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  • Tourists on the road between Baranquilla and Santa Marta, Colombia, October 6, 2017.

    Tourists on the road between Baranquilla and Santa Marta, Colombia, October 6, 2017.

Published 14 October 2017

The route was constructed in an era before builders needed to obtain environmental permits.

A road built in the 1950s in northern Colombia, that caused environmental damage by interrupting the vital flow of water from sea to land, is now under threat from coastal erosion.

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The route's construction in 1956 marked the start of a process which threatened fragile ecosystems because it interrupted the flow of saline water to and from the estuarine channels in the Magdalena River delta.

Studies conducted by the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Magdalena indicate the 40.6 kilometers road runnig through the Salamanca Island resulted in hyper-salinization and the loss of 285.7 square kilometers of mangrove forest and numerous animal species.

The highway "is the most visible environmental crime that's been committed in Colombian history," biologist Luis Carlos Gutierrez, a researcher at the University of Atlantico in Barranquilla, told EFE.

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Human intervention has not only "wiped out species, but some measures adopted to remedy the damage have ... aggravated the situation," the expert added.

"Worst of all, there's been a silting of the estuarine channels and the marshes; in other words, the large amount of sediment has buried the oyster banks, which are a food source for many species," Gutierrez said.

Besides the damage to the ecosystem, the area suffers from coastal erosion affecting the entire Caribbean coast and is particularly acute along the road because it endangers the land link between Barranquilla, Colombia's third-largest city, and the country's interior.

But there could be some hope. Scientists say the solution is a project to expand the road into a dual carriageway with viaducts at certain points to ensure an uninterrupted flow of water back into the delta estuary system.

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