Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Scalloped hammerhead shark. Photo Credit: NOAA

Over 500 kilometers off the coast of Colombia lies the tiny yet formidable Malpelo Island, the rocky summit of a 300-kilometer long underwater volcanic ridge and the centerpiece of Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. Lying just beneath the water’s surface is a dramatic landscape of rugged cliffs, caves and tunnels. The sanctuary is a spectacular dive spot, but its remote location and strong currents mean that only a couple hundred divers can explore its beauty each year.

A big draw for divers is the droves of sharks that gather in Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. The 8,575 square kilometer marine protected area hosts schools of hammerhead, silky, Galapagos and whale sharks, among others. Great hammerheads can grow to 20 ft in length. Malpelo is also one of the few places where the rare short-nosed ragged-toothed shark can be found. Though Malpelo is known for its abundance of sharks, it teems with other wildlife, including corals, marine mammals and hundreds of species of fish, including stingrays. Abundant rays draw the hammerheads, which use their unique heads to pin down the rays.

Unfortunately, hammerheads and other sharks around the world face a lethal danger—shark finning. Finning is a cruel and deadly practice: fishermen capture the sharks, remove their fins, which are a prized delicacy in parts of Asia, and dump the bleeding sharks overboard. Selling a dead shark’s fin may bring in $100, while studies show that living sharks are worth up to $2 million over their lifetimes. Their presence provides great benefits to nearby communities that rely on tourism [1]. The prevalence of shark finning is one reason the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is so important for marine biodiversity protection – shark finning, along with all other forms of fishing, is not allowed in the sanctuary.

Sharks gather in the Malpelo Sanctuary.

A marine biodiversity gem like Malpelo deserves strong protections against the threats it faces. The sanctuary is already the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific [2], and has been expanded twice since its designation. Last September, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos pledged to double the sanctuary’s size [3].

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary has already been recognized for its outstanding natural value. The sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Mission Blue Hope Spot, an International Maritime Organization Specially Sensitive Area and a Bird Life International Important Bird Area. Now Malpelo joins the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) as a Platinum level refuge in recognition of the effective protection it gives its extraordinary biodiversity!

GLORES is an initiative by Marine Conservation Institute designed to create a global network of effectively protected marine areas to safeguard marine biodiversity. Joining Malpelo in the Global Ocean Refuge System in 2017 are Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.

For more information on Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, please visit:

Santuario de Flora y Fauna Malpelo Official Site

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary GLORES Evaluation Report

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary on


[1] Nahill, B. (2013) Dead or Alive: The Promise of Tourism for Shark Conservation. Retrieved July 2017 from

[2] UNESCO (n.d.) Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. Retrieved July 2017 from

[3] Braxton Little, J. (2016) Three National Create Giant Reserves for Ocean Life. National Geographic. Retrieved July 2017 from