100-Year-Old Community Forced To Move As Caribbean Island Sinks

Residents of Gardi Sugdub are the first to be moved by the government to the Panama mainland as the sea rises, but several other communities will soon be impacted.

The 1,200 indigenous Guna people on the island of Gardi Sugdub in Panama can’t hang on much longer. They’re moving next year to the mainland because their land is being inundated by the rising Caribbean Sea amid climate change.

They’ll become the first residents of Latin America to be moved by the government because their island — home to a community for 100 years — is fated to disappear beneath the rising sea, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

“When the tide goes up, the water enters some houses and the people have to move their belongings to higher ground,” said local grade school computer science teacher Pragnaben Mohan. Teachers and students have to wear rubber boots to wade through water to classrooms, he said.

The move to modern homes in the new community of La Barriada late next year has been planned for more than a decade, according to the Journal.

Gardi Sugdub is one of 365 islands, most of them uninhabited, in the San Blas archipelago. Some 39 of the islands were settled more than a century and a half ago by 30,000 Guna, who came from the Colombian and Panamanian mainland.

Serious problems for the other islands are on the horizon. Many of them will likely be under water by 2050, experts say.

“Based on current sea-level rise predictions, it is almost certain that within the next 20 years the Guna will have to start leaving these islands, and by the end of the century, most will probably have to be abandoned,” Steven Paton, the director of the physical monitoring program at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, told the Journal.

“Little by little, all of the Guna will have to move,” said Ligia Castro, who’s in charge of climate-change policy at Panama’s environmental ministry. “At least we have time from now to 2050 to move them slowly to the mainland.”

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