El Silencio Natural Reserve and Research Station
Saving Rainforests and Wetlands of the Middle Magdalena Valley
Since 2006, Fundación BioDiversa Colombia has been working in the Middle Magdalena Valley to develop conservation projects on three endangered species: the river turtle (Podocnemis lewyana) and silvery-brown tamarin (Saguinus leucopus), both endemic to the area, and the brown spider monkey (Ateles hybridus).
Silvery-brown tamarin (Saguinus leucopus)/ Photo:Juan Manuel Martínez
As part of this work, we visited the wetlands of Barbacoas for the first time in 2009 and from that moment on have devoted our efforts to the protection of these wetlands and forests, which are possibly the best preserved of the middle Magdalena River basin. It still has large populations of the endangered blue-billed curassow (Crax alberti), the American crocodile (Cocodylus acutus), and the manatee (Trichechus manatus), among several other animal species that are endangered and/or endemic such as the jaguar (Panthera onca) or the Northern Screamer or chavarri (Chauna chavaria).
Moreover, the Barbacoas wetlands are considered the most important fish nursery for the commercial fish species of the middle and lower Magdalena River basin. The original forests still have large numbers of the most important timber species as well as the threatened Spanish Cedar (Cedrela Odorata), the Colombian Mahogany or abarco (Cariniana pyriformis), and the big-leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).
The Barbacoas wetlands are located in the middle Magdalena Valley lowlands at the western margin of the Antioquia Department of Colombia, Yondo Municipality. Its native vegetation is tropical rainforest, comparable to the Amazon rainforest in terms of endemism and number of species, and also harbors a large number of migratory bird species. This unique ecosystem includes nearly twenty percent of all Colombian species, many of which are endemic, in a very restricted area. Of its original area of about 14,000 square kilometers, less than fifteen percent remains today.
The main threat in the area is uncontrolled and illegal logging, which has several driving forces. The most important is the constant expansion of extensive cattle ranching, which has historically depleted most of the original forest areas. In recent years, two other activities appeared in the area and are causing similar devastation: expansion of industrial palm oil plantations and legal and illegal mining, especially for gold extraction. These combined threats make the future of these ecosystems increasingly uncertain. Moreover, pervasive water and soil pollution has superseded deforestation as the primary problem in the region. The mining activities performed in this area use mercury and arsenic, both of which are extremely toxic pollutants with major and irreversible consequences for wildlife and economic activity in the area.
El Silencio and regional protected area
In spite of these threats, there are no national or regional protected areas that safeguard the future of these ecosystems. This is why Fundacion Biodiversa Colombia is working in the area to raise awareness among the local stakeholders such as ranchers, local authorities and local communities towards the conservation and sustainability of Barbacoas. This work has proven effective, since now Fundacion Biodiversa Colombia has a private reserve in the area called El Silencio, and the process of declaring a public protected area that includes the wetlands and main forest fragments in the area is almost finalized.
Together with the regional environmental authority, Corantioquia and Yondo Municipality, FBC has managed to bring Barbacoas to the attention of several public and private institutions such as The Nature Conservancy, Ecopetrol, Fundacion Humedales, Universidad de Antioquia, Instituto de Investigaciones Alexander von Humboldt, Wildlife Conservation Society, and many others. These institutions now realize the threats facing these important ecosystems, and are beginning to work to save this natural wonder.
In FBC we are certain that we will reach our conservation goals, since so much has changed since we first visited Barbacoas in 2009. Government and private institutions were almost invisible in the area, and few people in the conservation field knew this beautiful natural jewel even existed. Now, several groups are working together toward the same objective and Barbacoas is now positioned as one of the most important wetland complexes in the Magdalena River basin. Its preservation can be accomplished by involving the local community and including the land owners into our conservation activities, thus potentiating our results in small areas and expanding it to a larger region. Together with the local and regional authorities, FBC will ensure that productive activities are sustainable, embody the highest environmental standards, and guarantee the long-term conservation of Barbacoas.
Read more about the social aspect of Barbacoas.
These are some of the animals that live in El Silencio and surrounding forests
Photographers: Andrés Felipe Aponte, Catalina Giraldo, Fernando Arbeláez, Silvia Vejarano, Juan David Sánchez, Juan Manuel Martínez
Susana Rodríguez-Buritica, PhD: Project coordinator
Julio Marin: Field Coordinator
Alfonso López: Ranger
Silvia Vejarano MSc.
Fernando Arbeláez MSc.
Catalina Giraldo MFA.
Maria Teresa Gámez: Communications coordinator
This project is supported by:
and many small donors. See the donors list here.