Walking among pebbles, stones and marine fossils, pickaxe in hand, the paleontologist Carlos De Gracia expresses his fascination for the mystery of the emergence of Panama from the ocean floor, whose date is still debated beyond borders, aware that there are two volcanoes " asleep. "
"The emergence of the Isthmus of Panama is very important to know how and when it happened, because this way we can understand the origin of the current climate and biodiversity, where they come from, how they originated, we know, we can know more what we have and work a lot better for its conservation, "he told Efe.
While trying to break a hard ball of land in the Gatun formation, in the Atlantic sector near the Panama Canal, in search of some vertebrate fossil documenting why there are animals that belong to the south of the continent, not to the north, and when they arrived , some say about 11 million years ago.
The effort of the Panamanian De Gracia, who will soon begin his doctorate studies in paleontology at the University of Vienna (Austria), is aimed at encouraging a platoon of fifty or so museum educators and guides and colleagues from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute ( STRI) to seek the truth of the origin of Panama and transmit it.
"It is knowing to know why and how we have to act in the face of climate change", not in vain does he detail to his interlocutors what has happened in the isthmus at least in the last million years and why is it discussed whether it was 3 or 11 ago? millions of years that emerged from the waters at the point of volcanic eruptions.
The last "great find" was the fossil of a monkey in the Panama Canal, "it talks about the migration from south to north, a new hypothesis of how they came to America, by age, probably from Africa, not South America , which caused quite an impact, "he added.
Another investigation, he says, was published last February, which recreates the emergence of the isthmus "and the chain of volcanoes in the central part of Panama", where the interoceanic canal is currently located.
According to this research, dozens of volcanoes were suffocated after the blockage of the isthmus, which created the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic, due to the collision of the Cocos plate with that of Panama, which annually, he explained, "elevates the isthmus of two to four millimeters in the Pacific slope, in the Atlantic it is a little less ".
The pressure of the underwater range of the Cocos plate, with barely four degrees of inclination, is what caused 200,000 to 400,000 years for western Panama and southern Costa Rica to "grow at a rate of 8 meters per thousand years. "
It suffocated the volcanoes between the Arenal (Costa Rica and active) and the Valley of Antón (Panama), the latter "asleep" after its last explosion about 6 million years ago and believed to be the one that finished plugging the isthmus.
"The plate extinguished the volcanoes along 125 kilometers", but the Barú (in the Panamanian west) and that of the Valle de Antón "are asleep, that of La Yeguada (Veraguas, center) itself is dead," he said.
De Gracia regrets that in his country there is no equipment to monitor the increase in the level of water produced by climate change, but he assures that "it is faster" than that caused by the Cocos plate, "and I have verified that for ten years. years to the naked eye on the coast of Punta Burica, border with Costa Rica, where you can see how the sea is eating away at the coast, "he says.
He shared with educators that this concern has also been transmitted to him by Panamanian scientist Stanley Heckadon, one of the most prestigious in the country and director of STRI's Galeta Island laboratory on the Atlantic coast, where there was a US submarine station. . years ago.
For De Gracia, specialized since 2006 in marine species, it is necessary that Panama allocate at least 6 percent of its budget only to scientific research, "which is not yet valued", to have specialists who provide answers and solutions to the Panamanian problems with a local vision and "stop copying other models that do not adapt here".
Immersed in the Gatún formation, educators like Maribel Guerra, from the populous district of San Miguelito, tells Efe, with his fossils in his hand and the notebook, that the most important thing he learns for twelve days "is to be able to transmit to my students about the conservation of the environment, with ownership, with updated knowledge ".
Edgardo Llerena, a guide of the Biomuseo built by the famous Frank Gehry in Panama, said that "it is incredible" the training received, while he pikes the mountain "in search of the megalodon tooth", and explained that the training given by the STRI gives him knowledge to "transmit it to people" who visit their work.
Meanwhile, STRI designer Paulette Guardia, told Efe that she has been participating and documenting these conferences for three years and stressed that "it is quite interesting to see educators who are committed to something they are not familiar with and see them as children, with that curiosity that we should not let it go. "
De Gracia said that "many discoveries" are being made in the area of Colon, and, in addition to Panamanian scientists, there are "a lot of researchers, from the University of Florida (USA), from Colombia and Costa Rica" studying the formation of Panama, known as "Bridge of the World".