Coral reef of Varadero

By: Multiple authors, Wikipedia (English Version) | Foto: Cartagena Reef Check

Coral Reef of Varadero is a coral reef located in the Bay of Cartagena, Colombia. Its paradoxical existence, harboring high coral cover and diversity despite the poor water quality and sediments discharged during the last 500 years by the Canal del Dique into the Bay, has drawn special interest by the scientific community and local and international media. The persistence of the Varadero reef is currently threatened by a project to modernize Cartagena’s port, not only by the direct damage produced by the dredging of a new shipping lane through the reef, but also by the deterioration of water conditions associated with the operation and maintenance of the channel.


Coral Reef of Varadero (10⁰18’10”N, 75⁰34’55”W) is a 1 km2 shallow water reef located SW of the Bay of Cartagena. It lies in the northern limit of the Natural Park Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo, Colombian Caribbean. It’s located approximately 6 kilometers to the east of the main mouth of the Canal del Dique, a canal of 118 kilometers connecting the Cartagena Bay to the Magdalena River. The annual water discharge and sediment load of the Canal del Dique has a mean of almost 400 m3 per second and 6 million tons per year, respectively, conferring the whole bay an estuarine character. The influx of human activity accompanied by the presence of this canal increased the bay water’s turbidity, nutrient levels, and sedimentation during last decades, may have caused the acute damage of the coral reefs and seagrass beds in the area. Reefs outside the bay, including those of the Rosario Islands, have also been negatively impacted mainly after the increased sedimentation rates from the Magdalena River and the construction of new channels from El Dique to the south of the Bay of Cartagena.

Ecological significance

Roughly 1 km2 in size, Varadero boasts approximately 80% coral cover. Reaching more than 3 meters in diameter, many of the massive colonies found in the reef of Varadero belong to the genus of the hermatypic coral Orbicella. This reef is estimated to contain a richness of over 30 scleractinian coral species. To adjust to the low light levels resulting from the water’s polluted state, some corals have utilized a flattened, plate-like growth strategy to optimize light exposure for its photosynthetic algal endosymbionts of the genus Symbiodinium. With the rapid decline of coral reefs in the Caribbean, scientists are examining reefs, such as in Varadero, to understand reef resilience.

First scientific studies

On December 14th/2017, a group of Colombian and American scientists developed a paper called “Unraveling the structure and composition of Varadero Reef, an improbable and imperiled coral reef in the Colombian Caribbean“. This paper has been recognized as the first high-level scientific study during the process of defense and conservation for this paradoxical marine ecosystem. This work was released by Valeria Pizarro (Ecomares), Sara Rodríguez (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia), Mateo López-Victoria (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia), Fernando Zapata (Universidad del Valle, Colombia), Sven Zea (CECIMAR – Universidad Nacional de Colombia), Claudia Galindo, Roberto Iglesias, Mónica Medina and Joseph Pollock (Penssylvania State University).

Also, the Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras “José Benito de Andreis” – Invemar released on June 22nd/2018, a paper called “Identificación, cuantificación y delimitación de hábitats bentónicos de ecosistemas marinos estratégicos en el sector Bahía de Cartagena (Varadero)”. One of the suggestions on this paper, is “to give Coral Reef of Varadero an opportunity to be formally and legally conservated”.

Hope Spot designation

Since last April 23st/2018, Coral Reef of Varadero has been designated by the NGO “Mission Blue-A Sylvia Earle Alliance” as a Hope Spot. Hope Spots are often areas that need new protection, but they can also be existing Marine Protected Areas where more action is needed. They can be large, they can be small, but they all provide hope due to:

  • A special abundance or diversity of species, unusual or representative species, habitats or ecosystems.
  • Particular populations of rare, threatened or endemic species.
  • A site with potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts.
  • The presence of natural processes such as major migration corridors or spawning grounds.
  • Significant historical, cultural or spiritual values.
  • Particular economic importance to the community.

Salvemos Varadero

Salvemos Varadero is a citizen initiative created in 2016, in the city of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Its purpose is to defend, in legal and conservation terms, the only coral reef surviving from the polluted waters of the Bay of Cartagena: the Coral Reef of Varadero. This includes its national declaration by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the President of the Republic of Colombia as a new protected area for Cartagena people, Colombia and mankind. Since October 17th/2018, this initiative has been managed by Corporación Ecotono, a non-governmental organization based in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Nowadays, Salvemos Varadero is supported by more than 30.000 citizens in different countries who demands this legal protection, and its members are recognized by several goals in favor of Coral Reef of Varadero: Bladimir Basabe, Génesis Ponneffz, Valeria Pizarro, Rafael Vergara, Daniel Jaime, Santiago Apraez, Santiago Ramírez, Andrés Ruiz and Julieta Penagos.



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