Conserving Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta

Sanctuary of Flora and Fauna Ciénaga Grande

Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, the largest and most productive coastal wetland in Colombia, covers 45,000 hectares. At the confluence of the Magdalena River and the Caribbean Sea, the site boasts an immense variety of flora and fauna, including mammals, birds and fish. Its southern tip is a beautiful sanctuary of mangroves, swamp and amphibious forest.

On the calm waters of the marsh stand the Ciénaga’s famous stilt villages, supported by pillars or simple wooden stakes and inhabited by local fishermen since 1800. In a place accessible only by water, many of the things we take for granted—being served a glass of water, quick access to a doctor—are considered luxuries. Residents depend on the natural world around them. Sadly, in recent years mass fish die-offs caused by the marsh’s degradation have threatened the livelihoods of 2,500 people who call the Ciénaga Grande home.

Illegal activities are destroying this vital ecosystem: intentionally set forest fires, deforestation of large tracks of land for agriculture and livestock, logging and burning of mangroves, and 27 kilometers of illegally built dikes.

This destruction not only devastates the local fishery; it also has global impact. Ciénaga Grande’s mangroves absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, aiding in the global fight against climate change.

The importance of the Ciénaga Grande has been recognized both nationally – the Sanctuary of Flora and Fauna Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta is a national park – and internationally: UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program declared the lagoon a biosphere reserve; and the Ciénaga Grande is listed as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty for the protection of wetlands.

AIDA and our partners are advocating for the Colombian government to fulfill its national and international obligations to protect the Ciénaga Grande. After all, millions of animals, the local community, and our global climate depend on it.  

What we’re doing

  • On December 19, 2014, along with the Public Interest Litigation Group of the Universidad del Norte and the Environmental Conservation Clinic at the University of Florida, we presented a petition to the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention requesting that their experts visit the site and issue recommendations.
  • We also requested that Colombia inscribe Ciénaga Grande in the Montreaux Register, a list of Ramsar sites in imminent danger, which would allow for the government to obtain priority support for the preservation of the wetland. More than a year after receiving our petition, the Colombian government has yet to provide an official response.
  • In 2015, alongside our allies, we sought answers through intimate meetings with academics, decision makers and civil society. In June, at the 12th Conference of Parties of the Ramsar Convention, we stressed the importance of the government of Colombia and international authorities joining forces to save the Ciénaga Grande – for its residents, for Colombia and for the world.