- Farallones de Cali National Park, located on the Pacific coast, will undergo long-term habitat restoration to reverse the damage done by illegal gold mining, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development said in an announcement late last month.
- The $3.7-million project could take several decades because of the severity of the environmental damage done by illegal mining, which has deforested the park and polluted its rivers with mercury.
- The 196,364-hectare (485,226-acre) national park is an important biological corridor along Colombia’s Pacific coast.
Colombia’s environmental authorities plan to take new steps this year to restore an important national park hit hard by deforestation and pollution, most of it from illegal gold mining.
Farallones de Cali National Park, located on the Pacific coast, will begin a long-term habitat restoration project to reverse the damage done by illegal gold mining, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development said in an announcement late last month. It follows a year of joint law enforcement operations to remove criminal groups responsible for the mining.
“The message is clear: together, we can control the territory and dismantle these criminal gangs,” said Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development.
The Ministry plans to invest around $3.7 million into the park’s restoration, which will involve reforestation and analysis of mercury levels in local waterbodies. Mercury is used to extract gold particles from the soil but is often dumped back into rivers and streams, poisoning flora and fauna as well as residents.
Officials said it could take up to 20 years for the forest to grow back and 50 years for the park’s ecosystems to be fully restored. Mining has had a “disastrous” impact on the soil, they said during the announcement.
They didn’t provide further details on how reforestation would be carried out.
The 196,364-hectare (485,226-acre) national park is an important biological corridor along Colombia’s Pacific coast. It has over a thousand species of trees, orchids, bromeliads and ferns, and more than 620 species of birds, according to WWF.
Located just outside of the city of Cali, the park’s forests are also an important aquifer helping provide freshwater to millions of people.
Illegal groups destroyed approximately 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of the park’s highest altitude peaks and were extracting around 78 kilograms of gold a month, bringing in millions of dollars, according to the ministry.
The situation started to worsen during the pandemic when the government’s presence in the area was low. Last year, it was reaching a tipping point as a settlement of more than 800 people was starting to form.
The Colombian government reported a significant spike in arrests related to environmental crime last year — up more than 80% from 2021, according to the ministry. Authorities managed to remove the people and close 11 mines inside the park last year while confiscating heavy machinery, tools and other mining infrastructure valued at around $1.2 million. It also resulted in ten arrests, according to officials.
But similar efforts and reforestation projects have been implemented in other parts of Colombia, and they haven’t always resulted in long-term solutions. In some cases, miners return to the parks.
“You have to recognize that officials have made a very good effort,” said Luis Ortega, president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “Farallones is a priority. Although it might not seem like it, it’s one of the models for taking action against the threat of mining.”
Banner image: Mountains in Farallones de Cali National Park. Photo courtesy of Parques Nacionales de Colombia.
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.
See related from this reporter: