Colombia, first Western nation to protect 30% of its ocean

Whale shark in the waters of Malpelo. Photo: Sandra Bessudo/Fundación Malpelo.

Colombia has secured 30% of its ocean as a protected area becoming the first Western nation to do so, and eight-years ahead of a 2030 deadline set during the United Nations’ Biodiversity Conference COP15. Known as 30-BY-30 (30×30), in which nations commit to protecting at least 30% of their land and territorial waters to environmental and biological conservation, President Duque made the announcement during the UN Ocean Conference taking place in Lisbon, Portugal.

Colombia met its oceanic goal after expanding protection to include the Malpelo Sanctuary of Flora and Fauna, and among the endangered aquatic ecosystems in the Colombian Pacific.

President Duque was also recognized within the framework of the conference as the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s 2022 Planetary Leadership Awards, alongside former President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado Quesada. The Planetary Leadership Awards were handed-out during a ceremony called Ocean Night and honors world leaders who “have successfully established globally significant protected areas, such as national parks, wilderness areas, or marine reserves, that are shielded from exploitation.”

Previous winners of this award include Canada’s Justin Trudeau; Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile; and former Presidents of the Seychelles Danny Faure and James Michel.

“We commend the commitments of President Alvarado and President Duque to preserve the remarkable biodiversity of their countries,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society. “Their words, decisions, and actions exemplify planetary stewardship and protection, helping to create impactful, sustainable solutions for our ocean.”

Today, less than 8% of the world’s oceans are under any sort of legal protection, and more is needed to prevent rapid biodiversity loss and mitigate climate change.

The inclusion of Malpelo’s 1,400 km-long underwater mountain ridge that acts as a marine highway for sharks, whales and other threatened species, gave Colombia the advantage to protect more than 30 million hectares of its marine and coastal areas. The non-profit organization Fundación Malpelo has championed environmental conservation in this remote Pacific biosphere for more than two decades.

“We are getting dangerously close to the global temperature limit of 1.5 degrees, which we set in the Paris Agreement. Climate change is a reality and is a threat to our future. That is why Colombia decided to act and be part of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People,” remarked President Duque at the ceremony. “And before August of this year, 30% of our national territory will be declared a protected area, eight years ahead of the global goal. We will not wait until 2030 to do so… there is no Planet B,” he said. Colombia celebrated the achievement with a campaign titled “30-BEFORE-30.”

Thousands of researchers, conservationists and environmental activists are attending this week’s UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, where leaders from more than 20 nations are set to issue a declaration on protecting the high seas against exploitation and restoring ocean health. “Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told delegates at the opening of the conference. “We must turn the tide. A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.”