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Nuturing a flame in Panama

March 10, 2015

By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology

When all of the high rhetoric of the day is packed away, conservation is about simple acts. It is about people deciding to make a better place for other species. It is about committing to the long path with your eyes fully open to the fact that much of the world is on a different path. It is about sustaining the level of passion required to prevail against whatever comes. In almost all situations, local people and organizations perform the simple acts that collectively hold the line.

In the fall of 1997 when The Center for Conservation Biology conducted a baseline study to investigate waterbirds in the Bay of Panama, the Panama Audubon Society was primarily a close community of bird watchers focused on documenting the avifauna of this incredible country. In the years following our findings that the upper Bay of Panama supported one of the most significant concentrations of waterbirds in the world, Panama Audubon transformed itself and assumed the responsibility for protecting the local ecosystem on which the waterbirds depend.

Over nearly twenty years as government administrations, agencies, corporations, and varied socio-economic trends have threatened the habitats that undergird the system, Panama Audubon has stayed the course and championed the cause of waterbird conservation. Led by dynamo Rosabel Miró, the small group has faced down a never-ending parade of challenges to become an international force for waterbirds. In a time when so much attention is given to tinsel and lights, the group represents the essence of what conservation should be.

The Center for Conservation Biology continues to support the Panama Audubon Society and efforts to protect the upper Bay of Panama for waterbirds. Our current focus is in helping to build the local experience and capacity needed to work directly with shorebirds. To this end, The Center has sent a team of shorebird biologists to work side by side with Panama Audubon staff for short periods during the past two winters (Shorebird dawn in Pacora).

In early March of 2015, Bart Paxton and Fletcher Smith spent time training staff and volunteers of Panama Audubon on field techniques. On menu was training in bird capture, bird handling, bird banding, and surveys for flag resighting. With each experience, staff members have become more proficient in field techniques. Our belief is that local training will lead to the establishment of an experienced field team capable of executing field projects and training new generations of waterbird biologists that will continue the growing legacy of waterbird conservation.

The Canadian Wildlife Service was a partner in the 2015 effort and we thank them for their continued support of shorebird conservation.

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