Panama Relocates a Drowning Island While The Canal Runs Dry

Climate change is indeed a double-edged sword

Ricky Lanusse
The New Climate.


An aerial view of drowning Gardi Sugdub Island, part of San Blas archipelago off Panama’s Caribbean coast. (Source: AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

Indigenous Guna families from the island of Gardi Sugdub ferried stoves, gas cylinders, mattresses, and other belongings first in boats and then in trucks, trading in their island life for an unforeseen mainland future.

And so, the doorways of 300 new homes in Isberyala, carved from a once-yucca field along Panama’s Caribbean coast, swung open for families from the country’s first low-lying island evacuated due to rising sea levels.

Faced with no other option, their lives have transformed overnight, trading an island for an unforeseen mainland future. Seawater has been replaced by the rustling whispers of the tropical rainforest in an extraordinary journey of resilience and adaptation. Cooler temperatures, sprawling space, and (still empty) paved streets are some stark differences.

Amidst these changes, a poignant loss is palpable: a fading sense of identity. Generations have grown up in a life dedicated to the sea and tourism. The sea that was once their backyard is now a 30-minute walk and a short boat ride away.

Most are on the move to the recently constructed neighborhood of Isberyala. But seven or eight families have chosen to stay for now—until it’s no longer…