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The winners of the Ocean Awards 2019

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Judges’ Special Award: Alliance for the Conservation of Biodiversity, Culture and Territory

Joint winner - For the expansion of the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, and the designation of two new marine protected areas

Thanks to an innovative partnership of five institutions, 13.31 per cent of Colombia’s coastline and marine ecosystems are now protected.

Organised by Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, the country’s national parks agency, the alliance included two global charities, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS); and two corporate foundations, Grupo Argos and the Mario Santo Domingo Foundation. More than four million hectares now have government designation as marine protected areas (MPAs). The protected zones consist of two newly created MPAs and the massive expansion of an existing National Natural Park and UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The latter, the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, has grown from 968,000 hectares to 2.68 million hectares and now forms the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. This is the area that surrounds the 35-hectare island of Malpelo, which supports colonies of the critically endangered Galápagos petrel, Nazca and masked boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. But it is the rugged topography of the surrounding underwater wilderness, as well as the confluence of several oceanic currents, that truly make it a place of exceptional and diverse ecosystems, not to mention a rich feeding ground for pelagic species such as giant grouper, billfish and tuna, and for predators. Hence it has a reputation as a “reservoir” of sharks (and as one of the greatest dive sites in the world). Aggregations of more than 200 hammerheads and more than 1,000 silky sharks have been seen there, as well as whale sharks and the occasional sighting of short-nosed, ragged-toothed sharks, a rarely sighted deepwater species.

In addition to the expansion of Malpelo Sanctuary, two new MPAs have been created: the Yurupari-Malpelo Integrated Management National District, which covers almost 2.7 million hectares; and Cabo Manglares Bajo Mira y Frontera, which extends 190,282 hectares. These areas seek to make the conservation of biodiversity compatible with the traditional uses of local communities. Fishing in these waters will be closely monitored to ensure it is responsibly managed and sustainable, and the turtles that nest among the mangroves in the delta of the Mira Rover delta, which borders Ecuador, will be much safer.

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