BARRANQUILLA, Colombia – A road built in the 1950s in northern Colombia that caused enormous environmental damage by interrupting the flow of water among a complex of marshes, the Magdalena River and the Caribbean Sea is now under threat from coastal erosion.
Visitors to the Salamanca Island Road Park, located near the Caribbean Sea in the Magdalena River Delta Estuary System, can gaze out on mangrove swamps, marshes and beaches from that road, which links the city of Barranquilla, in Atlantico province, with the municipality of Cienaga, located in the neighboring province of Magdalena.
But that road, constructed in an era before builders needed to obtain environmental permits, is seen today as a terrible crime against nature.
The construction of that route in 1956 marked the start of a process of environmental deterioration that threatens that natural treasure because the road interrupted the flow of saline water to and from the estuarine channels in the Magdalena River delta.
Studies conducted by the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Magdalena indicate the 40.6 kilometers (25 miles) of road that run through Salamanca Island resulted in hyper-salinization and the loss of 285.7 sq. kilometers (110 sq. miles) of mangrove forest and numerous animal species.
The construction of the road “is the most visible environmental crime that’s been committed in Colombian history,” biologist Luis Carlos Gutierrez, a researcher at the University of Atlantico in Barranquilla, told EFE.
Human intervention not only “has wiped out species, but some measures adopted to remedy the damage have ... aggravated the situation,” the expert added.
“Worst of all, there’s been a silting of the estuarine channels and the marshes; in other words, the large amount of sediment has buried the oyster banks, which are a food source for many species,” Gutierrez said.
Besides the damage to the ecosystem, the area suffers from coastal erosion that affects the entire Caribbean coast and is particularly acute along that road because it endangers the land link between Barranquiilla, Colombia’s third-largest city, and the country’s interior.
One critical point is the road’s kilometer 19, where the government invested more than 12 billion pesos (some $4.1 million) three years ago in sea walls to protect it from ocean swells.
Experts, however, say the definitive solution is a project to expand the road into a dual carriageway with viaducts at certain points to ensure an uninterrupted flow of water in the delta estuary system.