Panama Canal
Two ships travel along the Panama Canal, which turns 100 this year.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is celebrating the Panama Canal’s 100th birthday this August with a new gallery exhibition and family-friendly event.

Opening Aug. 9, “Panama: Tropical Ecosystem” focuses on the region’s biodiversity and the cultural importance of nature in a country of rain forests, volcanic beaches and mountains. On display through May 31, 2015, the exhibit features photographs, stereographs, plant illustrations, books and artifacts highlighting the rich variety of flora and fauna in the land between North and South America.

“Visitors will learn about Panama’s natural environment, including how it’s represented in art and what threats it’s currently facing,” said Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler, exhibits coordinator for the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries, which developed the exhibit.

UF is marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal with a weekend of activities Aug. 15-17 and an array of exhibits related to its planning, construction, development and impact. “Panama: Tropical Ecosystem” is one of more than a dozen exhibits featuring rare materials from the Smathers Libraries collections, including photographs, maps, government documents and other original artifacts.

The Florida Museum will partner with Smathers Libraries to host Panama Canal Zone Day on Aug. 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., focusing on cultural and natural environmental influences in Panama. The free event includes traditional polleras dancers, mola artwork, story-telling, art activities, Panamanian butterflies and free family photo opportunities with Panama backdrops. Representatives from the Florida Museum’s Panama Canal Project Partnerships for International Research and Education will also showcase fossil specimens from the area and host a fossil identification activity.

Visitors with a connection to Panama are invited to record brief oral histories during the event and have their stories added to the Smathers Libraries’ Panama and the Canal digital collection. Food from High Springs Orchard and Bakery will be available for purchase.

“Panama is an ecologically and culturally fascinating place, and Panama Canal Zone Day will show the rich history of the region with fossils, indigenous art and traditional dancing,” said Rebecca Fitzsimmons, program assistant for Smathers Libraries’ Panama Canal Museum Collection.

The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, serving as a gateway for global trade, and is currently being expanded on a scale not seen since the original excavations 100 years ago. Because Panama was once also a gateway for animals between North and South America, the recent canal excavations have provided a unique opportunity for paleontology. The mission of the Florida Museum’s Panama Canal Project Partnerships for International Research and Education is to advance knowledge of ancient, extinct plants and animals based on new fossil discoveries in the area.

All of the centennial events and exhibits are open to the public. For details, visit


Writer: Katina Prokos,
Source: Darcie MacMahon,, 352-273-2053
Media Contact: Paul Ramey,, 352-273-2054