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    the tide coming in

    The Tide Is High

    Young inhabitants of a tiny Colombian island are trying to save their homeland from the rising sea.

    By Monica Pelliccia

    January 29, 2024

    The five hundred inhabitants of Punta Soldado, an island off the west coast of Colombia, have had to relocate their houses three times over the last thirty years thanks to rising sea levels. They have become accustomed to building their wooden houses on five-foot-high posts to protect them from flooding, and so that it’s easier to move them further inland. In the last decade they have lost over six hundred yards of shoreline and 198 acres of mangrove. Because of this, extreme weather poses a much greater risk.

    a woman walks to reach the beach covered with water due to the high tide

    Ballantyne Puin walks to reach the beach covered with water due to the high tide. All photographs by Monica Pelliccia, Punta Soldado, Colombia, September 2023.

    “For centuries, they have known how to survive. We are learning from them how to preserve the island from rising sea levels,” explains Ballantyne Puin, an environmental engineer at Cornell University. Puin has been working with the local communities of Punta Soldado to protect the island from the consequences of the climate crisis. Inspired by a similar project in Indonesia, and with the help of young people (40 percent of the population), they have recently built a permeable six-foot-high barrier to conserve soil and help mangroves grow. With the hope of receiving government funding, they plan to eventually expand the project to build a larger barrier.

    Kids skip rope in the center of the community

    Kids skip rope in the center of the community.

    Today, young people are constantly monitoring the rising sea level, documenting its effects on the soil and the ecosystem, and planting new mangrove barriers to replace those lost to the sea. It’s a matter of survival, as the climate crisis has meant fewer fish and mollusks, endangering the fishing industry. Many are turning to ecotourism as an economic alternative so they won’t be forced to migrate to the nearest big city, Buenaventura, known for its drug trade and crimes.

    High tide in Punta Soldado

    High tide in Punta Soldado. In September 2023, according to residents, the sea reached its highest level since 2019. 

    Ancient trees dead due to coastal erosion

    Visitors are shown the "mangrove cemetery," a group of ancient trees that once protected the shoreline, now dead due to coastal erosion.  

    Contributed By MonicaPelliccia Monica Pelliccia

    Monica Pelliccia is an Italian freelance multimedia journalist who covers environmental and social issues such as biodiversity conservation, women’s issues, climate change, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, food security and agroecology.

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