CAPURGANÁ-CABO TIBURÓN, COLOMBIA, (October 9th, 2018) – A dive into the warm, crystalline waters off the coast of Capurganá, Colombia reveals a remarkably prolific scene: lush, richly colored corals resting below you as fish, dolphins and crabs zip by. A peculiarly large creature glides past you adorning a grey, rubbery flesh and pointy flippers. This gentle giant is a leatherback sea turtle, and most visiting divers are a bit star-struck upon spotting them.
These stunning coral reefs between Capurganá and Cabo Tiburón, Colombia have been declared a Hope Spot by international non-profit Mission Blue in recognition of the area’s resilient reef health and deep value as one of the world’s main nesting sites for the IUCN red-listed leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the endangered Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the vulnerable Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Its coral reefs are among the healthiest in Colombia, and official protection of this area would allow for a full recovery of damaged reefs due to industrial fisheries ban and for the continuance of the regrowth of the leatherback sea turtle population. Sharing a border with Panama, this area holds high ecological, social and economic value as well.
“International and national divers are surprised to see how healthy these reefs are!” explains Nohora Galvis, Hope Spot Champion and Executive Director of the Foundation ICRI Colombia (Colombian Calls for Action within the International Coral Reef Initiative). She continues, “Most of the young SCUBA divers have the image of declined reefs as the normal, current situation. Even most protected reefs are at a maximum of 50% healthy, while the reefs here are at about 70%.”
In 2013, Colombia’s National Park System protected an area immediately adjacent to Capurganá and Cabo Tiburón, called the Santuario Playona Acandí, establishing it as a refuge to allow leatherback sea turtles to lay their eggs on the beach. Along with this area, the government decided to protect the waters directly beyond the sand, which has successfully safeguarded it from human pressures that could impact the already threatened turtle species. To put into perspective the value in protecting known leatherback nesting sites, in 1980, there were an estimated 115,000 nesting females in the world, and today’s numbers estimate around 43,000. The public was heavily involved in the creation and execution of this particular sanctuary, and now there is a call to do more.
Close to the protected area within the same municipality of Acandí lies a belt of coral reefs that extend from Capurganá to Cabo Tiburón. This area boasts a profusion of marine life that resembles the healthy Caribbean Coral reefs of the 1980’s, including rays, lobsters, leatherback sea turtles, Hawksbill sea turtles, the endangered green sea turtles, the vulnerable Loggerhead sea turtles, crabs, octopi, sea snails, sharks, dolphins, parrotfish, butterfly fish, angelfish and many species of commercial fishes. These reefs act as vital feeding grounds for the leatherback sea turtles and many species, such as lobsters and snappers who have been successfully been repopulating the area after industrial vessels were banned from fishing in the coral reef areas. If established as an official Marine Protected Area, Colombia would see a steady growth of the populations of these species and the continued health of its coral reefs.
Nohora Galvis explains, “When visitors and citizen scientists visit these coral reefs, it evokes a feeling that there is still hope for new generations to enjoy healthy Caribbean reefs. Even for us as marine biologists, it’s incredible to dive in these areas— despite them being not yet protected— and see that they possess the beautiful health of the reefs of the Caribbean Sea that we witnessed in the 1980’s.”
Recently the local community rebuffed efforts from the hydrocarbon industry to develop in the area– a success for the continuance of the beaches’ protection. A petroleum company has recently been convinced to pull out of oil drilling operations just 52km from the reefs, and oil drilling as a whole has been a consistent threat for several years. However, these lush, verdant coasts are still under pressure from unsustainable development. Currently, there are only two flights a week that reach this remote region on the border of Panama, and only small boat crafts can enter the port. Unfortunately, there is information circulating that pressure is building from the cruise ship industry to put in a terminal in this Hope Spot. By and large, cruise ship terminals do not sustainably benefit the local economy and put enormous strain on the local environment.
With the announcement of this Hope Spot and the will of the local community behind it, it is time to declare a Marine Protected Area from Capurganá to Cabo Tiburón to preserve some of the richest coral reefs in the Caribbean and double down on Colombia’s commitments to maintain healthy marine environments for the local leatherback sea turtles, residents and all the other oceanic wildlife present in this dynamic ecosystem. 80% of the world’s leatherback sea turtle nests are in National Parks or other protected areas– thus the future of this magnificent species depends on officially shielding their nesting sites with enforceable policy.
United Nations Representative and SPAW Programme Officer at UN Environment CEP Ileana Lopez announced upon learning of the success of #OceanAction14819 that with this new Hope Spot, 100% of Colombian Coral Reefs are within an international and/or national framework of protection, stated to Nohora Galvis, Director of the Foundation ICRI Colombia, “Congratulations on the outstanding achievement aiming to achieve sustainable Goal 14 and sustainable Development!”
The community is fully mobilized behind the Capurganá-Cabo Tiburón Hope Spot, and is actively engaging the next generation of ocean stewards into the conversation. Mission Blue is proud to provide the international framework of Hope Spots through which the entire world can salute and support sensible marine conservation in the Colombian Caribbean.
With pressures mounting on one of the rare remaining pristine Colombian reefs, Dr. Sylvia Earle’s words come to mind: “The next 10 years may be the most important, and the next 10,000 years the best chance our species will have to protect what remains of the natural systems that give us life.”
The Colombian community has watched the health of its coral reefs improve and the numbers of sea turtles continue to rise, thanks to their unwavering citizen science efforts and tireless activism. The declaration of the Capurganá – Cabo Tiburón Hope Spot marks a new chapter for Colombia, its residents, visitors and creatures who inhabit it. The future looks bright.
About Mission Blue
Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas –Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About ICRI Colombia
The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is an informal partnership between Nations and organizations that strive to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems around the world.
Although the Initiative is an informal group whose decisions are not binding on its members, its actions have been pivotal in continuing to highlight globally the importance of coral reefs and related ecosystems to environmental sustainability, food security and social and cultural wellbeing. The work of ICRI is regularly acknowledged in United Nations documents, highlighting the Initiative’s important cooperation, collaboration and advocacy role within the international arena.
Since 1997, Nohora Galvis has been leading The Colombian Membership to International Coral Reef Initiative. She led the first Colombian International Year of the Reef (IYOR). For the second year, she involved the Ministry of Environment In 2008 and founded the non-profit NGO Foundation, ICRI Colombia. ICRI Colombia successfully reports “citizen science” by working with the community of fishers and SCUBA diving operators through the National Network of Volunteer Observers of the Coral Reefs (RENOVOS).
The case study surrounding Capurganá has been monitored since 2008, thanks to the efforts of a Citizen Science Program involving fishers in PESCAPUR, Centro de Buceo Capurganá, Dive & Green, as well as national academia and several ecotourism organizations such as APRESERVAR. The valuable data collected through these efforts has been verified scientifically by the Academia (University of Antioquia, EAFIT, Universidad Distrital, Universidad Nacional, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano and INVEMAR) and accepted as evidence of the outstanding recovery of the artisanal fisheries, success of the growing leatherback sea turtle population and the continued health of the coral reefs.
ICRI Colombia’s work has involved several case studies surrounding each of the country’s coral reef areas, including Varadero Colombia, which was declared a Hope Spot in April 2018, and Cartagena Coral Reefs, now claimed by the fishers’ community to be included within the boundaries of Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
This year is the third International Year of the Reef IYOR2018. The scientific announcement of the declaration of the new Hope Spot will be launched at international meetings: The Gulf and Fisheries Institute Conference will be held in San Andres, Colombia on November 5th-9th, 2018, The International Exchange of Fishers will be held in Cartagena, Colombia on November 26 th-30th, 2018, and the Coral Reef Futures in Key Largo, Florida on December 10 th-14th, 2018.
For more details about ICRI Colombia visit https://icri-colombia.es.tl/, and follow https://www.facebook.com/ICRI.COLOMBIA on Twitter https://twitter.com/ArrecifesCoral (Spanish) and https://twitter.com/ICRIcolombia (English).