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The Santurbán páramo: Closer to the sky

By Laura Yaniz

The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, said “No” to the Angostura mining project in Colombia’s Santurbán páramo. What does this decision mean? It’s one step closer to the protection of this priceless ecosytem. 

In Santurbán, the rocks become guardians of mirrors of water that reflect the sky. Frailejones stand watch over the remains of glaciers. Condors gaze down upon tiny visitors. The world sits closer to the sky.

Santurbán is a páramo, an ecosystem only found high in the Andes Mountains. The Canadian company Eco Oro Mineral has set their sights on these lands because, as rich as they are in water, they are rich too in minerals.

The IFC had invested in the company’s Angostura mining project but, at the end of 2016, they made the wise decision to withdraw that investment.

It was an important victory in the ongoing fight to save Santurbán, the water source of millions of Colombians.

But what exactly would be saved? And what is the allure of Santurbán?

Alberto Peña Kay, a local hiker and photographer, speaks through the images he captures of the many reasons this unique ecosystem must be protected:

Frailejones (espeletias) are endemic plants that, because of the extreme conditions of the high-Andean climate, have uniquely adapted to protect themselves from the cold, the high levels of UV radiation, and the lack of nutrients.

Their succulent leaves absorb water from the clouds, which they then store in their trunk. Some of these plants grow just one centimeter a year. 

“When I first came to this páramo and photographed it, I knew I had to keep coming back. This place inspired my passion for photography.”

“Many don’t see this place as I do; they look upon it with economic eyes, eyes set on mining and extraction.” 

“At our best, we see the potential here, and recognize that it’s something we can’t lose. There are so many reasons to conserve these lands.”

Why? "First, it’s my department, the great Santander.  Second, the biodiversity: here live icons like the condor, the puma and the frailejone. Third, this páramo supplies water to more than half of the people who live in Santander and Northern Santander.”

"[In Santurbán], I realized I could get closer to the sky."

Really, Santurbán speaks for itself. We must save this piece of heaven on Earth, it's well worth the fight! 

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