Santa Cruz del Islote


One of the most densely populated islands on earth.

On the 31st of October 2011, the United Nations announced the global population had breached seven billion and would expand rapidly for decades, taxing natural resources if countries cannot better manage its growth. With earth’s population approaching unsustainable levels, I wanted to find out how people live in one of the most populated island on earth. Santa Cruz del Islote, one hectare of land 97 houses 700 people. A reportage from a place where population growth is no longer sustainable saturation seems to have been reached.

History and geography

As recounted by elderly people living on the island. Fishermen settled in the mid 19th century. The main reason for the settlement of what was just a sand bank was precisely its desert like features. While the mangrove forests and brackish water ponds of the neighbouring islands made for an ideal mosquito breeding ground, Santa Cruz del Islote had little vegetation no mosquitoes and a great wind constantly blowing trough. It looked and felt like a great place to settle an empty place. The early settlers days were days of plenty, the surrounding waters and coral reefs rich with fish. A lone man that went out to look for snails would fill the canoe in half a day. The settlers began to strengthen the sand bank by sinking the snail’s shells in the sand and so made the foundations onto which they build their homes. This success story travelled fast and attracted family upon family of settlers until it reached near saturation.


Santa Cruz del Islote is part of the San Bernardo Archipelago the biggest continuous coral reef area of Colombia, declared a natural park in 1977. Despite this form of protection the bad news has been piling up. The corals seem to die slovenly, when the fishermen go out it takes them two or more hours to find a single snail, the rich fishing grounds of the past are largely empty. Fishermen that want to catch something have to leave the water of the archipelago and sail into far away waters. In and around Santa Cruz del Islote the human waste assembles in heaps, when the wind stops for two hours a day the island stinks. The population density is taking its toll on the environment and natural resources. The rising of the sea has eaten away the nearby island of Maravilla, where fishermen had a small house use to rest what is left today is a lone tree. On Santa Cruz del Islote talk about having to move somewhere else is no longer taboo.

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