Science, Now + Beyond

Colombia is a megadiverse country, and here’s why that matters

Colombia is classified as a megadiverse country, and the claims the second slot on the list of the most biodiverse countries on the planet.

When telling people that I would be spending a year in Colombia, most assumed I meant the university in NYC. Once I clarified that I’d be in the other Colombia, the one that’s spelled with an “o,” and not a “u”, the reactions I received ranged from “wow, that’s amazing, bring me back some coffee” to “wow, how do your parents feel about that? Also, bring me back some cocaine”.

Colombia is a nation in transition, recovering from over 50 years of armed conflict. With the peace process underway, cities once notorious for violence, like Medellín, are turning into popular tourist destinations. The country still has a lot of progress to make before establishing peace, but I can personally attest to the fact that the Colombia of today is very different from the Colombia of Narcos – like its super welcoming people, stunning mountains and beaches, and of course, excellent coffee. But one of the lesser-known facts about Colombia is its biodiversity.

Colombia is classified as a megadiverse country and the claims the second slot on the list of the most biodiverse countries on the planet.

Liz Lemon shocked by Colombia's biodiversity

But what does that mean? Really, it’s just the scientific term for a group of 17 countries, including the U.S., Mexico, and Australia, that have the most biodiversity in the world. Megadiverse countries have to comply with criteria, like having a certain number of plants that are endemic, or native to the country, and ecosystems. According to Convention on Biological Diversity, Colombia has 10% of the planet’s biodiversity and 314 different types of ecosystems!

In Colombia you can see:

Stunning Flaura in the Amazonas department.

Photo of beautiful pink Cissus erosa vine in Colombian Amazon

The third largest coral reef in the world on the island of Providencia.

Blue and turquoise waters of the Island of Providencia, Colombia

Unique páramos in the department of Cudinamarca

Páramo in Sumapaz, Colombia - rocky terrain with cacti and a lake in the middle, the sky is blue with some clouds.

The desert in the department of La Guajira

La Huajira - an empty desert with with greenery on the sides and pure blue sky ahead.
Photo provided by Paulina Rowe

A breathtaking cloud forest with the national tree of Colombia in the Valle de Cocorá, department of Caldas.

Wax Palm trees in the Valle de Cocorá, uneven green grassy terrain going up and down hills with stick thin wax palm trees scattered.

And so. much. more.

Beyond Instagram-worthy pictures, why does biodiversity matter? For us humans, biodiversity is what gives us food, medicine, jobs, and materials to manufacture products. It also plays an important role in developing nations, where the majority of biodiversity is located, as these countries depend heavily on the natural resources there. Biodiversity also provides us protection from natural disasters, supports global trade, and keeps our climate stable. Basically, biodiversity is essential for the functioning of ecosystems, which affects everything and everyone that resides on planet earth.

Unfortunately, Colombia’s biodiversity is under threat, with a recent study showing that 46% of its ecosystems are endangered because of human activity. Colombia’s politics and history make environmental conservation even more complex: the continued production of cocaine is a major contributor to deforestation, chemical waste, and the disruption of species in the country. The Colombian government has attempted to incentivize rural farmers to stop producing coca, but there is little trust in the government and these communities depend on the income coca farming brings them.

When learning about how enmeshed environmental conservation and politics is in countries like Colombia, it’s easy to feel like helpless. Is there really anything that I, just one little person, can do to slow the loss of biodiversity in an entire country, let alone the whole world?

A Blonde Caucasian woman shrugging and saying "We're all doomed in the end, right?"

There are, of course, steps you can take to support environmental conservation efforts. Consuming less food, water, and material products and expending fewer resources like electricity, eating less meat, and taking public transportation or carpooling when available are all ways to lessen our environmental impact.

More importantly, we can be more conscious of our global footprint. We can research how the clothes we buy are manufactured or stay up to date on how the government is helping, or not helping, to protect the environment. The process of repairing this world will be slow, but it’s the only way of ensuring that we, and those who come after us, will be able to enjoy the beauty that the biodiversity of places like Colombia offer. 

Photo of a forest in Minca, Colombia, the tops of the forest trees are visible as the background is a mountain in the far distance.
Photo provided by Paulina Rowe