Restoring Colombia's Coastline

Restoring Colombia's Coastline
Ministry of Environment Colombia
The Ministry of Environment of Colombia is comple­ment­ing gray infra­struc­ture with green infra­struc­ture methods to combat climate change effects on Colombia's Caribbean coast.  

Since 2020, the Ministry of Environment of Colombia (MinAmbiente) has prioritized several ecosystem-based coastal protection projects to combat the effects of climate change on the country’s Caribbean coast. These efforts include refor­esta­tion, reha­bil­i­ta­tion and protection of mangroves, renat­u­ra­tion of beaches and dunes, as well as management of seagrass beds. The German Federal Ministry is supporting the efforts through project funding created by the KfW Inter­na­tional Climate Initiative (IKI), a commitment to climate financing and biodi­ver­sity projects in developing and indus­tri­al­ized countries.

In the past, combating climate change on the coast of Colombia has been exclusively implemented through gray infra­struc­ture methods; built-environment techniques such as jetties and breakwaters. Though these tactics have proven successful, they lack the longevity and protection of green infra­struc­ture, nature-based solutions. Colombia’s shift to a hybrid of gray and green infra­struc­ture will provide coastal regions with long-term envi­ron­men­tal protection from extreme weather events and sea level rise, while simul­ta­ne­ously reha­bil­i­ta­tion the local natural envi­ron­ments.

Germany-based experts from CDM Smith, as subcon­sul­tants to GFA Consulting Group, have been supporting the initiative by serving as an advising and monitoring body for MinAmbiente, including project planning, oversight of technical execution, and monitoring envi­ron­men­tal reha­bil­i­ta­tion efforts across the coast. “Colombia's coasts are suffering from coastal erosion, which has direct impacts on local communities and ecosystems,” said Matthias Mueller, project manager and team leader. “I am grateful to support the project staff of the Colombian Ministry of Environment in addressing these envi­ron­men­tal and socio-economic threats with ecosystem-based adaptation measures to create benefits for local communities and ecosystems.”
I am grateful to support project staff of the Colombia Ministry of Environment... with ecosystem-based adaptation measures to create benefits for local communities and ecosystems.
Matthias Mueller, CDM smith project team leader

After identifying envi­ron­men­tal, social, safety, and health risks, the team adapted management systems, including a flexible “traffic light” methodology to ensure that the global standards for Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA) were on track. The team prioritized protecting mangrove forests, beaches, and seagrass beds in 12 pilot projects across four Colombian provinces. Community outreach has been key to securing the long-term livelihood of these beautiful coastal areas, through raising awareness among communities and stake­hold­ers to identify the ecological and economic signif­i­cance of the ecosystems to garnering public involvement.

The Government of Colombia has adopted ecosystem-based adaptation methods as a core strategy to stabilize coastal land sections. Projects can be classified as ecosystem-based if they:

  • Reduce social and environmental vulnerabilities
  • Generate societal benefits in context of climate change adaptation
  • Restore, maintain or improve ecosystem health
  • Are supported by multi-level policies
  • Support equitable governance and enhance capacity

At one pilot project located in Cispata, Colombia, mangrove restoration has been established after carbon stocks in mangrove forests along the region’s coast were closely monitored, while raising awareness of the plant’s signif­i­cance. Mangroves serve as a buffer between marine life and the shores, while protecting the delicate ecosystems from damaging coastal winds, waves, and floods. The thickets also improve water quality by filtering pollutants and trapping sediments, and they even serve as a home to organisms on land and in sea. These plants store up to 10x more carbon than the typical forest tree, so their destruction is far more of a detriment to the environment when their carbon stores are released. The mangrove protection in Cispata has been crucial to long-term envi­ron­men­tal improvement, and the pilot has been awarded gold-level community and biodi­ver­sity certi­fi­ca­tion.

Another ecological restoration pilot project on the beaches of Ciénaga, Colombia, is fighting coastal erosion with uva de playa, also known as sea grapes. The project includes planting over 15,000 seedlings along 1.5 kilometers of shoreline, engaging local communities and the regional and local envi­ron­men­tal authorities to stabilize the coast and secure sand dunes in place once they are grown to full size. A wind-resistant and saltwater tolerable plant, the sea grape is a resilient choice to provide land stability and habitats for sea life.

While gray infra­struc­ture methods of shoreline and dune restoration yield prompt results, the effects typically lack longevity, require strict upkeep, and involve greater time investments. By comple­ment­ing existing gray infra­struc­ture with green infra­struc­ture, these regions of Colombia’s coastline will be fortified through natural solutions that are simul­ta­ne­ously reha­bil­i­tat­ing their ecosystems. The project also strengthens the capacities of the National Envi­ron­men­tal System (SINA), through the imple­men­ta­tion of a web-based information and monitoring platform for coastal erosion and the impact of Ecosystem based Adaptation measures to combat coastal erosion.

"Thanks to Matthias’ vision and guidance to attract the right partners and develop a compre­hen­sive methodology to implement suitable infra­struc­ture to combat climate change effects on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, this project was delivered in record time. We are proud to have supported such a meaningful project," says Eric Kalmbach, senior civil engineer and head of the development assistance sector of CDM Smith Germany.

Eric Kalmbach Eric Kalmbach
We developed a compre­hen­sive methodology to combat climate change effects on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Eric Kalmbach Senior Civil Engineer

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