In May, the Martinelli-chosen Water Resources Authority lowered the fine for illegal cutting of the mangrove forest from $300,000 per hectare (2.5 acres) to $40,000, saying violators were having trouble paying the higher fine.
The decisions accelerated development in the bay but also prompted environmentalist outrage. Panama City Mayor Roxana Mendez in June then barred construction, the removal of soil and the filling in of wetlands, using her powers to oversee all building in the municipality of Panama, which includes much of the bay.
On hold for now are projects that would be partly or wholly inside the wetlands, including an industrial park and a 1,235-acre (500-hectare) residential development with a golf course and country club.
Environmentalists say they don’t oppose development, but want to protect important coastal lands.
‘‘The city has to grow, but there are other areas,’’ said George Angehr of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, an expert on the Panama Bay. ‘‘But destroying the mangroves has a cost for the entire country.’’