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 Ecology Engagement Initiative’s Second Cohort Presentations

Students in the second cohort of the Urban Ecology Engagement Initiative gather after their presentations.

Students in the second cohort of the Urban Ecology Engagement Initiative gather after their presentations.

Rising 7th graders at Hart Middle School gathered with family and friends in ACM’s program room to give their first presentations as part of Urban Waterways’ Urban Ecology Engagement initiative. The middle schoolers (cohort2.0) have just completed a six-week summer program made possible by the collaborative efforts of UPO’s P.O.W.E.R program, the  Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The community stewardship initiative follows students from 7th through 12th grades and engages them in the collection of biological, chemical, and habitat data from five tributaries of the Anacostia River, the development of a database, the exploration of the impact of pollution on the watershed and the development of recommendations and possible solutions.

The event started with several members of the previous cohort (cohort 1.0) who are in the final preparations for the start of their freshman year at college. Students will be attending such schools as The University of Pittsburgh, Trinity University, Capitol Technology University, and Virginia State University to pursue degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Telecommunication Engineering, Astrophysics, Childhood Education, and Electrical Engineering.

JosephSmithjpg

Joseph Smith gets encouragement from a member of the graduating first cohort.

Members of the new cohort then stepped forward to present their experiences over the last six weeks. Unlike some of their friends who spent their days swimming or playing basketball, the middle schoolers spent part of their time in classrooms on the campus of Bowie State University. A significant part of their time was spent pushing their boundaries in the exploration of the Anacostia Watershed with boat rides on the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and field trips to Sandy Spring, MD – a watershed headwater site and a major Underground Railroad depot, Washington Aqueduct, which provides the drinking water for DC, some surrounding counties and  DC Water’s Blue Plains Wastewater treatment plant. In their presentations, students provided definitions of a watershed, shared their favorite experiences from the field trips, and discussed future career goals. Many were impressed by the boat trips and the wildlife they saw in and along the river. Others were also struck by the amount of pollution they saw floating in the water. A major question asked by many of the presenters was how can the water be cleaned and the watershed made safer. Many students, impressed by their tour of Blue Palins, expressed an interest in pursuing careers in wastewater treatment by obtaining more information on the subject.

Students will continue their exploration of the Anacostia watershed as the school year continues through a variety of Saturday programming.

MichaelStaton

Michael Staton discusses one of the group’s field trips.

 

Audience

ACM’s Shelia Parker (2nd row) was among the guests who enjoyed the students’ presentations

 

ACM's  Education Program Coordinator Tony Thomas and members of the first and second cohorts.

ACM’s Education Program Coordinator Tony Thomas and members of the first and second cohorts.

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