If we pollute the air, water, and soil that keep us alive and well,
and destroy biodiversity that allows natural systems
to function, no amount of money will save us.
– David Suzuki
Our recent cruise through the Panama Canal gave us the opportunity to visit a new museum presenting the importance of biodiversity in the health of the planet. The Biomuseo is notable for its educational emphasis on biodiversity and for its architecture. We had a private after-hours visit and reception that left us impressed with the vitality of all that Panama has to offer.
The building is truly striking in its appearance. Canadian architect Frank Gehry used tropically vibrant colors to make the museum as noteworthy as any scarlet macaw. From the outside the main building looks like a compilation of origami attempts. (I hope that they tested the design for its ability to withstand hurricane force winds!) Inside the building, galleries of varied shapes and sizes introduce the importance of maintaining diversity of life forms, both by content and by example.
The first gallery we entered impresses upon visitors the value of maintaining as many life forms as possible on the earth. These natural adaptations to the environment can demonstrate possible life options which can be instructive for human knowledge, especially in medicine. Life forms have appeared and disappeared for millennia – but the rate of extinction has increased rapidly with human development. Point taken: humans must reduce their negative impact on the planet.
One large movie room surrounds viewers with images large and persuasive enough to create vertigo – and there’s nothing to hold onto! This presentation describes how three million years ago the formation of the isthmus we call Panama changed the fate of the oceans and continents all around it. It is amazing to realize how the closing of the ocean pathway (between Atlantic and Pacific) could radically affect marine life and weather patterns for ages to come. At the same time (geologically speaking), the creation of this land bridge connecting North and South America made many other movements and extinctions of life on land possible.
Another set of galleries presents life-size examples of the many bird and animal species we know only from their fossil remains. Here were creatures I remember marveling at in my childhood Golden Treasury of Natural History decades ago. They had footprints on the floor for guests seeking the best poses for Selfie photos – “Here I am with a wooly mammoth sneaking up behind.”
The Biomuseo brings Frank Gehry’s first design to Latin America, but it also sets up an important center of learning created by the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Panama. It adds one more reason to stop over in Panama. If you are passing through the area, be sure to visit the Biomuseo!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
28 May 2015