Aerial view of deforestation in Panama’s portion of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, due to the construction of copper mines and access roads. Photo: CIAM

By José Arcia
24 December 2018

(Mongabay) – From the air one can observe the destruction wrought by an open-pit mining project in Cerro Petaquilla and on the ground people talk about its environmental consequences. A security checkpoint and a sign announce that you have reached one of the entrances of the project in the area of ​​Molejón, Coclesito, 180 kilometers from Panama’s capital city.

The deforestation began with the mining of gold by Panamanian company Petaquilla Gold and has continued with copper mining by Minera Panama, a subsidiary of Canadian company First Quantum Minerals.

Petaquilla Gold and Minera Panama are two different companies that share the same goal: the exploitation of metals in that underlay Petaquilla hill. Their activities are governed by a single contract endorsed by the National Assembly (Congress). However, their operations have resulted in the destruction of forest in an area of high regional biodiversity: the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that connects the seven countries of Central America to southern Mexico.

Conservationists say Panama’s portion of the corridor has been severely affected by mining-caused deforestation that began 10 years ago. Satellite imagery and data show recent accelerated deforestation caused by mine expansion.

Primary forest loss

The concession, granted by contract law No. 9 of 25 February 1997, covers an area of ​​13,000 hectares that is roughly equivalent to 60 times the size of the Capital District. It is not clear what percentage of this area has been allocated to the copper project developed by Minera Panama. However, in the project’s environmental impact study, the area of impact is specified at 5,900 hectares, of which about 5,500 was covered by lowland tropical rainforest. The remaining areas include 320 hectares that had already been degraded by “anthropogenic activities,” and 25 hectares that correspond to bodies of water. Three important watersheds are within the mine’s area of ​​influence: Petaquilla River, Caimito River and San Juan River.

“It has been demonstrated that the clearing activities of the tropical forest could cause changes in local climatic and biological conditions in the forests adjacent to the devastated areas,” states the environmental impact study carried out by Minera Panama, which, unlike Petaquilla Gold, waited for approval of the document by the National Environment Authority (now Ministry of Environment) to start construction work.

Minera Panama plans to invest more than $6.3 billion and expects to export around 320,000 metric tons of copper per year.

The impact of this mining activity can be seen in satellite images that show what appears to be a consequential loss of primary forest in the area of ​​influence of the project, an area where forest was intact as of 2000.

Satellite data from the University of Maryland recorded 4,500 deforestation alerts in the area in which the company operates between 8 September 2018 and 24 November 2018. Satellite images confirm these alerts, showing large areas of clearance.

To corroborate the imagery and data, a Mongabay team traveled to the area.

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the heat was incessant in Coclesito, the humidity was overwhelming, and it drizzled from time to time. Minera Panama is omnipresent in the community: trucks and cars with the company’s logo circulate in both directions through the only two streets of the town, and residents are dressed in work clothes from the mining company. [more]

Copper mine destroying forests in Panama’s Mesoamerican Biological Corridor


  1. Anonymous said...

    I'm surprised things like government debt isn't discussed more in environmental circles. Government debt creates a situation in which economic growth becomes mandatory, in order to pay off the debt. More debt leads more need for growth. This is the path the US is currently taking. Environmental regulation is thrown out the window in favor of growth, because growth is needed to pay off the debt.  


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