San Blas - an assessment

Thu 5 Feb 2015 15:51

09:33.4N 078:56.9W


San Blas

By Dr Lucy Buxton

14 February 2014


Arriving in the San Blas Islands you are immediately struck by the beauty of the archipelago, the colors of the coral lagoons and the warmth of the local Kuna Yala people.


An additional striking feature of the 378 islands is the topography - the islands lying mere feet above sea level.  When discussing with some of the Kuna, seasonal flooding was described to be relatively common.  But further changes to climate stability are sure to add additional environmental pressures to the archipelago and its residents.


The oceans themselves are bringing a tide of plastic to the islands too.  Walking along the shoreline, it is impossible not to see plastic waste, ranging from grocery bags and soft-drink bottles to lost flip flops and minute plastic particles mixed with the sand.  It is a fast-growing environmental problem that affects almost every corner of the world, and sadly the San Blas receive their share too. 


The Kuna Yala are addressing the problem where possible, cleaning the beaches and re-disposing of the plastic waste on the mainland, reusing and repurposing some of larger items.  And of course visiting yachts are asked to take responsibility for their own waste and dispose of it on the mainland when refuse and recycling facilities are available.


While plastics pollution in the marine environment is widely documented, the amount of plastic entering our oceans is still little understood.  A scientific report published this week has estimated for the amount of plastic debris finding its way from land to sea.  It is a staggering figure - as much as 12.7 million metric tons flow into the sea every year, and the annual pile could get 10 times bigger over the next decade.