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Chagres/Panama Canal Watershed

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Chagres/Panama Canal WatershedPIP 2000

Spanning several river basins and 3,260 square kilometers, the Panama Canal Watershed is nationally and internationally recognized for its water resources and biodiversity. Over half of all the water produced by the watershed is protected in the Chagres National Park and river basin. The Santa Rita Ridge and cloud forests within the watershed offer unparalleled biodiversity, including many species found nowhere else in the world. The watershed’s ecological and economic values cannot be overstated.

did you know?

In 2003, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Panamanian government joined in a dept-for-nature swap. Through this agreement, for every dollar from TNC, almost ten dollars are invested in conservation. Read more...


Panama Canal Watershed © George Hanily


site profile

total area protected:
318,000 acres

Upland Tropical Forest

partner organization:
Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON)

Ecological Importance

Chagres harbors many species native to Panama and represents the northernmost range of several South American mammal, bird, and reptile species, as well. Chagres is particularly important to neotropical migratory birds such as raptors, songbirds and aquatic birds. Endangered species such as the harpy eagle and jaguar find refuge within the watershed.


The nearby cities of Panama City and Colon place severe pressures on the park from urban and industrial development. Agriculture and cattle ranching compromise the health and integrity of both forests and water resources within the watershed. Deforestation rates have escalated, resulting in soil erosion and river sedimentation.

A Strategy of Success

Through Conservation Area Planning (CAP), Parks in Peril (PiP), local partner organizations, and Autoridad Nacional de Ambiente (ANAM) have identified important conservation targets on which to focus attention within the watershed. ANAM has also adopted CAP to guide its park management and protection activities.

To reduce the impact of unsustainable agricultural practices, PiP has promoted alternative income sources for cattle ranchers and farmers. The Centro de Estudios y Acción Social Panameño (CEASPA) is working with cattle ranchers to transform traditional ranching practices into silvopastoral systems, which can increase forest cover in pastures.

A steering committee, joined by ANAM and PiP, is coordinating efforts among stakeholders, donors, and the government to guide site consolidation decisions. With strong partner support, the committee is working to shift responsibility of land stewardship from the government to the local partner organizations.

The committee was also instrumental in the historic dept-for-nature swap between the government of Panama and The Nature Conservancy. Under this agreement, a trust fund was established to finance future tropical forest conservation in Chagres and may catalyze other donations and matching funding support.

PiP partners, Sociedad Nacional para el Desarrollo de Empresas y Area Rurales (SONDEAR) and Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON), have been helping to strengthen other local non-governmental organizations working in the Panama Canal Watershed region.

Read more about Chagres...

Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON)
The Nature Conservancy in Chagres
Article: The Nature Conservancy Contributes to $10 Million U.S. Debt-for-Nature Swap

Read more about projects in Panama...

La Amistad International Park/Bocas del Toro
Darien National Park

Panama Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Panama