Carribean archipelago spared from oil drilling

Island in the colombian sea White coral reef in colombian sea

Jun 21, 2012

White coral reefs or black mineral oil? In the midst of the azure blue ocean surrounding the islands San Andrés, Providencia und Santa Catalina, mineral oil companies were planning to exploit the natural ressources of the archipelago. However, a court now decided in favour of preserving natural beauty

White coral reefs or black mineral oil? A Carribean archipelago belonging to Colombia has both. 70 percent of the coral reefs in the Colombian sea area are found in the midst of the azure blue ocean surrounding the islands San Andrés, Providencia und Santa Catalina. This group of islands comprises the biosphere reserve „seaflower“ and was declared an UNESCO conservation area in the year 2000 due to its biodiversity and its extensive coral reefs.

But it is assumed that the sea ground also holds large quantities of mineral oil. The Colombian oil company Ecopetrol and the Spanish company Repsol wanted to exploit these and were willing to take the loss of the idyllic archipelago. Now a court had to decide what is more important – corals or oil – and it went for the preservation of natural beauty.  

Court decision in Colombia: Corals esteemed more important than oil

The administrative court of the Colombian Carribean islands San Andrés, Providencia und Santa Catalina ruled that the national mineral oil authority (Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos – ANH) has to stop the planned search and exploitation of the oil blocks Cayos 1 and Cayos 5 in the coral sea.

The lawsuit was filed by the coalition for sustainable development of the  archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina (CORALINA). On June 4th, 2012 the administrative court announced an historic verdict in favour of the claimants.

„The collective rights to a clean environment, the existence of the ecological balance as well as the management (…) of the natural resources for a responsible development (..) could not be guaranteed in the case of this mineral oil project“, the court explained. Furthermore „the preservation of biodiversity, the survival of protected ecosystems of high biological value and the interests of the general public regarding the preservation of their environment were greatly threatened by the mineral oil project that had been promoted by the ANH since November 2010.“

A right to a clean environment

The judgment is based on the right to a clean environment in connection with life and the precautionary principle. CORALINA's work is commended as exemplary. The verdict strengthens the significance of biosphere reserves for a sustainable development and at the same time emphasizes the fundamental threat that the  planned mineral oil project posed for the ecosystems of the affected reserves.

The court also agreed to the foundation of a commission in charge of monitoring the implementation of the verdict. The members of the board are going to be an independent commentator, ANH representatives, CORALINA and an environmental lawyer. The commission is subordinated to the local administrative court of the department of San Andrés.

The court verdict ties in with a promise the Colombian president made in October 2011. Juan Manuel Santos pledged to protect the maritime ecosystem.

Now the unique archipelago is going to be spared of the destructive grasp of the mineral oil industry.

Rainforest Rescue had supported CORALINA's struggle for the preservation of this natural paradise with an action alert.

You can read the court verdict here.