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Dive, Tierra Bomba, Dive

Can community initiatives protect Bocachica’s Varadero Reef?



An electrifying short film, a conservation-focused dive club and a youth-led TV channel present the environmental issues faced by the town of Bocachica on Colombia’s Tierra Bomba island.

Dive Tierra Bomba Dive, made in 2020 by The Right to Roam Films, tells the story of 19-year-old Yassandra Barrios, who emerges as the environmental leader of her Colombian island, Tierra Bomba, home to the Varadero Reef.

Yassandra learns how to protect the reef through studying Marine Biology and diving with a local school and conservation hub, and she rallies local fishermen and youth to bring awareness to protecting their marine ecosystem. 

The short film immerses you in life above and below water and rousingly portrays Yassandra’s pursuit to inspire those around her with a vision of a more secure future for their island home.

Tierra Bomba lies just 1 kilometre off the Caribbean coast from Cartagena and its 20 Km2 are home to 9,000 islanders. Since first settling on the island, locals have survived primarily off fishing around Varadero reef. A delicate ecosystem, the reef surrounds and protects Tierra Bomba but it is in constant threat from international shipping, foreign trawlers and ferries, which has pressured local fishermen into using extreme methods, such as dynamite fishing, to make a livelihood.

It is in response to these threats that Yassandra begins to organise her community. Filmmakers Joya Berrow and Lucy Jane say: “Yassandra is a global inspiration, as an intuitive grassroots environmental activist. Her vital vision and voice demands climate justice for her island. This film opens up a conversation about resilient local communities. Hopefully the magical realist style to climate storytelling reflects the power of imagination to envisage a more hopeful world.”

The British filmmakers lived on Isla Fuerte – a coral island off the Northern Colombian coast in Córdoba province – for a few months in 2014, which inspired them to tell stories of this region and its spectacular marine wildlife. Alongside a local crew of fixers, producers and sound recorders from Cartagena, the pair set out to document the threats to Tierra Bomba and the struggle for visibility and cohesion from islanders, through Yassandra’s mission.

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‘If we don’t take care of the island, who will?’

As locals attest in the film, despite the diverse and fragile ecosystem around Varadero Reef, Tierra Bomba is not included in the Los Rosarios National Park, and therefore is not protected from the industrial movements of Cartagena. The fishermen attest they are forced to travel further and further out to sea to feed their families, and the cargo ships are a threat to their future. ‘We need to create our own organisation,’ they agree. In another scene, Yassandra’s grandfather, who taught her to navigate the ocean, asks, ‘If we don’t take care of the island, who will?’

The Coronavirus has further threatened island life, with tourism, a main source of income, being halted due to the pandemic. Yassandra hasn’t been able to start her university degree as planned. In a Bocachica TV broadcast, reporter Juan Camilo Contreras interviews a local fisherman about this year’s lack of tourists at the local Fiesta del Pescador festivities. In the newscast opener, a large cargo ship can be seen approaching the island, a sight which clearly characterises everyday life on the island.

YouTube broadcasters Bocachica TV keep the community informed and provide information to those off the island throughout the pandemic. The channel is a youth initiative established to communicate news, showcase local talent, provide homemade entertainment, beauty advice, birthday shoutouts, interviews with local artists and more.

Another community project in the area is Paraiso Dive, the school where Yassandra learns to dive. Their Sinergía initiative is a conservation hub facilitating scientific research about the reef and providing logistics, equipment and residence to marine biologists, oceanographers, universities, and students.

They promote the reef’s value through underwater art, education workshops, scuba diving certifications, media, databases and school trips (when possible). The community of Bocachica continue to be involved with reef conservation through education and employment with the hub.

Run by Christina, who is from the States and her partner Jota, a cartagenero, it will be interesting to see if their outsider knowledge and conservation efforts will appeal to the local youth channel, and if they can work together where their aims cross over, to provide information to the community about how to best care for their reef and secure their future.

Dive Tierra Bomba Dive will no doubt inspire budding conservationists, community organisers and divers, given its spirited storytelling. The film sheds fractured, stirring light on the important work of young leaders in sparking change within their communities.


Here, LAB contributors reflect on books, films, photography, music and artwork speaking up for social and environmental justice in Latin America.

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