Traveling the Magdalena: Day 3, Zapatoza

[Editor’s Note: the following post is written by Karla Milani, marketing specialist for The Nature Conservancy in South America. This is the third in a series chronicling her journey along Colombia’s Magdalena, River. Read more here.]

Yesterday was an exhausting day. We were in mine territory; finding a miner that was willing to be interviewed and share his story of illegal mining in Colombia was not an easy task.

But today is a new start. We will continue traveling down the Magdalena River, setting sail in San Pablo, heading towards the Zapatoza, Colombia’s largest freshwater marsh.

Zapatoza swamp

After a seven-hour trip, we arrive in Candelaria, a small village in the Zapatoza marsh, Cesar Province. Thomas Walschburger, The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist in Colombia, is waiting for us. He took a plane from Bogotá to spend a day with the filming crew, talk to locals and witness first-hand what is being said in the capital city of Colombia: fishing in the Zapatoza is getting more and more difficult.

Thomas explains that in less than 20 years, the fish catch in the Magdalena River basin has fallen from 80,000 tons a year to 8,000 tons. Overfishing and the increasing need for food have caused a dramatic fall in fish stock; it’s down to just 10% of what it used to be.

Today, local fishermen in Candelaria have given up on traditional cast nets and have adopted the use of the trammel – an illegal fishing net 3 kilometers in length that catches small, medium and large fish, no matter their size.

Despite of the trammel being so popular around here and the threat it represents, Candelaria is still well preserved. In fact, Candelaria is one of the most biodiverse places in Zapatoza.

The flooding in 2010, the worst in the past 50 years in Colombia, has recovered some species, like catfish, that were on the brink of extinction. Thanks to high water levels, a local fisherman can catch up to 300 tons of fish in one night using the trammel. But this plenty is temporary; the use of the trammel is not sustainable and rather sooner than later fishing will be difficult again.

[Image: A tree stands alone in the high water of the Zapatosa. Image credit: Paul Smith]

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