete this process in 2015. The recommendations of the National Biodiversity Policy, adopted by decree in 2008, which emphasize the sustainable use of biodiversity for socioeconomic development, are being taken into account in the revision, as is the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Targets.

The new NBSAP will address in particular issues absent in the first NBSAP (2000) on: integrating biodiversity values (Target 2); creating incentives and removing harmful subsidies (Target 3); sustainable consumption and production (Target 4); full implementation of the programme of work on protected areas, including increased protection for and connectivity of landscapes/seascapes (Target 11); and restoring and safeguarding ecosystems that provide essential services (Target 14). The NBSAP development process will also look closely at strengthening climate resilience, as well as integrating climate resilience within systematic spatial planning efforts already underway. Sectoral mainstreaming, the costing of NBSAP implementation, resource mobilization, capacity needs and national CHM development are among other issues to be addressed.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

To date, significant progress has been made towards achieving Target 11 (Protected Areas) and Target 16 (Nagoya Protocol). Some initial progress has been made towards achieving Target 1 (awareness increased), Target 2 (biodiversity values integrated), Target 4 (sustainable consumption and production), Target 5 (habitat loss halved or reduced), Target 6 (sustainable management of marine living resources), and Target 7 (sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry). On the other hand, little or no progress has been made towards Target 3 (incentives reformed), Target 15 (ecosystems restored and resilience enhanced), Target 17 (NBSAPs) and Target 20 (Financial Resources).

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The provisions of the new NBSAP will be mainstreamed in the new National Strategy for the Environment 2014-2018 which is also currently in preparation.

In recognition of the importance of the Panamanian biological corridor to the existence of many species, 7 Central American countries pledged to help preserve this forested "bridge" by launching the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor initiative in 1997.

To address the threat of invasive alien species, Panama has initiated a process aimed at developing a national legal framework and a national strategy for preventing and managing the introduction of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens in ballast water and sediments from ships.

To address the rapid decline of amphibian populations due to chytridiomycosis, ex situ conservation has been used as an immediate measure. Two successful initiatives have been implemented towards the recovery of these populations, resulting in the creation of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center and the Amphibian Rescue Center. Panama hopes that these models can be replicated worldwide to deal with this threat. Conservation plans have been developed for other threatened species, such as the Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja, Linnaeus) and jaguar (Panthera onca, Linnaeus).

As part of the REDD + initiative, efforts have been taken towards acquiring a deeper understanding of the causes of deforestation and forest degradation in the country. This has resulted in making available the elements necessary to design a national strategy on reducing deforestation and forest degradation, conserving forest resources, sustainably managing forests and increasing carbon stocks.

Since 2011, the Panama Canal Authority has been implementing a reforestation programme, including environmental economic incentives for communities, aimed at promoting the proper management of natural resources. A positive trend towards the recovery of forest cover has been achieved, as well as towards improved living conditions for the people living in the Panama Canal watershed areas.

Panama is a Party to the Nagoya Protocol on ABS.

In 2013, the National Environment Authority established the sectoral committee on environmental biosafety, pursuant to Law 48 adopted in 2002 on the creation of the National Biosafety Commission for genetically modified organisms.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Biological inventories are currently being conducted for the proposed national biodiversity monitoring system, with activities facilitated through the implementation of the National Environment Authority’s Panama Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project (CBMAP-II/ANAM).