FEATURE-Rising sea drives Panama islanders to mainland

Sun Jul 11, 2010 11:00pm GMT

* Long-settled islands in Panama to be abandoned

* Climate change, coral mining blamed

* Many low-lying islands around the world threatened

By Sean Mattson

CARTI SUGDUB, Panama, June 12 (Reuters) - Rising seas from global warming, coming after years of coral reef destruction, are forcing thousands of indigenous Panamanians to leave their ancestral homes on low-lying Caribbean islands.

Seasonal winds, storms and high tides combine to submerge the tiny islands, crowded with huts of yellow cane and faded palm fronds, leaving them ankle-deep in emerald water for days on end.

Pablo Preciado, leader of the island of Carti Sugdub, remembers that in his childhood floods were rare, brief and barely wetted his toes. "Now it's something else. It's serious," he said.

The increase of a few inches in flood depth is consistent with a global sea level rise over Preciado's 64 years of life and has been made worse by coral mining by the islanders that reduced a buffer against the waves.

Carti Sugdub is one of a handful of islands in an archipelago off Panama's northeastern coast, where the government says climate change threatens the livelihood of nearly half of the 32,000 semi-autonomous Kuna people.   Continued...

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