Enter the post Panamax World

Today [June 26, 2016] marks a historic moment for Panama, for our hemisphere and the world.”

– Juan Carlos Varela, President of Panama

In this age of increased border policing and nationalism, nothing reminds us of global connectedness like oceans.  Also, I will take all opportunities to write about Panama.

Author disclaimer: I love Panama! My father is from there. My family lives there. I did my dissertation fieldwork there. The Smithsonian has a Tropical Research Institute there (STRI). It is constantly among the happiest countries in the world and frankly, it is beautiful!

The defining thing [about Panamanian identity] I would say is the Panama Canal … what else … that is all … we can’t even go any further!” – DC resident from Panama

In August 1914, the Panama Canal opened, revolutionizing global sea traffic. The Canal created a “path between the seas,” joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ships no longer had to travel all the way around South America. They could now pass through the 50 mile long Canal. Ships traveling the canal connect 160 countries and reach about 1,700 ports worldwide. To date, more than one million ships have passed through the Canal.

The politics and culture of the Panama Canal is a central element — literally and figuratively — of Panama’s national identity and on December 31, 1999 the U.S., who operated the Canal since 1914, turned over full control of the Panama Canal to Panama.

The last time I visited Panama was a research trip 2014 with ACM photographer Susana Raab to document the 100th anniversary of the Canal. During that trip, we visited the Canal expansion project on the Atlantic coast

August 2014 view of the Panama Canal expansion near the Locks of Gatun. These photographs were made for the upcoming Bridging the Americas exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

August 2014 view of the Panama Canal expansion near the Gatun Locks.  Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Susana Raab

We also took a partial transit through the Panama Canal. It is a marvel to watch ships being raised and lowered to pass through the locks system of the Canal.

 

Susana and me transiting the Panama Canal in August 2014 , documenting 100 years of the Panama Canal

Selfie! Susana (with camera) and me transiting the Panama Canal in August 2014

 

 

On June 26, 2016 , over a hundred years after the Panama Canal opened, the new locks at the Panama Canal were inaugurated. We are now living in a Post-Panamax or NeoPanamax maritime era! The expansion brought two new sets of locks, Cocolí on the Pacific coast near Panama City and Agua Clara on the Atlantic coast at Colon.

panama-canal-expansion.jpg moises castillo AP

Photograph by Moises Castillo from Associated Press

panama_canal_expansion-2.jpg moises castillo AP

Photograph by Moises Castillo from Associated Press

Photograph by Oscar Rivera EPA

Photograph by Oscar Rivera EPA

The size of the original canal made it difficult for high-volume Asian shipments to get to the East Coast of the U.S.  Post-Panamax ships can reach 1,200 feet long — more than three football fields — and are up to 160 feet wide. The expansion doubles the Canal’s capacity.

So while this feat is certainly worth celebrating, it has global ramification and human costs especially in the U.S.. Canal expansion has meant that ports like Savannah, New York, New Jersey, and Houston among others have invested billions in order to accommodate the larger ships that will pass through the new Canal.  Larger ships mean updating ports, and consequently increased road traffic, as more trucks will be needed to transport the increased number of goods.  In December of 2014, the Melissa Harris Perry Show discussed some of the environmental concerns of Canal Expansion in New Jersey.

 

In the coming month, years, and centuries we will all be witness to the Panama Canal’s continued influence on global trade for the U.S. and the world.

August 2014 - Boats wait at the opening of the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. These photographs were taken for the Bridging the Americas exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

August 2014 – Boats waiting on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.  Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by 
Susana Raab

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You can learn more about the Washington D.C.’s connection to Panama, the U.S. presence in Panama, and the Panama Canal in the exhibition Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington DC in the Anacostia Community Museum Program Room. The exhibition is up indefinitely.

Urban Waterways Newsletter Issue 6

Urban Waterways and the Impact of History

 

LouisvilleBefore aerial west to east

An east to west aerial view of the old Louisville waterfront. Photo: Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation

This sixth issue traces the history of the changing  nature of the relationships between urban waterways and their surrounding communities. Urban Waterways Newsletter 6

Urban Waterways Research Project: Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

A third stop on our tour of the Mississippi/Alabama coast was the small town of Moss Point, Mississippi.  A small community with a population less than 20,000 people, Moss Point was hit by the strong eastern side of Hurricane Katrina, when it passed 30 miles east of central New Orleans. Much of Moss Point was flooded or destroyed in one day, by the strong hurricane-force winds which lasted several hours and a storm surge exceeding 20 feet in some areas.  You can see some of the devastation at Moss Point in the wake of the hurricane here.

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

We were coming to tour the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, a part of the National Audubon Society: a non-profit organization focused on promoting conservation and education about birds and wildlife and the habitats that support them. Perched on the watershed of the Pascagoula River, one of the last, large, free-flowing river systems in the contiguous United States, a state of the art green building houses the center.  This place is a birder’s paradise, with over 300 species of birds enjoying the ecosystem there.

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Here, Mark LaSalle at the center gives a tour of the wetlands around the center. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Here, Mark LaSalle at the center gives a tour of the wetlands around the center.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Mark LaSalle is the Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. Mark is responsible for coordinating the continued development of the  Center and expanding Audubon’s educational and citizen science programs in south Mississippi. Mark is a wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans.  Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Here, Mark LaSalle at the center gives a tour of the wetlands around the center. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Here, Mark LaSalle at the center gives a tour of the wetlands around the center.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Mark’s passion for his work is palpable as he shows us around the Center and the many sustainable environmental practices they have implemented.  He also saved an original 1930’s boy scout cottage on the center’s site which is used for small group meetings.  He was instrumental in helping the community leaders of Turkey Creek protect that body of water from further development.

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – Inside the restored cottage of Mississippi Boy Scout Troop 220, dating from 1932.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Together, Audubon and community leaders in Gulfport, Mississippi are protecting Turkey Creek‘s rich cultural and natural history. When LaSalle became director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, 30 miles from Turkey Creek, he brought with him a commitment to the community’s plight. With local activist Derrick Evans,  Mark began small with simple events like Creek Sweep focused on getting people into the “creek” to remove decades of debris.

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – Development on the Pascagoula River near the Audubon Center at Moss Point, Mississippi.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Promotion of the Great Backyard Bird Count and a one-day Biological Inventory of the creek helped to highlight just how special the area was as a refuge for common birds and wildlife and as an important stopover for migrating birds in spring and fall. The value of the site for birds led Audubon and the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society to recognize Turkey Creek as a site on the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail.

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – The Pascagoula River Audubon Center coopted the resources of a visiting artist to make these murals on the center’s fence at Moss Point, Mississippi.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

“The Turkey Creek community has long recognized Audubon’s role in helping it raise attention about the value of our natural areas for birds and people and for being the first group of naturalists to do so. Being identified on Audubon’s Coastal Birding Trail by Judy Toups, Don McKee and Mark LaSalle, provided a pivotal boost to our credibility and confidence as a place that is important beyond our immediate borders.”– Derrick Evans

December 10, 2015 - The Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 10, 2015 – The Chimney Swift Tower, built by a boy scout for his project, provides shelter to the only swift occurring regularly in the east. It once nested in hollow trees, but today it nearly always nests in chimneys or other structures. Because the bird can be easily captured and banded in such situations, it has been studied much more thoroughly than other North American swifts. In late summer, hundreds or even thousands of individuals may roost in one large chimney, gathering in spectacular flocks overhead near dusk..
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Many other organizations have joined forces with the Turkey Creek Community Initiative , established by Derrick in 2003 with a mission “to conserve, restore and utilize the unique cultural, historical and environmental resources of the Turkey Creek community and watershed for education and other socially beneficial purposes.”

I left inspired by the good work that Mark LaSalle and his staff do at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi: from preservation to education, advocacy and coalition building, the center is doing good work to preserve the environmental resources for future generations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

 

August 15th Urban Waterways community forum

 

Diversifying the Green Movement

Saturday, August 15th

2-4pm ACM Program Room

Groupshot

image courtesy Robert Garcia, The City Project

This forum aims to bring residents together to explore the traditional image of environmentalists, the assumptions made about communities of color in regards to environmental and sustainability issues, and the truth behind such prejudgments. Do minorities feel represented? Is there a lack of trust between traditional environmentalists and communities of color? How do communities define environmentalism and their relationships to urban waterways? What steps have been taken to make the table more inclusive? What are the possible social and political consequences of such inclusion?

Moderator

Vernice Miller-Travis, Skeo Solutions

Panel

Omar Bagnied, Green Muslims

Dennis Chestnut, Groundwork Anacostia River, DC

Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

Beth Lynk, NAACP, DC Branch

Vaughn Perry, Anacostia Watershed Society

 

Anacostia Community Museum

1901 Fort Place, SE

Washington, DC 20020

To register please call  202-633-4844

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