Malpelo Island, isolated in the Pacific 506 km/314 miles west of Colombia. This sinister and forbidding Island is an isolated basaltic seamount with sheer cliffs rising 13, 200 ft/4,000 m above the ocean floor. The highest point, “El Cerro de La Mona,” is 376 m above sea level; Malpelo Island is surrounded by a dozen satellite rocks, each with its own appeal. All were formed between 17 and 20 million years ago and are of volcanic origin.
Malpelo was once eight to ten times larger than its present size of eight 8 square kilometers. The constant pounding of the ocean and weather have eroded the island forming steep cliffs and sea caves along its coastline.
The submarine environment surrounding Malpelo is defined not only by its isolation but also by its location, which is highly influenced by several diverse marine currents. 6 major oceanic currents that bring plankton-rich waters converge in this region. The upwellings produced by these currents along the walls of Malpelo are the main reason for the abundance of sharks in this area, which is more than in any other place in the world. 17 species of marine mammals, including the humpback and blue whale, 5 terrestrial and 7 marine reptile species, 61 species of birds, 394 species of fish and 340 species of mollusks have also been recorded.
The terrestrial fauna of the island is adapted to the barren conditions and the deposits of guano which are the basis of the island’s ecology, both on land and undersea. There are twelve endemic species, five terrestrial and seven marine. The island is often visited by some twelve species of migratory birds, including the red-billed tropic bird, red-footed booby, black noddy and the great and magnificent frigate bird.
Endemic to the island are one crab species, two starfish, various species of coralline fish, and two reptiles. Algae, moss and lichens cover the rugged cliffs of Malpelo which host the 2nd largest masked booby colony in the world, approximately twenty five thousand birds.
A small Colombian Navy garrison has been in place since 1986 and ten years later Malpelo was recognized as a Colombian Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, with a marine protected area of 21 miles around the island.