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Discover The Best of The Caribbean in The Rosario Islands National Marine Park, Cartagena, Colombia

Aug 17, 2007
The Rosario Island Coral Reef System is one of many marine National Parks in the Caribbean sea, and one of 46 in Colombia. The park covers an area of about 20 hectares of coral reef and 43 different islands.

The reef was formed hundreds of years ago. Volcanic activity deep below the earths surface pushed the seabed up over time, allowing coral beds to form and marine life to flourish. Today the area is home to more than 1,300 species of plants and animals and is a fantastic location for diving, snorkeling and other recreational water activities.

In 1977 the area was declared a National Park by the State Ecological Authority, for the purpose of protection, preservation and study of this fragile eco system of marine life. But declaring the site a National Park has not been enough to protect the reefs from damage, and today the area still remains under threat.

After two years of research and data gathering, a report was published in 2002 on the Status of Coral Reefs in Southern Tropical America. The project was a joint initiative of authorities from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela.

The report stated that 'The coral reefs, have changed radically in the last 35 years, in particular during the 1980's, due mostly to anthropogenic stresses compounded by natural disturbances.' Research shows an alarming decline in the coverage of the reef by live coral in the area. Warmer sea temperatures contribute to the damage by killing off live coral and exposing the dead, calcified coral underneath. This is known as coral bleaching. Other threats include lower fish populations and high incidence of coral disease and large populations of sea urchins, who feed on live coral.

The report blames sewage pollution, tourism impact, resource extraction, over fishing and coastal development as the main causes of damage to the area, compounded by natural problems such as shifting weather patterns (El Nino), hurricanes and runoff from rivers in the region.

Whilst the larger rivers such as the Amazon, Orinoco and Magdalena deliver nutrients to the sea, they also deposit sediment and pollution which can slow coral growth or kill off existing corals. Fish and other organisms in the water require coral as a food source or to provide protective habitats from their predators, without it, the species could suffer population loss, and ultimately, extinction.

The report warns that 'the rate of coral reef decline will not be reversed until there is more effective government intervention and recognition that policies and laws need to be implemented and enforced.'

It recommended further study and mapping of the region, ongoing long term monitoring, funding for conservation efforts, and laws to prevent damage by tourism and resource extraction. Since then, international and local efforts have been made to manage and protect the marine park through these recommendations.

In the mid 1980s, the Rosario Islands Oceanarium was established. A research and education centre that hosts international events in marine life research, regularly collects data from within the National Park and presents information to members of the public about the state of the marine environments in Colombia.

As well as the Museum of Marine Life, the Oceanarium features many open water pens to display and provide protection for marine animals such as fish, dolphins and sharks. The animals are free to come and go as they please, but when at the oceanarium, they are provided with food and medical attention. The scientists at the centre have been able to collect valuable information about the state of the animals health as well as closely monitor their natural environment as a result.

Visitors to the centre not only have the chance to enjoy an encounter with the diverse range of animal and plant species that live in the National Park, but also the chance to learn about the the threat to the park and what efforts are being made to protect it.

Unfortunately, despite being one of the top five countries in the world with the most natural diversity, Colombia's efforts to clear international debts and the fight to eradicate armed conflict have taken funding priority over helping conservation efforts for this and other National Parks in the country.

Research, park management and conservation projects are largely funded by international conservation aid, private organisations and their sponsors and private donations. A small portion also comes from eco-tourism projects.

Conservation groups are hopeful that as Cartagena's popularity as a great tourist destination strengthens, the government will provide more support for the protection of this valuable natural wonder. In the meantime, education seems to be the park's best chance of survival. Its up to visitors, local tour operators and residents to take responsibility and care for the area, to protect it so that future generations can enjoy its beauty.
About the Author
Gaizka Pujana is the co-owner of Barcelona Homes, S.L. which is a company
specialized in providing short term tenancy solutions in Seville and Barcelona through its
web pages Cartagena Colombia apartment rental
Apartamentos por dias Cartagena
Cartagena Colombia apartments
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