Programs protect plants and animals along path of the Panama Canal expansion

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Mimi Whitefield (Miami Herald) writes about the important reforestation process as work proceeds on upgrading the Panama Canal. See excerpts here and please read the full article in the link below:

Rocks and earth aren’t the only things being moved around during the mega-project to expand the Panama Canal. Animals, birds and even a few insects — rare ones — have been trapped and relocated before the excavators and earth-moving equipment arrive. Thousands of seedlings also have been planted in communities around Panama to take the place of trees that were felled to make way for bigger locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific, new access channels and other improvements as the canal updates to allow bigger post-Panamax ships to make the crossing.

The canal traverses some of the most biologically diverse territory in the Americas, but during its 1904-1914 construction, it was a different era and no such care was taken with the wildlife. It was hard enough keeping workers, who succumbed to tropical diseases by the thousands, alive. Now the Panama Canal Authority, coordinating with the National Environmental Authority, is working with several animal rescue contractors to move howler, squirrel and titi monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, snakes — venomous and not, amphibians, and more to new habitats where they can thrive. As of June, more than 5,800 creatures had been rescued.

Sometimes the animals can be tricky. One troop of nine monkeys on the Atlantic side defied capture for four months, preventing clearing, said Angel Tribaldos, a biologist who works as an environmental specialist for the canal authority. They eventually decided to decamp on their own and one morning when workers arrived, they were gone. An elusive female crocodile on the Atlantic side foiled rescuers for eight months before she was finally spotted in the grass at 6 a.m. After a rescue team was alerted, it took four hours to tranquilize the 17.5-foot croc and immobilize her so she could be forklifted into a truck and moved to her new home in the San Lorenzo National Forest.

Before the rescue program began, the expansion project was divided into several areas and wildlife in each area surveyed. First there are 10 days of trapping before any vegetation is cleared. During the first cutting, crews use chain saws and no large machinery is permitted. If clearing crews spot wildlife in trees or nests, they are instructed to call a fauna rescue team because they don’t want to cut a tree and risk injury to a falling animal.

[. . .] Environmental efforts at the canal expansion go beyond relocating fauna.

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Researchers determined that 1,235 acres containing trees that had grown up since original canal construction would have to be cut and replaced. But the forest isn’t being replaced on a tree-for-tree basis, Broce said. Instead, for each hectare (2.47 acres) of vegetation and trees that are cut, two hectares (4.94 acres) must be reforested in protected areas, such as national parks and nature preserves.

Local communities, some quite distant from the canal, help with seedling projects and maintain the nurseries. “This way you can bring the benefits of the canal to other areas of the country,” Broce said. “We also found that if communities are involved, they’re less likely to burn the forest for charcoal or cut it.”

Cutting an oak, wild cashew, jobo, yellow poui [shown above] or cedar tree doesn’t necessarily mean it will get replaced with the same kind of tree, Broce said. Species native to each reforestation area are selected because they have the best chance of surviving.

There was one exception, however. Panama’s Aquatic Resources Authority required mangroves cut from the area of the new Pacific locks to be replaced with mangroves. In the beginning, crabs ate the roots of the new plantings. “We learned to put the mangrove seedlings inside bamboo shoots that protected them until they got bigger,” Broce said. “Eventually, the bamboo just dies off.”

Most of the newly reforested areas are distant from the Panama Canal watershed, where there has been a reforesting program for many years. [. . .]

For more information, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/26/4310733/programs-protect-plants-and-animals.html#emlnl=The_Americas

Photo of titi monkeys from http://kidssavingtherainforest.org/the-rainforest-2/animals-of-the-rainforest/titi-monkey/

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