Ramsar queries Colombia's intentions for important coastal site

Ramsar queries Colombia's intentions for important coastal site

9 October 2004

Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta Ramsar site, Colombia, threatened by uncontrolled development

The Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, Mr. Peter Bridgewater, recently expressed his concern about a projected multipurpose port in the municipality of Palermo (Department of Magdalena, Colombia). This project, started by the company Retramar SA, is currently without any permit or authorization and is seriously affecting the Ciénaga de Santa Marta and the Estuary Delta of the Magdalena River, a wetland complex of great importance, designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention by the Government of Colombia on the 18th of June 1998.

The area is one of the most important wetland complexes in Colombia, as it is the largest mangrove area in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, besides being an important area for biodiversity, especially fish, birds and reptiles. It has a significant and important fishing productivity. The ecological values of the area are well known, as it is already declared as two national protected areas: the Vía Parque Isla de Salamanca and the Santuario de Fauna y Flora de la Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta It was also designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000.

With the serious impacts the ciénaga has known during recent decades from the construction of the road Ciénaga-Barranquilla (which resulted in the destruction of wide extensions of mangroves), the uncontrolled extraction of freshwater, sedimentation, contamination and over-fishing among others, the building of the Palermo Port will compound threats to the hydrological balance of the area. Part of the poverty currently affecting local communities living around the mangroves can be attributed to the deterioration suffered by the ciénaga, through the reduction of the fishing resources, a basic source of life for these communities.

With the aim of finding an acceptable solution for this problem, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention urged the Colombian Government to respect the international and national legislation on the environment, and to reaffirm the position adopted by the Ministry of Environment, Housing, and Regional Development, the minister of which has expressed a negative view on the project. The Secretary General offers all the support and technical help of the Ramsar Secretariat in studying alternative possibilities that would allow the wise use principle promoted by the Convention to be upheld.

Sebastià Semene Guitart
Ramsar Convention Secretariat