Conservation in Colombia

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain formation in the world, rising from the azure waters of the Carribbean to snow-capped mountains at 19,000 feet. I know of nowhere else where you can stand in one place and see glaciers on one side and tropical ocean on the other.

Against this jaw-dropping backdrop exotic birds flutter through lush cloudforest and rare frogs bounce across a sun-specked carpet of leaflitter under gnarled trees. Many of these species are found here and nowhere else. For this reason, the Sierra Nevada was recently identified as the second highest priority site for urgent conservation action worldwide.

In early 2007 the habitat of these species was slated for conversion into vacation homes. We helped local and international partners to secure the area and create the El Dorado Reserve. The careful development of ecotourism in the reserve is now helping to generate revenue to pay locals to manage the park, as well as guides and cooks.

Protecting a 1,500 acre patch of forest is a small battle won in the war on environmental devastation. Driving along the coast surrounding Santa Marta it was alarming to see house upon house submerged in several feet of water from a recent flood. Occupants sat on high ground nearby, waiting.

The link between natural catastrophies and evironmental degradation is clearer than ever. It is in the interests of the people to protect their forest, a natural gem of which they should be proud. As more people pay vast sums of money to come and see exotic birds, it will become increasingly obvious that these forests are worth more intact than in pieces.

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