sierra nevada de santa marta

The Heart of the World

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the world's tallest coastal mountain and is found alongside the beautiful beaches of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. From the dry and montane forests, up to the paramo and snowy peaks, the stunning views from atop this remote mountain and the journey along its rugged terrain comes with another kind of magic: the opportunity to see a total of 17 amphibians species only found here, including five species of beautiful harlequin toads. Unlike those across the Neotropics that have suffered dramatic population declines as the result of a deadly fungal pathogen, these toads are thriving at the high altitudes.

Due to its changes in elevation and topography, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM)’s varied ecosystems support—and are supported by—rich communities of wildlife. In addition to the harlequin toads and its incredible amphibian diversity, SNSM is home to Jaguars, peccaries, tapirs, howler monkeys and around 70 species of birds that are only found here. It is no surprise that SNSM is considered the most important place in the world for endemic species—those found nowhere else on the planet.

Red howler, Alouatta seniculus

SNSM is also recognized as one of the world’s most irreplaceable sites for threatened amphibians, and partially overlaps with five Key Biodiversity Areas, which are sites of global importance to the planet’s overall health and the persistence of biodiversity. It is also home to four indigenous communities—Arhuaco, Kogi, Wiwi and Kankuamo—who consider it the ‘Heart of the World,’ and an indispensable part of any solution to the climate crisis because of the vast amount of carbon it sequesters and stores.  

Creating Community-Based Conservation

As agriculture, logging, road construction, unsustainable tourism, oil and coal mining, and infrastructure development put the SNSM and all of the people and wildlife that depend on it at risk, Re:wild is working with a number of partners to ensure the protection of the SNSM. Re:wild is helping by implementing the co-management plan established in 2020 between Colombia’s National Parks Authority and the Indigenous peoples living here.

Members of the Sogrome community in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. (Photo courtesy of Fundación Atelopus)

This includes supporting Indigenous communities in their efforts to protect and manage their territories, which also provide critical habitat to countless species. This also helps recover their ancestral territories, strengthen their traditional governance structures and knowledge systems, and implement sustainable land-use systems that minimize land-tenure conflicts with their neighbors.

From left to right: José Luis Pérez-González, Ruperto Chaparro Villafaña, Jeferson Villalba Fuentes (Photo by Fundación Atelopus)

Re:wild is also working with Fundación Atelopus, the Arhuaco indigenous community, and local small farmholders on protecting the harlequin toads found in the SNSM. These include the San Lorenzo Harlequin Toad, the Guajira Harlequin Toad, the Sierra Nevada Harlequin Toad and the Starry Night Harlequin Toad, which was lost to science until the Indigenous Arhuaco people of the Sogrome community helped Fundación Atelopus scientifically document it for the first time since 1991.

A. nanhumae, endemic to Colombia. Photo courtesy of Fundación Atelopus

Re:wild’s harlequin toad conservation projects include supporting partners to monitor the amphibians’ populations and establishing conservation actions through community-based solutions to maintain healthy amphibian populations and their watershed habitats, which provide clean water to a million Colombians in the SNSM’s foothills.

Partners

Wild Facts

  • The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the tallest coastal mountain in the world.

  • There are 5 species of harlequin toads with stable populations in SNSM--bucking the trend of population declines in other high-altitude harlequin toads.

  • Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s highest peaks rise to about 18,900 feet above sea level.

  • The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a source of 36 rivers.

Get wild and explore more:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the interrelated crises of wildlife extinctions, climate change and pandemics. Re:wild works with local and Indigenous communities, conservation partners, governments and others to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Our conservation work in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta includes any combination of the following solutions:

protected area management

Improving the way protected and conserved areas are managed—involving communities, Indigenous peoples, sociology, economics, business management, and wildlife crime prevention—to ensure a safer future for biodiversity and local communities.

wildlife crime prevention

Developing community-led and owned prevention strategies that take into account the societal and cultural drivers of wildlife crime, and implementing systems and technology to stop poachers before a crime is even committed.

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Partnering with Indigenous Peoples

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge, practices and values to support Indigenous peoples in protecting and managing their lands and natural resources.

Cultivating Conservation Leaders

Partnering with the next generation, passionate leaders, communities and organizations all over the world to ensure they have the enabling conditions, resources and expertise they need to most effectively protect and manage wildlife and wildlands.

Exploration

Exploring some of the most remote corners of our planet to discover how and where we can have the biggest impact on imperiled species and places.

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