Underwater forest to be partially removed

Lago Gatún

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The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is planning to remove part of the forests that have been submerged for over a century in Gatun Lake. The “fossilized wood”, as some people call it, is very hard, does not have any plagues or fungi and is very sought after to build furniture, decorate and for designs. This product in the international market reaches prices of $7 per foot.

Lake Gatun

Lake Gatun.

The Gatún Lake

In 1910, when the gates of the dam opened, blocking the Chagres River, a 430 square kilometer lake was created, flooding a great part of the jungle. For 105 years this artificial lake has been the resting place for thousands of trees, which are still there.

Under water, these trees are not useful and simply diminish the lake’s real volume, making sailing difficult, especially for fishermen. In addition to this, the decomposition process generates a great quantity of methane gas. However, on dry land, these woods are useful and highly sought-after.

Approximately 14,000 hectares of Caribbean tropical rainforest are submerged in the lake and, according to studies made by the Smithsonian Institute, 29 different species of precious wood such as oak, cedar and almond trees can be found there. There are other submerged forests in Panamanian lakes such as the Bayano and Alajuela, as well as in the Chiriqui province

The ACP was planning to give a concession to remove that wood to a private company. Although, several enterprises were invited to tender and exploit this resource, the Authority decided to cancel the proceedings, taking over the responsibility itself.

Esteban Saenz, ACP Operations Executive Vice-president, said that the trees will only be removed in certain areas identified as anchorages. In the rest of the lake the forest will remain intact.

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