The History of Panama’s Lake Gatun

The Panama Canal is undoubtedly one of the most famous landmarks of the country. However, despite its prominence, few people know that Lake Gatun, situated in the beautiful valley of the Chagres River, forms a major part of the Canal, carrying ships for 33km of their transit across the Isthmus of Panama. The lake also provides the millions of gallons of water necessary to operate the Panama Canal locks each time a ship passes through, as well as supplying drinking water for Panama City and Colon.

Lake Gatun is a vast artificial lake formed between 1907 and 1913 by the building of the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River. At the time it was created, Gatun was the largest man-made lake and dam in the world.

The natural layout of the area, namely the impassable rain-forest around Lake Gatun, has proved invaluable in the defense of the Panama Canal. Today these areas have endured practically unscathed by human interference and are one of the few accessible areas on earth in which various native Central American animal and plant species can be observed undisturbed in their natural habitat.

The creation of the lake led to many hilltop towns becoming islands. The largest is Barro Colorado Island, home to the world famous Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). Many of the most important ground breaking scientific and biological discoveries of the tropical animal and plant kingdom originated here. STRI also carried out research at our very own Pearl Island, ensuring the eternal protection of Pearl Island’s spectacular environmental diversity and heritage.

Angling is one of the primary recreational pursuits on Lake Gatun, and you can read about the amazing opportunities for fishing enthusiasts here. Amongst many other types of fish, the Cichla Pleiozona species of Peacock Bass was introduced by accident to Gatun Lake by a renowned Panamanian aquarist and doctor in 1958 and is now the most rare and exciting catch to be found in Panama.

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