Caribbean islands at risk from oil exploration

Environmentalists and the regional authorities of several Colombian off-shore islands are demanding the government revoke a concession to search for oil, arguing it would cause irreversible environmental damage.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000. The island chain is the ancestral homeland of the Raizal people, and holds more than three-quarters of Colombia´s coral reefs, more than 400 species of fish, and hundreds of other flora and fauna, and an interconnected and delicate ecosystem.
Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF and Colombia´s state-owned Ecopetrol discovered the reserves in October 2010. But contract talks had stalled as the two parties waited “until environmental authorities gave the go-ahead on the viability of exploration work in the area,” according to a May 12 statement by the governmental National Hydrocarbon Agency, which approved the exploration.
On May 20, the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, a government agency tasked with protecting the local environment, said that it would fight a concession because oil exploration “is a high-risk activity for ecosystems, reefs and inhabitants.”
The director-general of the agency, known as Coralina, Elizabeth Taylor Jay, said that the concession “puts at risk the archipelago´s longest reef and the second-longer in the hemisphere.” The agency had filed a case against the National Hydrocarbon Agency in February before the Contentious Administrative Court of San Andres and Providencia.
She added that concession received a green light for oil exploration and exploitation “without the corresponding legal consultations, among them with the fishing communities on the archipelago,” which will put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk and expose Colombia´s violation of international environmental agreements such as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
Last October, the International Union for Conservation of Nature gave Taylor´s agency a prize for the most effective protection of biodiversity.

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