Perspective | Reflecting on marine territory: Seaflower MPA, the Raizal people, and the International Court of Justice

By Marion Howard, Elizabeth Taylor, and Fanny Howard

The San Andres Archipelago is a department of Colombia in the western Caribbean made up of three small inhabited islands and coral banks, atolls, and cays that comprise the largest open-ocean coral reefs in the Americas.  Descendants of the first settlers, known as Raizal people, are defined as a national ethnic minority by Colombia and recognized as indigenous by the UN.  Raizals descend from English settlers who started arriving in 1630 on the Seaflower (sister ship of the Mayflower), African slaves, and migrants from other Caribbean islands.  They have a long sociocultural and economic history distinct from mainland Colombia.  Besides having a different language, religion, and ethnicity, the archipelago's isolation meant that the people had a high level of self-determination for over 300 years, mostly controlling their natural resources and marine-based economy until the middle of the 20th century.