NATIVO Story #1 - Guna Yala & Climate Change

Guna Yala is a community on the northern-east shores of Panama where agriculture, fishing and tourism coexist. Away from the crowds of tourists that sail towards the uninhabited islands of the archipelago, the islands where the Guna live are being impacted by Climate Change. 

Pablo Preciado is the former Saila - the community leader - of Gardí Sugdub, the biggest of the inhabited islands of the archipelago. He has a clear view on the threat that Climate Change represents for his community: “Science is telling us that the glaciers are melting and as a consequence the sea level is rising. We have witnessed it happening everyday in the last decades.”

Sunrise over the Guna Yala archipelago.

Research from the Smithsonian Institute tells us that the increase in the level of the Caribbean Sea is about 3-6mm/year (60cm to 2-5mt in the best or worst case scenario) in the next 100 years. “In the first days of December 2017," - Pablo continues - "due to strong winds and the high tide, the sea flooded the island up to our ankles. People were scared, they never saw anything like that”. 

In an attempt to stop the waters and reclaim land from the sea, rudimental barriers are made with a rocks, dead corals, sand and sometimes trash.

The Guna have been witnessing the increase in the sea level and have been trying to contrast the phenomenon with the resources at their disposal, sometimes with catastrophic effects. In an attempt to expand the island and at the same time to block the flooding waters, they have started to dig out the rocks and coral reef in shallow waters and alongside the coast. With a mix of rocks, dead corals, sand and trash, they are trying to claim land from the sea and to create rudimental barriers. In the last 20 years nearly 80% of the coral reef around the island has been dug out in order to build dams and protect parts of the islands from the sea. A futile effort that not only has not stopped the tides from destroying the barriers, but it also contributed to harm the ecosystem. If anything, its destruction may have contributed to make things worse. “In the 70’s and 80’s inundations were also happening but not quite as strong,” says Pablo. The area surrounding Gardí Sugdub shows the signs of intensive destruction, and this means that the islanders are now particularly vulnerable to storms, rain and wind.


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