The Bay of Panama lies in the shadow of Panama City’s imposing skyline, but remains one of Central America’s little known treasures, providing habitat for nearly two million migratory shorebirds.
On June 16, 2009 CAVU volunteer pilot Rick Durden accompanied by his wife Karen and CAVU staff members Program Director and Photographer Dave Sherwood and Flight Program Director Michele Gangaware departed San Jose, Costa Rica in N206WY for Panama City. The mission: to conduct low level aerial surveys of the Bay of Panama and its varied ecosystems in collaboration with the Panama Audubon Society.
The Bay of Panama, designated a Ramsar wetland in 2003, encompasses an enormous expanse of mangroves and mudflats that provide food and cover for a fantastic variety of shorebirds, many of which fly as many as 20,000 miles roundtrip from pole to pole during their migration. The significance of the Upper Bay’s habitat led the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Network (WHSRN) to declare the Bay Central America’s most important site due to the astounding number of migratory shorebirds that rely on its ecosystems.
In addition to its Ramsar designation, the Bay of Panama is now formally recognized as a protected area under Panama’s System of Protected Areas (February 2009). With this expanded designation comes the requirement to create and implement a conservation strategy for the management of the Bay. Panama Audubon is leading the effort, working with stakeholders to create a suitable management plan.
CAVU allied with Audubon to photo-document the present state of the Bay’s varied habitat types and current land use to further the publics understanding and appreciation of the area’s unique biodiversity and global significance.
Flying from Panama City to Chimán and Isla Majé, CAVU was able to document this enormously varied landscape with GPS embedded photography. The flights uncovered pristine mangrove forests, abundant mudflat ecosystems, and the advancing pressures of urban development interface, industry, agriculture and expanding population centers on the wetlands. The images and corresponding data gathered on the flights will be used to develop a comprehensive management plan for the area that benefits both the human populations and wildlife species that call the Bay of Panama home. CAVU’s work was highlighted shortly after departure in an investigative report written by José Arcia in La Prensa, Panama’s premier newspaper – proof of the immediate, positive impact of CAVU’s flights.