This past Saturday I had the opportunity to fly over some of Panama's rainforest in the Chimán District of Panama just this side of the Darien border. It was an amazing experience. The fact that we are losing our rainforest at an alarming rate was very easy to see. The figures can actually be broken down to the second. The Amazon rainforest known as the last frontier on earth is responsible for 20% of the earth's oxygen. If the Amazon were a country it would be the 9th largest nation in the world. The rainforest is disappearing at the rate of a football field every second. Let me rephrase this. EVERY SECOND of every day a football field of the rainforest is destroyed. It is estimated that in 40 years it will be gone.
Here are a few facts on the consequences of deforestation:
In Brazil alone, European colonists have destroyed more than 90 indigenous tribes since the 1900's. With them have gone centuries of accumulated knowledge of the medicinal value of rainforest species. As their homelands continue to be destroyed by deforestation, rainforest peoples are also disappearing.
Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
Rainforests are being destroyed because the value of rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by shortsighted governments, multinational logging companies, and land owners.
Panama's statistics are equally if not more alarming. The rainforest in Panama covers over 56% of total land area. From 1990-2005 Panama lost 18.4% of its primary/pristine forest cover to farmers, loggers and miners. Reforestation or secondary forests are replacing some of what is destroyed, but reforestation cannot replace the thousands of insects and plant species that are becoming extinct as each tree is taken down. Another disturbing fact is that the rainforest that surrounds the Panama Canal is the watershed for this International Resource. The rainforest is responsible for filtering silt and sediments. It is also responsible to help replenish the 2 billion gallons of fresh water that is needed everyday. Over 70% of the watershed has been destroyed due to deforestation. The reason is partly due to the Urban Sprawl that Panama is now experiencing. As deforestation continues, erosion will increase and eventually deem the canal inoperable and close to 700 000 people will lose their supply of fresh drinking water. *
The Darien which is Panama's least habited province and makes up 26% of Panama's geography is being destroyed through mahogany loggers, farmers and roads. Coupled with the that the trees are sprayed with chemicals to prevent rotting and the chemicals are killing fish and other plants and animals in the rainforests of the Darien. Deforestation has also caused sever water shortages from Chepo to Yaviza. *
To stop the destruction we need to educate, train and preserve. We live in a society where we are programmed to have what we want rather than want what we have. As a whole we are short sighted and we are killing the planet. There are so many associations actively doing what they can to stop deforestation. You do not need to become an activist you do not even need to leave your home to help. I recently donated to a Panama Specific Rainforest movement called Cuipo. Cuipo owns a large section of the rainforest this side of the border of the Darien. For $1 a metre anyone can adopt a parcel or give a parcel as a gift to a friend. You will instantly be given a certificate and you can view your adopted parcel on google maps in Chepo. The money that Cuipo collects from the adoptees goes towards buying more rainforest that will forever be untouched and preserved.
This October I will be running in the Gamboa Rainforest 1/2 Marathon. I ran this race last year and it was by far the most beautiful route I have run or raced. This year I will be running to save the Rainforest. I will be running for the beautiful Blue Morphos Butterflies that follow us in our run, and for the Howler Monkeys that cheer us on as we make our way along the 21km path.
On Saturday we flew over my 15m2 of adopted rainforest. During our flight over the District of Chimán it was very easy to see the patchy landscape that marks the deforestation of this incredible part of the world. I could also see the small villages that have formed along the rivers and I could see the incredible Panama Trees that tower over the lush green canopy that is fighting for its existence. One of our passengers that owns 200 hectares in this area stated that in 1982 when he bought his land the whole area was rainforest. A large part of the patchy landscape that you now see is due to farmers and loggers. In 40 years the same flight will most likely be a different snap shot. In 40 years I may not be breathing as easily as I do today, or have the medication I need. In 40 years the forest may be gone. Take a minute and find a way to do your part in preserving the rainforest. You will breathe easier...I promise.
Karyn Saunders is a young expat living in Pacific Beach Communities since 2008. Her passion for Panama and for her new community is seen through her insightful, discussion-promoting articles on living in the tropics. Karyn is a Virtual Recruiter, Writer and specializes in Social Media Marketing. She is also a Motivational Speaker and Personal & Professional Life Coach.