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Environmental Issues: Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela Protects Wetlands Outside Panama City From Construction

First Posted: Feb 10, 2015 01:15 PM EST

Photo : Romanrayala/Wikimedia Commons

Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama, signed a bill designed to protect the wetlands outside Panama City from a boom in construction that threatens the natural habitat.

Construction, under this new law, will be banned in the 210,000 acre area of the Bay of Panama, BBC reports

Within the Western Hemisphere, the wetlands play a vital role as a stopover and winter sanctuary for migratory shorebirds.

Previous to Varela taking office, his predecessor Ricardo Martinelli had actively encouraged construction projects in the environmentally sensitive area.

It is estimated about a million shorebirds migrate to the Bay of Panama every year, and the area is also home to many animals that depend on its ecological balance, including anteaters, Central American tapirs and loggerhead turtles.

The new wetland law came into effect on Monday.

Aside from quashing future construction in the designated area, the law bans logging as well as the removal of soil and any other activity which might affect the mangrove swamps.

The law comes at a time when construction around the marsh area has been intensified. The surrounding space around Panama City has, in recent years, seen a fast growth due to the construction of major residential and tourist-bssed industrial complexes.

According to , environmentalists have accused the previous Panamanian president Martinelli of aiding in the destruction of the marshlands by encouraging the unrestrained growth of the area during his 2009-2014 time in office.

This ecologically harmful process of rampant construction was accelerated primarily by lowering the fines for cutting down mangrove trees.

Concerned environmentalists believe this pro-construction move has hastened the destruction of Panama's mangrove forests.

According to United Nations figures, 55 percent of the sensitive land has been lost between 1969 and 2007.

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