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Malaga Bay Declared National Park after Tough Battle

After months of intense debate and only days before a new government took office, Colombia announced that a massive swath of its Pacific coast, also an important spawning ground for humpback whales, has become the country’s newest national park.

Environment Minister Carlos Costa announced on Aug. 5th that Malaga Bay Uramba National Natural Park would span 116,370 acres along the central part of Colombia’s Pacific coast. The area is recognized as one of the world’s most important sites for the reproduction of humpback whales, with 500 to 700 visiting each year.

It’s also home to some 60 amphibious species, 148 species of saltwater and freshwater fish, 25 species of sea and beach birds, 141 species of mollusks, 99 species of crustacean, 400 species of trees, plus swamps and a variety of flora.

“This decision brings to an end a long chapter of discussion and opens a new page for the future of the region and the country. It’s a major achievement that recognizes the importance of the conservation of the marine ecosystems in the Colombian Pacific that so far have been underrepresented in the National System of Protected Areas in Colombia,” asserted Mary Lou Higgins, WWF Representative in Colombia.

Discussions over whether the zone should be declared a protected area or the site of a new port ignited a tense debate between conservation and economic development. Colombia’s national paper El Espectator described the process as one of the country’s “toughest environmental battles in recent years.”

Opposition to the park chiefly came from business leaders, who argued that a protected area in Malaga would seriously limit the development of the country’s port system. They claimed that a new port needed to handle larger post-Panamax class ships that are increasingly entering service.

In May, Costa stated that the government was examining the possibility of setting up a park and port facility in the same area, but concluded that Malaga Bay’s ecosystems would be irreparably damaged with an increase of commercial shipping.

Experts also concluded that dredging to deepen the access channel at Colombia’s existing Buenaventura Bay port would be sufficient to meet the demands created by the larger tonnage vessels.

Local Afro-Colombian communities overwhelmingly supported the declaration of the zone as a protected area, recognizing that the establishment of the new reserve would help guard their territory as well as their traditional livelihoods.

“We applaud this decision that respects the wishes and efforts of many people; it strengthens the work of institutions like National Parks, and the mission of organizations like WWF whilst opening a future path that reconciles conservation with sustainable development led by communities in the zone,” Ms. Higgins added.

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