Covering around 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of protected Pacific Ocean waters and the tiny Isla Malpelo in Colombia, the Santuario de Flora y Fauna Malpelo (COP$85,000-159,000) was established in 1995. The area was declared a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area by the International Maritime Organization in 2002 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. The steep volcanic rock of Isla Malpelo is nearly 500 kilometers (300 miles) from the coast of Colombia. It is administered by Parques Nacionales (tel. 1/353-2400, ext. 138).
It is the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, thus making it one of the top places for diving in the world. There are 11 main dive sites, including the most important site, La Nevera, where it is common to see scores of hammerhead sharks. The deep waters surrounding the island are home to some of the most important coral formations in the Colombian Pacific. Mollusks and crustaceans, fish such as snapper, endangered mero (grouper), large populations of hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, sun ray sharks, and manta rays are found in abundance in the sanctuary. It is one of the few places in the world where the short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, a deepwater shark, has been spotted. Inhospitable to much animal life, the island is home to crabs, lizards, and geckos. Among birds, the largest colony in the world of the Nazca booby is found on Malpelo.
Malpelo is for experienced divers only. To get there you must coordinate with one of the following authorized diving tour groups:
- Out of Buenaventura: Embarcaciones Asturías (tel. 2/242-4620, cell tel. 313/767-2864)
- From Cali: Pacific Diving (tel. 2/558-3903, email@example.com) and Arrecifes del Pacífico (tel. 2/514-1691, cell tel. 321/642-6015)
- Out of Panama City: Coiba Dive Expeditions (tel. 507/232-0216) and the German group Inula UAA Adventures (tel. 507/667-95620, firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Fundación Malpelo is a nonprofit organization working to protect this sanctuary. The island is under constant threat from illegal fishing, particularly of hammerhead sharks. In 2012 it was estimated that 200 tons of fish were illegally caught in the Colombian Pacific, mostly by boats hailing from Costa Rica, Ecuador, and from Asian countries. During Holy Week, shark fin stew is sold in Buenaventura.