First islands sink into the sea – the inhabitants don’t ask “what is sea level” any more.
Their island off the coast of Panama is sinking slowly into the Caribbean Sea. But some people there would rather go sink with their homeland than bow to climate change.
Gardi Sugdub is 300 meters long and 150 meters wide. 1,500 people live here – in the smallest of spaces and without a future. People there do not need climate studies to recognize that the environment is changing.
“Every winter the Caribbean Sea pushes against our island with more force,” some say. “It’s time to leave. Otherwise, we will be swallowed. ”
Berthed on corals, the island, which is inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people, protrudes 40 centimeters only from the Gulf of Guna Yala.At only 300 meters long and 150 meters wide, it is pretty tiny. The people are mercilessly exposed to the whims of the sea. “The sea is getting wilder”, inhabitants say.
One can consider the crab island, as it is called, as a forerunner of what is going on Earth. It may be small, but like through a burning glass you can observe what is going wrong on a large scale. On the one hand, the population of Gardi Sugdub has grown so much that there is no more space – and nature has been enormously damaged by the attempts to gain land.
“We are the first victims of global warming“
At the same time the island sinks slowly and constantly into the Caribbean Sea. Experts don’t have any doubt that it is due to the climate change. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations special agency, announced that the sea level in 2018 had risen by the new record of 3.7 millimeters compared to the previous year. Overall, since 1993, the sea level has increased by about eight centimeters.
“There is no time to lose,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned. “We are the first victims of global warming,” inhabitants say. “But we have a plan. We are going on land.”
The clothing of the female: a black skirt, a colorful blouse with animal motifs and a bright red headscarf, which stands for the blood that shed the Kuna since the Spanish Conquista. Their calves and forearms are covered by long strings of pearls, their nose sparkles with a golden piercing. That’s the custom.
The Kuna are known for their cultural independence and proud of their traditions. Only flip-flops and mobile phones in the hem of the skirt hint at the century in which they live.
Migrants of a new era
The Kuna of Gardi Sugdub are climate refugees – the first migrants of a new era. The United Nations estimate, that 50 million to 200 million people will have to leave their homes within the next 30 years. Most live on islands or in coastal regions like the Kuna.
They do not produce much more than their needs, thus consume only a small amount of energy, so they are largely irresponsible to climate change. According to the World Bank, three world regions will be hit hardest: Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia around India, Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s about small farmers in Bangladesh, fishermen in Mozambique and Samoa as well as indigenous people in Panama. “Climate change affects the poor much more than the rich,” experts say.
There is no free space, the sea is the limit
There is nothing left of the idyll the view of the glittering Caribbean suggested. Garbage spills against the flat edge of the island: plastic bottles, Styrofoam dishes, plastic canisters, a broken toilet seat, straws. Immediately afterwards, a claustrophobic labyrinth of wooden and bamboo houses begins.
The buildings of around 1500 Kuna stand wall-to-wall, there is hardly any square meter of vacant space left. And wherever you go, there are people: running children, fishermen with baskets full of crabs, tattered old people, groups of women doing manual work, uniformed students doing gymnastics, construction workers drinking cola. Everywhere is life and movement. There is no free space, the sea is the limit.
One’s for sure: Gardi Sugdub will perish in the course of the 21st century!
Around 1,500 people live on Gardi Sugdub now; the population has more than doubled in the past 30 years – as on the entire archipelago of Guna Yala. In order to make space, the Kuna have steadily expanded their islands with coral that they broke from the surrounding reefs and layered around their islands. This form of land reclamation now avenges because the destroyed reefs fail as natural barriers against the raging sea.
The islands are a paradise for travelers
The local environmental destruction aggravates the consequences of global climate change. That’s why they decided to stop this practice on Gardi Sugdub. “We’re going back to the mainland anyway,” they say. Originally, the Kuna are not island people. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that they moved out to the sea because they wanted to escape poisonous snakes and mosquito patches in the jungles of Panama.
Today, they inhabit around 50 of the 370 islands in the Gulf of Guna Yala, which is popular for sailors and other travelers because of its clear waters and uninhabited Robinson Crusoe islands. Thus, tourism became the main source of income for the Kuna, who autonomously manage the archipelago and collect it for the transport and rental of accommodation. But even that should be over soon, because the sea spills over that paradise more and more often.
“It started in the winter of 2008,” inhabitants recall. At that time violent storms moved over the gulf of Guna Yala. Although strong north wind is nothing unusual in November and December, “2008 was worse than anything we could remember …for days Gardi Sugdub was flooded, the houses under water, we waded through it. The elders prayed all the time for the sea to retreat.”
Since then, floods come almost every year. “We cannot wait for the industrialized countries to act. It’s a wonder we have not been washed away yet.”
But what can WE do? We feel so unconscious facing these huge changes.
We can do little steps. Step by step. If everyone does, the steps will become bigger.
Let’s donate a tree – or let’s start in our kitchen by using organic cleaners. That’s what we can do withing our little world.
The earth temperature continues to rise
The Kunas fears are confirmed by science. According to the IPCC’s latest forecast, the average global temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees from 2030 to 2052 compared to the pre-industrial era. Provided that conservative estimate, it would lead to the increase in sea levels by 26 to 77 centimeters. Other estimates, for example of the US space agency NASA, assume a rise of 65 centimeters.
The rise has almost nothing to do with the melting polar ice caps, but is due to the fact that the sea absorbs more than 90 percent of the excess heat from the atmosphere. And warmer water has got more volume than cold one. On the one hand, the oceans save the planet from a fatal temperature rise. On the other hand they threaten mankind by their expansion.
This is for certain:
Gardi Sugdub will perish in the course of the 21st century. So moving is probably the most reasonable reaction. Especially since the Guna-Yala Archipelago has lost at least five hectares of natural land since 1970. That’s about five football fields and may seem like little. But the entire landmass of the archipelago is only about 100 hectares.
“A people without traditions is a people without a soul.”
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