Seaflower Marine Protected Area (MPA)

Date of Submission: 18/09/2007
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Parques Nacionales Naturales
State, Province or Region:
San Andres Archipelago
Coordinates: N12 W82
Ref.: 5166

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In Colombia, in accord with Decree 216 of 2003, the Ministry of Environment, Housing, and Territorial development is the environmental governing body, with a technical office that is responsible for day-to-day operational management of conservation in situ. The mission of this office, the Special Administrative Unit of National Natural Parks, is to manage national protected areas (therefore, the Unit also functions as the environmental authority in these areas) and to coordinate the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP). At the regional level, the National Environment System (SINA), as defined in Law 99 of 1993, delegates environmental authority to the Regional Autonomous Corporations, including the function to declare and manage regional protected areas.

The Archipelago of San Andres, Old Providence, and Santa Catalina is a Colombian department in the western Caribbean. The proposed site is a marine protected area (MPA) with coastal and marine ecosystems including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, beaches, and deep water. The Minister of Environment, Housing, and Territorial Development declared the Seaflower MPA in January 2005. It is the first MPA in Colombia, the largest in the Caribbean region, and among the largest in the World. The MPA is part of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, declared a member of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program in 2000. To implement the Biosphere Reserve in the vast ocean area, the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Archipelago of San Andres, Old Providence, and Santa Catalina - CORALINA (Regional Autonomous Corporation for the archipelago) developed the MPA, which it manages with the exception of the Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park (discussed in detail later in this section).

MPA objectives are: 1) preservation, recovery, and long-term maintenance of species, biodiversity, ecosystems, and other natural values including special habitats; 2) promotion of sound management practices to ensure long-term sustainable use of coastal and marine resources; 3) equitable distribution of economic and social benefits to enhance local development; 4) protection of rights pertaining to historical use; and 5) education to promote stewardship and active community involvement in management. The coral reefs protected by the Seaflower are among the largest and most productive in the wider Caribbean. The multiple- use MPA includes complete coastal and marine ecosystems zoned for management levels ranging from total conservation to controlled commercial fishing. It covers 65,000 km2 and is divided into 3 administrative sections: Northern 37,522 km2, Central 12,716 km2, and Southern 14,780 km2.

The Southern Section includes San Andres' coastal waters, ESE Cays (Bolivar atoll), and SSW Cays (Albuquerque atoll) with corals (barrier reef, atolls, mini-atolls, fringing reefs, patches, pinnacles, coral heads, and soft corals), lagoons, seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, beaches, cays, soft bottoms, and deep water. There are three pre-existing parks in the Southern Section, which are also managed by CORALINA - the San Andres Bay Reserve and Johnny Cay and Old Point Mangrove Regional Parks. The first two are actively managed while the third is not yet implemented except as part of the MPA because of lack of funding.

The Central Section includes the coastal waters of Old Providence and Santa Catalina. The marine component of the only national park in the archipelago, Old Providence McBean Lagoon, which has its own internal zoning in accord with its Management Plan, is included in the Central Section. The Minister of Environment established this important national park in 1995 (Resolution 1021195). The National Park Office, a branch of the Ministry of Environment, manages this area. The park covers 995 hectares; 905 of which are maritime. The objectives of the National Park are to: 1) conserve representative ecosystems of the archipelago including mangroves, corals, seagrass beds, and dry forest; 2) improve productivity of archipelago fisheries; 3) preserve scenic values, including land and seascapes, that contribute to ecotourism; and 4) protect the resident colony of magnificent frigate birds (Fregata magniJicens). To achieve these objectives, the Park has the staff, infrastructure, and equipment needed for environmental education, research, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement, as well as to do activities that promote sustainable systems to benefit the local community.

CORALINA and the Park Office collaborate on activities including management, monitoring, education, and research and communication is good. The most productive and well-preserved mangrove forest in the archipelago, Oyster Creek, is in the Park. Also protected are about 20 kilometers of the Old Providence Barrier Reef (one of the largest barrier reefs in the Caribbean, covering a total of 255 km2). Like the Southern MPA, the Central MPA protects complete ecosystems and critical habitat including corals (barrier reef, fringing reefs, patches, pinnacles, coral heads, and soft corals), mangroves, seagrasses, lagoons, beaches, cays, soft bottoms, and deep water. The Northern Section includes Roncador, Serrana, and Quitasueiio. It includes large coral banks, atolls, lagoons, cays, and deep water.

In keeping with objectives, the MPA is zoned for in-situ conservation and sustainable use. Zoning supports diverse aims like protecting ecologically critical sites and entire ecosystems, controlling access, reducing conflicts between user groups, maintaining and recovering fisheries, promoting tourism and education, and improving research and monitoring. There are five zone types: 1) no-entry, with use restricted to research and monitoring (1 16 km2); 2) no- take, allowing a variety of non-extractive uses (2,214 km2); 3) artisanal fishing, for use by traditional fishers only (2,015 km2); 4) special use, for specific uses like shipping lanes, large- vessel anchorage, ports, and marinas or uses with the potential to generate conflict like heavily used water sports areas (68 km2); and 5) general use, where minimal restrictions apply to preserve MPA integrity and promote marine conservation (the remainder).

To establish the MPA, CORALINA received funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the World Bank. The MPA project began in September 2000 and ended 30 June 2005. From the beginning, the process was rooted in participation by all stakeholders, who collaborated on decision-making. Participatory planning with key stakeholders resulted in MPA objectives, external boundaries, zoning, regulations, and draft management plans. Following the national-level declaration of the MPA in January 2005, the 3 administrative sections were legally defined in April 2005. The participatory management structure began working in June 2005. Zoning plans for all 3 sections and the "umbrella" regulation stating what can and cannot be done in the MPA were formally approved in July 2005.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

  • Sufficient size (65,000 km2) (ix and X)
  • Complete extended coral reefs with all associated ecosystems including mangroves, lagoons, seagrass beds, soft bottoms, beaches, and deep water areas (ix and X) 
  • Biological connectivity and ecoregional representativeness (ix and X) 
  • Habitat representation (ix and X) 
  • Outstanding biological value and significant marine biodiversity (X)
  • High conservation status (a functioning national park and legally declared biosphere reserve and MPA, management structure and regulations in place, strong local institution and high community interest) (ix and X)

Comparison with other similar properties

When compared with similar properties, the Seaflower MPA contains outstanding complete ecosystems, including the most extensive open-ocean coral reefs, atolls, and associated ecosystems in the Caribbean. The Seaflower is especially large in size, has a strong legally protected conservation status, works in collaboration with a well-managed national park, and has a functioning community-based management structure that involves local and national institutions, local stakeholders (user groups), and an advisory board of international marine experts. Furthermore, it is in an ecoregion that has no marine World Heritage Sites.