Marirrio Bay, Atrato River Delta ( 8° 1’1.31″N; 76°55’0.72″W). From left to right: transition from fringing mangroves to freshwater grasslands and forests (note a river channel). Photo: ELICE-UdeA.
The Caribbean Sea is seen in the imagination of most people as an area of clear waters, paradise islands, and peaceful beaches. In the best of the instances, it is also seen as the land of dwarf mangroves border-lining creeks on coral islands.
However, the Souhtern-most tip of the Caribbean Sea located in Colombia close to the border with Panama is a different story. This location is known in world maps as the Urabá Gulf or the Darién Gulf. It is a U-shape entrance of the sea into South America formed by the clash of the tectonic plates of the Caribbean, Nazca and the Pacific. Such a geological activity gave rise to the Isthmus of Panamá and created a fracture in a North-South direction that formed the main axis of the Urabá Gulf. Therefore, this gulf is surrounded by two main coastal ridges: the Serranía del Darién to the West and the Serranía de Abibe to the East. Both mark the limits of the geological plates, the Isthmus (or Meso America) and South America, respectively.
Such an impressive geological history not only formed a coastline with a distinctive landscape from the rest of the Caribbean in the neighboring areas: Panama and Colombia. It also promoted a major change in the hydrology of an ancient river, the Atrato. Being formed in the upper part of the Western Cordillera of Colombia in the Pacific side of South America, one of the rainiest places on Earth (annual rainfall: >8 meters!), the Atrato river drains a world-class discharge. Such discharge once ran to the Pacific before of the closure of the Panama Isthmus. But nearly 3 million years ago the course of this magnificent river was diverted to the North and ended discharging into the Urabá Gulf, now the Southern-most end of the Caribbean Sea.
The change caused the mangroves to flourish and growth to a point not seen in the Caribbean coast of Panama and Colombia (see photo).
This unique land has been subject of a mapping effort aimed at understanding its biogeographic features and history.
After a decade of scientific exploration, my research group is moving from the fields of coastal ecology, landscape ecology and biogeography, to coastal zone and urban planning, as well as to sustainability of coastal livelihoods.
Mapping human settlements and using open source data has become a priority for us. In the following link the reader and mapper will see the evidence of both the wilderness of the area and the human threats to them:
The rest of the world deserves to know this wilderness heritage. The local livelihoods need the support of volunteers to prevent destruction of this natural areas and better-planning of urban settlement. Open source data seem to me an answer to both tasks.
Today, I commit myself to provide high-resolution data for mapping for humanitarian projects.
Welcome to the Southern Caribbean.
Juan F. Blanco-Libreros, MangleBlanco in OpenSteetMaps