Barranquilla: Colombia’s First “Biodivercity”

Human Wrongs Watch

5 June 2020 (World Environment Day)* — Barranquilla, the largest city on the Colombian Caribbean coast, lies 15 miles upstream the mouth of the Magdalena river. This huge waterway is the setting of some of Nobel prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez’s, most famous works. (*)


Since colonial times, Barranquilla has served as a gateway to Colombia’s interior. The city today accounts for 27 percent of Colombia’s coastal gross domestic product.

But the economic growth has come with a price. Urban expansion, shipping and wastewater dumping has impacted biodiversity in the river delta, degrading habitats for fish and caiman.

Barranquilla is looking to turn around this trend by becoming Colombia’s first “biodivercity” –an urban area fully integrated with its local biodiversity.

Infrastructure projects are planned to bring residents closer to the river delta, the Caribbean Sea and the area’s teeming biodiversity. More than five kilometres of walkways have been built along the river, a major estuarine wetland will be restored, and birdwatching trails will be developed.

The initiative responds to a call by the government of Colombia, host of the World Environment Day 2020, to put nature at the center of the country´s development model. Barranquilla is pioneering the “biodivercities” project, with other cities to follow.

One of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Colombia is home to rich ecosystems, from the Andes mountain range, to the dense forests of the Amazon, the coasts of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, or the plains of the Orinoquia. Cities are often surrounded by paramos, wetlands, tropical forests, grasslands or mangroves.

“Cities have to thrive while protecting biodiversity and the environment to ensure a circular economy. In this way, we can embrace the concept of ‘producing while conserving and conserving while producing,” said Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez during the World Economic Forum in January.

Isla de Salamanca Park in Barranquilla

Restoring the Mallorquín swamp

Earlier this year, Barranquilla’s authorities announced the first major “biodivercity” initiative: restoring the Mallorquín swamp in the estuary of the Magdalena river. This estuarine wetland system is separated from the Caribbean Sea by a narrow beach, and from the mouth of the river´s delta by a dike built to enable cargo boats to enter the port of Barranquilla.

For years, pollution, logging, and sedimentation have affected the swamp’s ability to sequester the city’s carbon and provide food and sources of income to local fishing communities. Despite its degradation, the swamp still conserves four mangrove species, including the threatened red mangrove, 81 species of birds, 15 of marine invertebrates, nine of fish, nine of amphibians and seven of reptiles.

The “biodivercity” project includes sanitation works on the Magdalena river, trails and other infrastructure for sustainable tourism activities such as bird watching.

“We can tell our visitors that not only do we have a river, but we will also have a sea and a swamp. This environmental recovery allows us to restore dignity to the populations that live in the surroundings of the swamp. This is the first visible sign of our commitment to be a ‘biodivercity’,” said the mayor of Barranquilla, Jaime Pumarejo.

Barranquilla will also facilitate visitor access to the Vía Parque Isla Salamanca, a protected mangrove area of ​​more than 500 km² (193 square miles), which is an important resting place for migratory birds. In a recent BioBlitz in the area, volunteers identified 207 species in five hours.

“We would like to encourage a behavioral change, so citizens better value our amazing natural resources,” said Ricardo Lozano, Minister or Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia. “People must be told, for example, that trees, including mangroves, can protect us from the consequences of droughts or floods, that they guarantee us sustainability and we must take care of them.”

An urban challenge

Conserving biodiversity is critical as cities expand. Over half of the world´s population now lives in cities. The United Nations estimates that, by 2050, 6.7 billion people will live in cities – close to 70 percent of the planet’s inhabitants. Cities generate sewage, waste and air pollution, affecting ecosystems near and far.

Our health is tied to the health of nature. We are losing species faster than at any other time in history and we have already altered three quarters of the planet’s land surface. Integrating biodiversity into the development of cities is an urgent measure,” said Leo Heileman, regional director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

*SOURCE: World Environment Day. Go to ORIGINAL.

2020 Human Wrongs Watch

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