The coastal strip of the western peri-urban area of Barranquilla in the Atlántico Department (Colombia) is experiencing changes in human-environment interactions through infrastructure, residential, and tourism projects in a vulnerable landscape. In the hilly area, fragments of biodiverse tropical dry forest still exist in various states of conservation and degradation. To understand the interrelated social, economic, and ecological transformations in the area, we analyzed land use change on the local scale including the local community’s perception, because the local community is a key actor for sustainable land use. For the analysis of the interrelated social, economic, and ecological processes, we combined visual interpretation of high-resolution satellite imagery, on-site field land use mapping, and a spatial statistical analysis of the distribution of land use classes with in-depth interviews and a participatory GIS workshop, thus benefitting from the complementary methodological strengths of these approaches. The case study is the rural community of El Morro, which exhibits the typical social, economic, and ecological changes of the coastal strip of the western peri-urban area of Barranquilla. The local community perceives a continuous loss of forest area, but observations from on-site field mapping cannot confirm this linear trend. We observed a gradual replacement of traditional land uses such as smallholder agriculture, charcoal production, and cattle breeding by services for tourism, gated community projects for urban dwellers, and infrastructure projects; these spatial developments have several characteristics of rural gentrification. We conclude that the drivers of environmental degradation have changed and the degradation increased. The development projects of external companies have been rejected by the local community and have induced environmental consciousness among community members. Thus, the local community has become an advocate for sustainable land use in the study area.
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