The Raton River is the entrance to the Mararai Reserve. This river, which rises between páramos and peatland, feeds the aqueduct of hundreds of people.

The Mararai Reserve: Where biodiversity, water and carbon capture harmoniously converge

The Raton River is the entrance to the Mararai Reserve. This river, which rises between páramos and peatland, feeds the aqueduct of hundreds of people.

Humid tropical alpine environments represent essential ecosystems that conserve biodiversity, facilitate biological processes, store carbon and provide water. However, these ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes worldwide.

The Mararai Reserve, located in the Almorzadero páramo, within the Finca Angosturas owned by the Cruz Rivera family, protects one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. Páramos are found in mountainous areas between 3,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level and are characterized by their diverse topography and rich biodiversity.

Páramos are essential for humans due to their multiple ecosystem services. For example, in Colombia, nearly 20 million people depend on the water they produce. In turn, the Mararai Reserve is the source of several rivers that supply thousands of people in the area.

Left to right: Mireya and José, environmental leaders and stewards of the páramo.

As part of the peatland restoration activities of our Turberas para el Futuro (Peatlands for the Future) project, we visited the Mararai Reserve to carry out an initial diagnosis of the area. We were accompanied by Mireya and José, who have been leading conservation and restoration efforts in this reserve, which is home to the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) and the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), which we spotted!

Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) spotted at the Mararai Reserve.

Páramos are treasure troves of biological biodiversity. They resemble islands on mountaintops, and the species that have evolved there have had little opportunity to disperse. Because of this natural isolation and unique climatic conditions, many of the species that inhabit Colombia’s páramos are endemic. This makes them crucially important ecosystems for conserving global biological diversity.

Rainfall is frequent in the páramos, accumulating water thanks to the excellent infiltration capacity of their soils. As a result, and thanks to their great potential for water regulation, they are the source of lagoons, peatland and streams. Colombia is home to 52 percent of the world’s páramos, and many of the country’s major rivers, such as the Magdalena River, originate in this ecosystem.

High mountain peatlands of the Colombian Andes, which are key to the hydrological cycle.

In addition to their essential ecosystem services, páramos hold considerable cultural significance. In Colombia, Indigenous, farming and Afro-Descendant communities inhabit these ecosystems; their traditional knowledge has played a crucial role in the use and protection of the unique biodiversity of the páramos.

Community participation and knowledge are indispensable for developing research processes and for the conservation, sustainable use and management of the páramo.

The rural communities inhabiting the páramo have extensive traditional knowledge of the use and protection of biodiversity.

Páramo soils have accumulated vast amounts of carbon in their vegetation and peatland. The shallowest few centimeters of soil contain a carbon stock of between 120 and 400 tons; in the peatlands, this accumulation can be as high as 1,500 tons.

Unfortunately, the inappropriate use of the páramos has led to a significant loss in their capacity to sequester carbon and other greenhouse gases responsible for global climate change. The conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems are essential to safeguard their unique biodiversity and strengthen their crucial role in sequestering these gases and mitigating the climate crisis.

José taking soil samples to estimate carbon content.

On this field trip, we collected soil samples to calculate the levels of carbon present in the area we will restore and isolate. The latter involves fencing off the area with a special mesh to prevent sheep and horses from freely accessing the peatlands, avoiding peat degradation, greenhouse gas emissions and loss of ecosystem services.

The carbon content of the soil is our main restoration indicator. To conduct this assessment, José collected soil samples using a special drill at a depth of up to 40 centimeters at six points along the water flow. Mariana Ospina, an ecology student and part of the Turberas para el Futuro team, monitored key variables in the carbon cycle study: pH, electrical conductivity and soil temperature. Mireya recorded the data obtained during the process. Finally, we measured the area to be insulated to calculate the amount of mesh we will need, as well as supports and other supplies.

José, Mireya and Mariana measure the peatland area to be enclosed.

After the diagnostic activities, we continued our journey through the Mararai Reserve, which is renowned for its ecological significance and breathtaking geological beauty. Over thousands of years, glaciers have sculpted the surrounding mountains into unique shapes, encircling the vast acres of wetlands, grasslands and farmland.

The Mararai Reserve hosts a broad diversity of unique geological formations.
The unique landscape of the Colombian páramos.

Our mission at Turberas para el Futuro is to restore the land and preserve the future. Every step in this direction brings us closer to a healthier, more sustainable environment where nature and communities thrive harmoniously. We work towards a radiant future for all through our collective commitment.

The dream team.

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.