As we fly from Panama City, the Las Perlas Archipelago appears on the horizon, stretching out before us.
Closing in we see scarred patches of land recently cleared for new residential and hotel projects, adding to the destruction of forests and subsequent runoff from road work spilling into the surrounding waters that are home to several species of marine turtles and marine mammals like humpback whales. While the area was declared a marine management area in 2007, development and deforestation have been allowed to continue absent the implementation of a management plan that addresses land use. The Marine Special Management Zone strictly regulates fishing, however no restrictions are imposed on tourism and land development, leaving the coral reef ecosystem vulnerable to the effects of sedimentation, pollution, and coastal development.
CAVU’s Program Director and Photographer Dave Sherwood was on board the flight and provided the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute with GPS embedded photos of the islands that make up the archipelago, documented current conditions and land use changes. Areas of development and deforestation were captured on film and catalogued for STRI’s use in protecting the areas vast wealth of biodiversity. Also taking part in the flight was La Prensa reporter José Arcia. A report of the flight appeared in La Prensa on July 12.