Friday, August 17, 2012

Colombia Scores a 'C' on Coastal Health

Colombia's Coast: Not so well managed.
An index of nations' coastal health just released by Conservation International and the National Geographic Society ranks Colombia 94th out of 171 coastal regions, with a score of 52 out of a possible 100.

The study ranked countries and coastal regions on 10 measures including 'Clean Waters,' 'Tourism and Recreation,' 'Biodiversity,' 'Coastal Protection,' and 'Food Provision,' as well as the less clear 'Sense of Place.'

Doing pretty well: An artesanal
fisherman on Colombia's coast.
Colombia did best on 'Artisanal Fishing Opportunities,' with a score of 85, and 'Coastal Livelihoods and Economies,' where it scored 69. Both are indications of the still strong artisinal fishing communities on Colombia's coasts. It also did alright, with a 68, on 'Biodiversity,' 'Coastal Protection,' at 66, and 'Clean Waters' at 67, but got a poor 47 score on 'Natural Products,' which can mean either that Colombia is not exploiting marine resources sustainably as much as it could, or that it is exploiting them unsustainably. judging by the state of world marine resources, it seems most likely that they are being overexploited. Another discouraging number, related to the previous one, was Colombia's score of 51 on 'Carbon Storage.' That rating measures trends in the amount of carbon stored by Colombia's coastal ecosystems, such as marshes and mangrove forests. As environmental destruction degrades coastal ecosystems, biodiversity is lost and carbon gets released, accelerating global warming.

Doing very badly: Finned sharks. 
Overall, Colombia's scores are a reflection of its relatively low population and level of industrialization, which have given some protection to marine resources, or at least delayed some human impacts. But, increasingly industrialization, coal and other shipping, port construction and the expansion of urban areas both on the coast and inland, will increase impacts unless the country takes strong protective measures. And, no matter what Colombia does, its marine resources will still be under siege from fishing boats exploiting nearby international waters, since fish are no respectors of political boundaries - and marine resources are collapsing all over the globe, under pressure from trawlers and things like the Chinese hunger for shark fin soup.

Colombia took steps forward recently in marine protection with decisions not to expand the port of Buenaventura and to ban petroleum exploitation around the San Andres Archipelago. It also made an agreement with Costa Rica to work against shark massacres like one which took place last year in Colombian protected waters. Colombia's score of 0 (yes, that's a zero) on 'Tourism and Recreation' suggests that there's lots of room for Colombia to expand this sector sustainably, which would make Colombia's biodiversity more visible and increase motivation for protecting its resources.

A world-wide marine crisis is taking place. But it's happening mostly out of sight. And as long as seafood shelves remain stocked, few people but fishing families take notice.

Regionally, Colombia did better than neighbors Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, but the South American leader was Brazil, with its huge Atlantic coastline.

For the complete report, see:

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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