Green List

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary


First Listed



Why is it Green Listed?

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is the ninth largest marine protected area in the world and a natural World Heritage Site, and also an Important Bird Area. It is recognized as a Global Ocean Refuge as well as a Mission Blue Hotspot. This vast marine site is the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, providing a critical habitat for internationally threatened marine species, and is a major source of nutrients resulting in large aggregations of marine biodiversity.

As one of the top diving sites in the world, its spectacular natural beauty and remote location support an undisturbed environment for important populations of large predators and pelagic species including aggregations of over 200 hammerhead sharks and over 1,000 silky sharks, while whale sharks and tuna have been recorded. It is a haven for giant grouper and billfish and is also one of the few places in the world with confirmed sightings of the deepwater short-nosed ragged-toothed shark. Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary belongs to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, a marine conservation network.

Trevor Sandwith, Director, IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme

“In these turbulent times of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on protected and conserved areas and communities around the world, the Green-listing of Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary recognises the inspiration and dedication of its hard-working staff and stakeholders. We congratulate Malpelo on this significant achievement that underscores how important protected areas are for creating a resilient society while protecting nature.”

Key Achievements


  • Healthy fish, coral and bird species (historical high relative abundance).
  • Stable populations of commercial and tourism-attractive species that sustain related activities.
  • High levels of nutrients present in the whole surrounding area.

Good governance 

  • Scientific and ecotourism decision-making committees.
  • Regional coordination for capacity-development, control and monitoring, recreational activities and biodiversity monitoring in the larger Eastern Tropical Pacific through CMAR.
  • Coordination scheme to manage the Sanctuary and the newly created adjacent use area Yuruparí.

Community benefits

  • As the area does not host any communities within or around its boundaries, benefits are related to the broader consumption and fisheries community obtaining good fish stocks nursed in the protected area.

Site Attributes



World Heritage, IBA, PSMA, GLORES, EBSA

IUCN Category

Year Established

Marine Protected Area

Marine Area

Area of no-take

Types of Fishery Permitted
Governance Type

Site Agency
Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia

Site Manager
Paola Rojas

April 9, 2019

EAGL Evaluation
April 9, 2019

GL Committee Submission
August 16, 2019

EAGL Chair
Sandra Valenzuela

ASI Reviewer
Carlos Escobar

Site Summary

In 1995, the island of Malpelo and an adjacent marine area were declared a Wildlife and Flora Malpelo Sanctuary. According to the coordinates established by its creation resolution, today the protected area has an approximate area of 2.667.908 has. SFF Malpelo is located in the central region of the Colombian Pacific Basin (CPC), which is part of the Ensenada de Panama and is in turn in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (POT). In the center of the Sanctuary is Malpelo Island, which is the westernmost portion of land in Colombia in the Pacific, separated from the mainland by approximately 505 kilometers from the port of Buenaventura. In the administrative political division belongs to the municipality of Buenaventura, department of Valle del Cauca. The shape of the island is elongated and has about 1,643 km in length, a variable width that reaches 727 m and a maximum height of 300 m. In the surroundings of the island it is possible to find up to 11 islets. Nowadays, the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is the ninth largest marine protected area in the world. It comprises the National MPA Subsystem and is a priority area due to its intactness conditions.

Thresholds to score this status of birds are based on the population size, where low = less than 35.000 individuals, medium = ranges between 63.426 and 76.613 individuals, and very high = 85.336 onwards.
Score for the latest estimated population size, in 2012 n = 147.825 of S granties, is valued in 4.
High to very high
Several attributes to assess coral reef communities were considered: coverage, coral reef diseases, fish species richness in time and density, urchin richness. Thresholds to score the status of these attributes are: 1= very low (50%). This assessment was undertook at two different depths: shallow (8-12 mts) and deep layer (15- 20 mts).
For coral reef coverage in the shallow waters, the historic ( 2003 – 2010) score is 45.85%=high and for the deep layer is 50.74%= very high. For the coral reef heath during the same period, transected colonies have not proved affected both in the intermedium and the deep zones, with the exception of an isolated event outside the transect in 2011. Hence, coral reef coverage is defined as per its good recovery capacity in light of diseases, scored with = 4.
Very high / Very Good
Thresholds defined to score status of fishes is based on the relative abundance registered for each species per year (2006-2013), where 1 = low, 2-10 = medium, 11-100 = high and >100 = very high. This assessment was developed for bony and cartilaginous fishes, and scoring for these was obtained based on arithmetic average calculations, where all species have been assigned the same importance. For fishes richness, station and depth, the defined thresholds to score the status of these attributes are: 1 = low, 2-10 = medium, 11-100 = high and >100 = very high.
The final valuation for fishes is 3.125, equalling medium or regular status, although stability of relative abundances are evidenced – with some exceptions registered for shark species-; they are long geographical range species. Total richness of species at both depth levels per year ranged between 57 y 67 species, which stands for high in the scoring.
Fishes: medium and abundant Species richness: high
There are no thresholds stablished for tourism activity. Nonetheless, the site has advanced in the zoning and ruling for scuba diving, establishing a load capacity (based on the precautionary principle), security norms and a good practice code for divers. These include (i) the number of permitted boats during –day and night-, entrance and exit shifts, (ii) the number of passengers for boat – 25 and (iii) the maximum number of simultaneous divers – 25.
The 2017 tourism monitoring report proves that no coral reef areas are significantly affected by the diving activity.
Tourism activities in the Sanctuary are undertaken without affecting the values of the site.
Does not apply to this area

Conservation Summary

Site visit report 1 and 2: There was no site visit as per the considerations outlined by the EAGL

EAGL meeting minutes

EAGL consensus and vote: Nominate area for consideration of the GL Committee

EAGL statement: Based on evidence provided for each indicator, previous performance assessments (i.e GLORES, AEMAPPS, WH and MPA Standards), as well as results from the governance assessment undertaken with participation of numerous stakeholdrs and members of the EAGL, this group agrees that the site meets the standard and is prepared to receive the certification. This is justified as per described in annex “atributos SFF Malpelo”, summarised as follows:

Component 1 is comprehensive in describing the main articulation instances such as the scientific and ecotourism committees, the Yurupari-Malpelo joint management scheme and the Eastern Tropical Pacific Corridor and how these are instrumental for good management in the larger territorry, considering that:

Since the designation of the island under a protected area category in 1995, Malpelo takes part of the Social Participation Policy of National Parks Colombia, as per its contribution to the well-being of the national community.

The management plan officially adopted (Res. 416/2015) establishes management zoning, use and identification of key stakeholders, based on prioritized management situations. A coordination mechanism for surveillance and patrolling is in place (Circular Externa Conjunta), aimed at preventing, discouraging and eliminating illegal fishing and other activities in the maritime territory. The education sector has also been involved in the Environmental Education and Communication Strategy, as part of the strategic actors in the influence zone, which sums to the training activities being delivered to researches and visitors arriving into the area.

A differentiated set of actors participate in several processes and instances for decision-making, through a number of agreements, such as 1) the Scientific Advisor Committee (national authorities, academia and NGOs), for specific guidance on conservation targeted-objectives, monitoring developments and research prioritization, 2) the Ecotourism Committee, where key tourism actions are articulated, together with the Eastern Tropical Pacific Corridor – CMAR Ecotourism Group developments regarding impact monitoring and 3) the Yuriparí-Malpelo work to devise joint management strategies, in collaboration of the Yuruparí National Management District management plan.

Component 2 has a similar approach in the recognition of values and benefits, and how adaptations are being made in the management instruments to cope with threats (i.e illegal fishing).

Malpelo has increased in size in several occasions, reaching to a total of 2.667.908 has in 2017 (Res. 1907/2017). The latest process, especially considered the socio-economic context of the region attaining fishery activity, mainly cropped by the tuna industry by-catching nearby the Sanctuary, as one of the main interest commercial species for the country. Other criteria for the increase are related to ecosystem representation, threatened species, richness and singularity, connectivity and ecosystem services. The enlarged area covers up to 61% of the Malpelo underwater mid-ocean ridge and 65% of the Yuriparí mid-ocean ridge, and it allowed to include seabeds of these two ridges, which were not sufficiently represented in national MPAs.

Also, through the enlargement process, a conservation objective associated with knowledge and protection of the mid-oceanic ridges as well as the ecological processes within was incorporated into the management plan, adding up to those related to prevention and control of anthropic pressures to secure desirable conditions of the conservation targeted-values and ecosystem services.

Through the management plan, the Malpelo FFS presents a proposal for ecological integrity assessment, for selected conservation targeted-values: birds, coral-reefs and fish. Attributes were selected by settling an information reference or an acceptable variation range for each, using data series from monitoring activities undertaken since 2003. In general terms, it is fair to say that based on the ecological integrity scores, the Sanctuary is in a desirable ecological state, although improved interventions are required for maintaining bony and cartilaginous fishes in light of the fishing pressure. The EAGL notes efforts in this regard though, as described in component 1 through the establishment of agreements with the fishing authority.
At the regional connectivity level, Malpelo is integrated in the CMAR initiative that aims at the adequate biodiversity and resource management in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, through ecosystem management and joint government strategic to address it. 4 main action lines are prioritized: 1) Biodiversity, 2) Fisheries, 3) Responsible tourism and 4) Surveillance and Monitoring. This also works at the national level through the participation in the Marine Protected Areas Subsystem, which serves as articulation platform for conservation strategies that contribute to conserving the marine and coastal territory both in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Along these lines, Component 3 showcases joint strategies for patrolling and monitoring, within and beyond the site boubdaries, enabeling good performance and control of activities. Monitoring conservation targeted objectives is possible fue to articulated management strategies altogether, deriving in successful outcomes on protected species and ecosystems.

Due to isolation conditions of the area and its ecological features, and considering social and economic contexts for the larger region, conservation can be classified as the strictest, contributing to 1) protect and be aware of marine ecosystem biodiversity and 2) conserve ecosystem services linked to ecotourism activities. These objectives are met through 5 year targets according to the management plan, where specific activities and products sustain management results. The area revises and projects yearly targets in an Annual Operative Plan, based on the results obtained during the previous year and available resources. Complementary management instruments such as the monitoring and control protocol, the ecotourism plan, ecological identification for scuba diving sites, load capacity, monitoring program, research portfolio and emergency plan are designed to address management strategies.

Planning in the Malpelo FFS is built on prioritization of management situations, which reflect Conservation Targeted-Values and a risk analysis for each, regarding pressures, threats and vulnerability. 4 situations where hence prioritized: 1) Fishing activity and subsequent the establishment of a surveillance and patrolling strategy, as well as monitoring of targeted-values; 2) Ecotourism, addressed through environmental education, use regulation and monitoring; 3) invasive species through a good practice manual and a monitoring protocol for Carijoa riisei; and 4) anomalies in the surface water temperature, through monitoring of temperature and other environmental conditions.

As per its exceptional condition for scuba diving, the tourism management situation was prioritized, leading to the zoning for permitted use and activities by settling at general external recreation marine zone – ZRGEM comprising diving sites and boat transit. The maximum load capacity (25 divers) has been complied according to monitoring results from 2017 – 2018 and activity ruling has set requirements for entrance, responsibilities, sanctions and prohibitions for visitors and boats.

The Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is a pristine place due to its isolation from the continent and its been proved as in a desirable state of conservation, according to the Malpelo Foundation species census studies. Simpson diversity index presents a high value (0.84) implying that the fishes’ community is dominated by few but abundant species, and the Shannon index maintained normal values for a diverse ecosystem. According to results, is can be assured that fishes’ community are in good state presenting values of a megadiverse ecosystem. This is also true for the area’s flag species, the hammerhead shark, which has proved a decrease halt trend between 2013 and 2017, with light increase registries.

Results demonstrate that conservation strategies inside the Sanctuary have a direct effect in conservation levels as well as for maintaining fisheries in the Colombian Pacific, specifically for tuna, grouper and other key resources. Illegal fishing efforts through the Prevention, Surveillance and Patrolling protocol presents planning per sectors increasing coverage from 5 to 26% in 2018, due to the presence of the newly acquired catamaran and of the Navy. Improved monitoring systems to increase coverage in the enlarged area are envisioned, in addition to the SICO-SMART platform where monitoring results are being registered.

Reviewer statement: Malpelo is a PA that, according to the information provided and the Green List process, demonstrates that it has been making different efforts to comply with the Standard and therefore have and maintain an active pro management considering it to be a marine PA and in a location strategic for Colombia. The most important thing to highlight from the Green List process is that this PA has a Management Plan which will allow, in the future, to monitor progress in management.

With regard to the Green List process, all parties involved in this process (PNN Malpelo, National Parks Unit of the Colombian Government, WWF and the IUCN regional office) generally respected the procedure leaving it documented in the COMPASS; although each step was not strictly followed (there were variations in the order of the steps as part of the very logic that the implementation process has and as part of the process of empowering and using the Green List Manual) so it is recommended for the next processes, follow the times and the order of steps set by the Manual.

In any case, the interest and commitment of the participating parties in clarifying all the concerns that were presented by the Reviewer as well as keeping him informed of the relevant steps is highlighted.

The PA Malpelo is ready to be included into the Green List

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