Not going to be popular, blog.
20 February 2018
When I started this blog, I promised to tell the good and the bad. Well, now for the not-so-great about the San Blas. I have heard a lot of hand wringing about the plight of the Kunas and their low islands with global warming. I agree that man has caused and will be causing problems for these people and their islands. The “man” I am talking about are the Kunas themselves.
There is not one thing natural on any of the islands controlled by the Kunas. The inhabited islands are right next to the mainland. The Kunas travel upriver to farm, hunt and cut trees for their ulus. They also get water from the rivers in the mountains and pipe it to these islands. The villages on these islands are some of the most densely packed communities I have seen. Outhouses hang over every outer edge of these islands. Trash floats about everywhere. We saw one school yard that had thick layers of trash near the water's edge. One afternoon with bags and gloves could have easily cleaned it up. There is very little vegetation of any kind and certainly none on the shoreline, vulnerable to erosion.
Very few people live on the outer islands, about five miles from shore. Those who do cater to a bit of tourism with a bar or restaurant or primitive guest house. But those islands are “calendar beautiful.” Why? They are nothing but sand and palm trees. These islands have palm trees cultivated on every bit of land as coconuts were and are the currency of the Kunas.
Glyn and I walked around Green Island and noticed burned areas about every 100 feet. It became clear that the Kunas burn an area, cover it with palm fronds and plant coconuts to grow more trees. There is very little grass or undergrowth. OK, this does make for a productive and stunningly beautiful island but it is clear that the shorelines are eroding. Palm trees have small root balls and they topple over in the surf. Most islands in the Caribbean we visit have extensive mangroves, sea grass or sea grapes to protect the shoreline. These are absent in the Kuna Yala.
Now for the editorial: The US spends between $50m billion and $100 billion on global warming/climate change studies and initiatives, both private and public. Has one dollar of that money helped the Kunas? Would it be more productive to have a limited operation to help them clean up these islands, establish responsible waste disposal and educate them in erosion control?