Pilots for the restoration of mangrove ecosystems in Ciénaga de la Virgen (Cartagena, Colombia)

Full Solution
Mangroves of Ciénaga de la Virgen, Cartagena-Colombia
Felipe Gómez Villota

The EbA program in Colombia is working together with the Mayor's office, the Botanical Gardens, local NGO's and communities in the implementation of pilot proyects for the restoration of mangroves in particularly vulnerable areas of the coastal lake of Ciénaga de la Virgen. These activities are part of a broader initiative that aims at supporting the city´s climate change plan (Plan 4C) and the national framework for (ecosystem-based) adaptation of Colombia´s Climate Change Policy.

Last update: 09 Mar 2021
Challenges addressed
Extreme heat
Increasing temperatures
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Storm surges
Tropical cyclones / Typhoons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Social conflict and civil unrest
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty

Environmental: *the coastal area of Cartagena is heavily exposed to strong rain events, causing floods as well as drought periods and storm surges. *Inland wetlands and forests as well as mangroves have been degraded due to unsustainable land use and land conversion practices. *Consequently coastal communities, urban and rural infrastructure, but also private sector activities (especially tourism) are highly vulnerable. Socioeconomic: *Tourism as an important income source for private and public sector is affected by degraded ecosystems and climate risks. *Cartagena as a financial and economic center of Colombia is exposed to climate risks. *There is a lack of private and public financial instruments that can guarantee the economic sustainability of EbA measures in the long run. *Monitoring and evaluating EbA measures is still difficult given the complexity of risk models and the lack of unified impact indicators at the global or national level.


Authorities of Cartagena, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (INVEMAR), communities and enviromental organizations , business and hotel sector, academic community

Scale of implementation
Tropical deciduous forest
Coral reef
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Ecosystem services
Sustainable financing
World Heritage
Cartagena of Indias, Bolívar Department, Colombia
South America
Summary of the process
The continuous alignment of activities with the existing national and subnational framework for adaptation to climate change (BB1), especially the Plan 4C, is the guiding and linking element. The planning process (Combining empirical data with participatory planning approaches -BB2) helps to translate the strategic orientation into an implementation plan with concrete measures. BB3 (Forming and strengthening alliances for communication, capacity development and implementation, including financing) improves the conditions for successful implementation and long-term commitment.
Building Blocks
Alignment of activities with the existing national and subnational framework for adaptation to climate change
The general framework for adaptation to climate change in Cartagena de Indias is the “Plan 4C. Cartagena: Competitive and Climate Change Compatible” (2014). It is a long term vision and framework for planning and action to achieve climate compatible development by 2040. EbA is one of its five core strategies. The project directly supports the inter-institutional technical committee by facilitating dialogue among its diverse members, e.g. representatives from public administration, private sector, NGOs, education and research institutions. Tailor-made capacity development activities enhance a common understanding of EbA opportunities and limitations. By supporting the implementation of selected EbA measures as a joint learning process, the findings feed back into the strategic evolution of the Plan 4C as well as the national framework for (ecosystem-based) adaptation to climate change. The expected impacts of concrete EbA measures - such as the recovery of canals and channels - are supposed to show economic, social and environmental benefits in the short and medium term, thus contributing to a practical proof of concept.
Enabling factors
*Existing sound framework for (ecosystem-based) adaptation to climate change. *Willingness to cooperate and share responsonsibilities and tasks. *Private sector involvement and engagement during the development of Cartagena´s Climate Change Plan. *Recent climate impacts in the region encouraging the development of climate change frameworks and action for addressing climate change.
Lesson learned
*In order to sustain long-term interest and commitment, it is necessary to include measures with short-term success. *To address long-term impacts – beyond the lifespan of a project, the alignment of any project activity with the existing frameworks and planning instruments is the preferable option. *Socializing and aligning program objectives, advancements and results with existing frameworks should be done in already existing spaces at the local level (e.g. Technical Climate Change Committee of Cartagena).
Prioritizing EbA measures by combining empirical data with participatory planning
Given the existing general orientation provided by the Plan 4C, one crucial task has been to identify and prioritize key EbA measures. This planning process involved approx. 40 institutions from Cartagena and the national level. During an expert workshop, the following 4-step approach was applied. Step 1: Identification of priority ecosystems and ecosystem services Step 2: Identification of major climate threats Step 3: Assessment of exposure and localization of priority threats Step 4: Prioritization of measures considering social, environmental and econimic criteria The methodology was based on a combination of tested methods for the identification of adaptation needs and options (Adaptive MAnagement of vulnerability and RISk at COnservation sites - MARISCO) and a multi-criteria analysis to identify priority measures (Prioritization tool for selecting adapation measures, Government of Mexico, supported by GIZ). A study on the biotic characteristics of the pilot area helped to underpin the outcome of the participatory planning and provided valuable recommendations for the implementation.
Enabling factors
*High interest to participate and contribute to the process on the part of all institutions. *Proven methods and tools that only had to be adapted to the specific needs. *Participatory simple methodology that engages workshop participants.
Lesson learned
*The participatory planning process was a success factor in terms of ownership. The Plan 4C was an important and helpful framework that guided the process and committed stakeholders to act. *Different perspectives and expectations need to be dealt with and a participatory methodology was helpful to get different points of view across and reach consensus.
Forming and strengthening alliances for communication, capacity development and implementation, including financing
Successful EbA planning and implementation needs strong alliances – among different public sectors and levels, with the private sector, with civil society and research institutions. The project strengthens existing partnerships and supports the formation of new ones. These alliances are the breeding ground for awareness raising and communications with regard to EbA (results are e.g. a multi-media strategy, videos and other information material) and joint capacity development measures such as training courses. The creation of the “Climate, Ecosystems and Communities Knowledge Network” for advancing in the search of EbA solutions for the recovery of the Virgen Coastal Lake and its channel system in Cartagena is one tangible result. The education sector has incorporated the EbA approach into educational programs. In this way, the stakeholders bring together complementary competences and knowledge, financial resources as well as contacts and networks. The different initiatives have already attracted interest by the port sector, representatives from the tourism industry and the National Association of Industries, among others. A broad-based financing strategy for EbA is being worked out together with national and regional actors.
Enabling factors
*Plan 4C as general framework and setting for decision-making. *EbA measures are embedded in the existing overall adaptation strategy and not an end in itself. *Willingness to cooperate beyond institutional boundaries for improving environmental factors and human wellbeing.
Lesson learned
*Scaling up actions and recovering hydrologic dynamics of the Virgen Coastal Lake requires the coordinated action of government institutions, local communities and the private sector, in combination with the creation of appropriate incentives. *Alliances and strong cooperation is an important success factor as it helps mobilize the necessary technical and financial resources. *A strategic capacity development approach in the field of EbA for project partners is key to build and sustain a shared understanding of the core problems, underlying causes and options and interest in action. *Effective communication of EbA benefits is needed to ensure the involvement and commitment of different stakeholder groups. It should always be prepared in an appropriate language and address their specific needs. *Strengthening local capacities so that authorities, the private sector, academia and communities make better decisions to conserve ecosystems and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

*EbA – as a rather specific topic – has arrived on the political and institutional agenda in Cartagena. *The Plan 4 C has been filled with life and developed into a functioning multi-stakeholder platform. *Cartagena´s strategic framework for adaptation to climate change has been translated into concrete (ecosystem-based) adaptation measures and (new) alliances among stakeholders. *Regular dialogue and joint capacity development activities continuously contribute to a shared understanding of challenges and opportunities for (ecosystem-based) adaptation to climate change in Cartagena. *Both local communities and the private sector are becoming increasingly interested in implementing adaptation measures within Plan 4C´s framework. *Local authorities have incorporated the EbA approach in their plans, policies, programmes for reducing vulnerability to climate change.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Cartagena de Indias is considered one of Colombia’s most vulnerable cities in the Caribbean. By the end of the century, the country expects a more than 2-degree Celsius increase in average temperatures. Sea levels will rise as a result, coastal strips will disappear, and rainfall will increase. Until now, mangrove forests generally act as natural barriers against flooding and storms and protect people and infrastructure in Cartagena. Nevertheless, urban mangroves have been particularly exposed to high levels of pollution, deforestation and degradation, affecting their resilience and ability to provide quality ecosystem services to local communities. GIZ's EbA program is supporting the implementation of the “Plan 4C” - the general framework for adaptation and mitigation to climate change in Cartagena de Indias. As a first step, pilot projects for the restoration of mangroves in particularly vulnerable areas of the coastal lake of of ​​the Virgen Coastal Lake are being implemented together with the Mayor's office, the Botanical Gardens, NGO's and local communities. Strong alliances among key stakeholders build the foundation for further advocating EbA, for the acquisition of additional funds, for capacity development as well as for the consolidation of EbA as an important cornerstone of adaptation to climate change in Cartagena and throughout the territory of Colombia.
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