Local perceptions of reef health and waste water as a stressor: challenges and management implications on San Andrés Island, Colombia

  • Abstract: Waste water often constitutes a comparably (e.g. to solid waste) invisible hazard that does not figure at the forefront of collective consciousness when it comes to environmental stressors, and may receive inadequate levels of attention from responsible authorities. On San Andrés Island (Colombia), waste water has been identified among a variety of other land-based sources of pollution and pinned as a stressor to reef and public health for decades (Zea 1989, Gavio et al. 2010). While the outlet of the centralized sewer system serving the urbanized part of the island has been relocated underwater and out of sight, its waste waters undergo no treatment and enter the coastal waters alongside many other, more cryptic sources (diffuse discharge from filtering septic systems, periodic contamination through storm water run-off). Severely overpopulated and a mass tourism destination, the island is characterized by a high level of economic and cultural dependence (direct and indirect) on its vulnerable coral reef systems. Understanding people´s perceptions concerning the ecosystem´s degradation, its causes and acceptable solutions is crucial to well-working restoration and protection measures. Only if attitudes, beliefs and conceptions are considered and inform governmental approaches, can management schemes begin to be successful (Baine et al. 2007, Castaño-Isaza et al. 2015).This thesis presentation outlines regimes of pollutant exposure along the leeside of San Andrés island and investigates locally used indicators of reef health as well as assumptions about waste water as a stressor. It traces coastal ecosystem change baselines and origins thereof from interviews and participatory mapping, and considers the emerging themes with regard to future management.
  • Short bio:  Alice Pohle completed her B.Sc. in Geography (physical and cultural geography) with a minor in international forestry in Freiburg, Germany, and wrote her thesis on filmgeography, place-making and spatial perception. During her studies within the M.Sc. Ecology program at University Bremen she turned her focus to the marine realm and selected courses on marine ecology, coastal management as well as ocean governance and maritime law. She is interested in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research; especially with regard to environmental history and perception, environmental justice, shipping and marine pollution. After completing a student research project on the history, legislation and socio-ecological impact of waste water management in San Andrés, Providencia & Santa Catalina archipelago (Colombia) during the pandemic, fieldwork for her thesis within the TransTourism project of the WG Deliberation, Valuation and Sustainability commenced in spring 2022. Her interdisciplinary master thesis investigated the “Impact of waste water exposure on benthic community composition, and local perceptions of reef health on San Andrés Island, Colombia”. The current presentation focusses on the latter part and integrates knowledge from the preliminary study. Alice will soon follow her partner to New Zealand and is currently on the look-out for opportunities in the stated areas of interest in NZ or Australia.