Panama's forest
Panama's forest Panama's forest © Simon Williams/TNC


Preserving the Forests to Save the Canal

Panama Water Fund

The global economy depends on a narrow strip of land less than 300 meters wide (approximately 328 yards): The Panama Canal.

For this waterway to continue linking the Atlantic to the Pacific and the distant East to Europe and the North American coast, forests must remain standing. Maintaining the healthy forests of the Darien Gap and Panama is essential to regulating the water cycle the Canal depends on. The water forests add to the atmosphere is filtered through the roots of trees and vegetation and regulated by the soils that sustain them, making water the main asset of the global transportation corridor. The key role water plays at the Canal is one of the reasons The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Latin America Water Funds Partnership -including the Interamerican Development Bank, FEMSA Foundation, and the Global Environmental Facility- have spearheaded the creation of a Water Fund that will help preserve the forests and wetlands of Panama so people can continue to enjoy the environmental services those ecosystems offer.

The Panama Water Fund is one of the projects that may have the greatest impact in alleviating the vulnerability of the global economy through nature-based solutions. In order for boats to circulate through the canal and get from one ocean to the other, it takes no less than 200 million liters of water, or else the boats would remain stranded because an overflowing channel is uncontrollable.  To maintain this delicate balance, there must be mechanisms to buffer the impact of the waves and curb the excess precipitation after a storm or hurricane. At the same time, it is important to store water and ensure the constant flow of the canal.

The forests of the region are responsible for those tasks. The leaves’ interaction with the humidity in the atmosphere helps regulate the temperature  and causes more predictable rains - a crucial function to fight climate change. The way forests work and their strength and flexibility mitigate the effects of hurricanes; and coastal mangroves reduce the impact of waves on the coast.

Environmental services depend on the conservation of plants, soils, and the fauna that help maintain the balance between the cycles. Birds, reptiles, mammals and insects are vital to ensure the health of the forest, the water cycle of the region, and most importantly, the stability of the global economy that is increasingly interdependent on transatlantic trade.

The world’s stock markets depend on the preservation of Panama’s forests, and TNC works every day to achieve that goal.