Panama island will be forced to evacuate due to rising sea levels

On the tiny island of Gardi Sugdub off Panama’s Caribbean coast, around 300 Guna families are preparing to move to the mainland due to rising sea levels. This relocation is part of a broader plan affecting 63 communities along Panama’s coasts, expected to be forced inland by climate change over the coming decades.

The Guna people, who have long lived a sea-centered life, face the difficult transition to a new mainland settlement. The island, just 400 yards long and 150 yards wide, suffers from annual flooding, especially during the stormy months of November and December. Efforts to protect the island with rocks and coral have failed to stop the encroaching seawater.

Nadín Morales, a 24-year-old resident, expressed mixed feelings about leaving behind their homes and lifestyle connected to the sea, despite acknowledging the necessity due to worsening conditions. The community’s autonomous government began considering relocation two decades ago due to overcrowding, but climate change has hastened their plans.

The new mainland settlement, developed by the government at a cost of $12 million, features concrete houses and paved streets within the lush tropical jungle. It is located just over a mile from the port, a short boat ride from Gardi Sugdub. Teacher Evelio López highlighted the cultural challenge of moving from a sea-based life to one on solid ground.

Steven Paton from the Smithsonian Institution pointed out that this move is a direct consequence of rising sea levels driven by climate change, predicting that all Guna islands may need to be abandoned by the century’s end. This situation mirrors global trends, with coastal communities worldwide facing similar threats and relocations.

Panama’s Environmental Ministry estimates that by 2050, the country could lose about 2.01% of its coastal territory to rising sea levels, potentially costing $1.2 billion to relocate approximately 38,000 residents. The Guna community, known for their embroidered molas and reliance on tourism, will face significant lifestyle changes as they adapt to inland living. Braucilio de la Ossa, a local leader, noted the challenge of transitioning from a sea-based to a forest-based lifestyle, despite the relatively short distance of the move.

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