April 23, 2018

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CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA (April 23rd, 2018) – Varadero´s Coral Reef, a dynamic marine ecosystem in the Bay of Cartagena, has been declared a Hope Spot by international non-profit Mission Blue. The reef has a paradoxical existence, harboring high coral cover and diversity despite the poor water quality and sediments discharged during the last 500 years by the Canal del Dique, a 118 square kilometer canal connecting Cartagena Bay to the Magdalena River. Varadero´s Reef which has drawn special interest from the local scientific community, is now being thrust into the international conservation spotlight as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. The persistence of the Varadero´s Reef is currently threatened by a project to modernize Cartagena’s port, not only by the direct damage produced by the dredging of a new shipping lane through the reef, but also by the deterioration of water conditions associated with the operation and maintenance of the channel.

“Hope Spots not only recognize pristine marine environments worth preserving, but also important marine ecosystems that have borne the brunt of human pressures, yet still have a chance of rebounding” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “It is cause for hope that the people of Cartagena are coming together in support of the Varadero’s Reef Hope Spot. So, should we race to see how quickly we can develop the Bay of Cartagena? Or race to see what can be done to protect what remains? For now, there is still a choice.”

Coral reefs in the Bay of Cartagena, Colombia, have been heavily disturbed by anthropogenic activity since the founding of Cartagena in 1533. A prominent disturbance was the construction of Canal del Dique, a channel built by the Spaniards to shorten the access to the Magdalena River, a major water way used by Colombian authorities for colonization and later for commercial purposes. Canal del Dique turned the clear waters of Cartagena Bay into a seasonally fluctuating, highly turbid, and atrophied body of water with high sedimentation. As a result, most coral reefs within the Bay disappeared. Even reefs outside the Bay, like those of Rosario Islands, were negatively affected. Only a few reefs remained, though they were also severely affected by human activities, such as the dredging of one of the natural mouths of the Bay for seaport access. Local scientists believe that Varadero’s Reef contains the some of the healthiest reefs in all Colombian Caribbean, despite of its worse water quality.

“Varadero´s Reef is perhaps the only living, surviving and real ecosystem that we still have in the now polluted bay of Cartagena, and that many Cartagena citizens and Colombians don’t know anything about of its existence”, said Bladimir Basabe, Hope Spot Champion. “Today it is still a object of development interest by the National Government (Ministerio de Transporte, Invías, Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional) and the private sector (Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Cartagena de Indias, Compass, Contecar and Puerto Bahía). We do not oppose development, as long as it is planned intelligently and without sacrificing a reef that is both a guarantee of food security for local communities and a valuable scientific case study. Let’s defend it and protect it for all of mankind!”

Current plans to dredge part of Varadero’s Reef threaten the survival of this ecosystem and could hinder efforts to uncover the underpinnings of this reef’s remarkable resilience. There is an urgent need to scientifically describe the location and the characteristics of Varadero’s Reef as a first step towards gaining acknowledgement of its existence and garnering inherent legal and environmental protections.

“Varadero´s Coral Reef is a great ecological heritage of Colombia. And it is an obligation of all Colombians and the State to protect that heritage that is not ours: it belongs to our children and grandchildren, and to future generations. That house of biodiversity has to be protected, and we invite the public to share in this commitment to protecting Varadero’s Coral Reef”, said Mr. Rafael Vergara Navarro.

Varadero’s Coral Reef offers hope not only for the future but for the present. Its survival helps ensure the protection of the coasts, the supply of food, the possibility of sustainable use for a responsible ecological tourism and the recovery of degraded coral reefs. Varadero´s Reef is a complete, spectacular reef, and can offer insights into designing suitable conservation strategies that will help save other affected areas in the Colombian Caribbean.

As a Mission Blue Hope Spot, Varadero’s Reef is now in the international spotlight and Mission Blue and her partners are dedicated to communicating all successes and continuing threats to the area on a global level. Mission Blue and local partners on the ground at Varadero’s Reef believe that if the area is protected along with other critical marine habitats around the globe, a network of marine protected areas can come into existence that will nurse the global ocean back to health after decades of steep decline.

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About Salvemos Varadero
Salvemos Varadero is a citizen initiative created in 2016, in the city of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Its purpose is to defend, in legal and conservation terms, the only coral reef surviving from the polluted waters of the Bay of Cartagena: the Corales de Varadero. This includes its national declaration by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development as a protected area. Webpage: www.salvemosvaradero.org

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"With knowing comes caring." - Dr. Sylvia Earle