Cartagena, Jewel of the Colombian Caribbean that is Sinking Due to Global Warming

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    Every year the sea level rises and swallows the bay of Cartagena in dribs and drabs. The exposed skulls of a cemetery devastated by waves are proof of the effects of global warming in Colombia’s most touristic city, which could be partially underwater this century.

    Community leader Mirla Aaron was shocked when she saw on the shore the bones of former inhabitants of Tierra Bomba, an island located in front of the luxurious hotel sector of Cartagena (north).

    The sea “has devastated 250 homes in the community, the health post, docks (…) it took away several community halls, electrical infrastructure” and the cemetery, this 53-year-old woman tells through tears.

    The destroyed tombs, which were a safe distance from the Caribbean Sea, are so old that there is no information about relatives to be responsible for collecting the remains.

    In Cartagena, adding to the problem of the effects of climate change is the fact that Colombia’s main commercial port was built on land with underground cavities that collapse, causing it to sink.“Unfortunately, the island has been the victim of an erosive process (…) that has increased exponentially in recent decades,” says the community leader.

    A rate higher than the global average

    In 2021, the scientific journal Nature published a study by academics on the problems in the city of almost one million inhabitants: since the beginning of the 21st century, sea level has risen annually by about 7.02 millimeters, “a rate higher” than the global average (2.9 millimeters).

    If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, the sea in the bay will rise 26 centimeters by 2050 and 76 centimeters by 2100, say researchers from the University of Zagreb, Miami International and the local EAFIT.

    Fallen walls

    “The rise in sea level in the coastal area of ​​Cartagena is due to two factors,” explains Canadian environmental scientist Marko Tosic, one of the authors of the publication.

    First, due to the city’s vulnerability to global warming. But also due to the “subsidence” or “sinking of the land”, which occurs “due to tectonic factors” and the presence of “underwater volcanoes”.These volcanic formations “are muddy and little by little gravity puts pressure” and causes the terrain to flatten and the city to descend, he adds.

    More than 400 years ago, a walled fortress was built in Cartagena to defend the riches of the Spanish colonizers from pirates. These buildings are one of the reasons for its exceptional beauty, which has earned it being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

    Currently, the authorities are using machinery to build 4.5 kilometers of stone spurs or barriers that cushion the impact of the waves. The mayor’s office assures that without them 80% of the neighborhoods would be at risk of flooding.

    Homes were observed with fallen walls on the edge of the sea, a flooded restaurant where workers were trying to remove the water that was making diners uncomfortable, and formerly underground power lines exposed by erosion.

    Kelly Mendoza moved to a house near the shore in Tierra Bomba a decade ago. Since then, two of his neighbors have lost their homes because the water collapsed. In hers, the waves are already hitting the room where she sleeps with her husband.“When the wave hits the wall I get scared because I think it’s going to fall,” that “I’m going to be in the sea with my bed,” says this 31-year-old woman.

    “The flood will be felt”

    At 87 years old, Inés Jiménez no longer recognizes the environment in which she grew up. When he was young he had to move in with his parents because their house was flooding. People “ran a little further back” fleeing from the sea, he remembers, while pointing in the distance to the point where the coast reached before.

    Marko Tosic warns that the growth of the Caribbean is gradual, but it will become lethal. It is a “very small change, we are talking about millimeters over the years, but (…) the flood will be felt.”According to Tosic, poor populations will have fewer tools than large hotel areas to respond to the force of nature.

    Mauricio Giraldo, another local leader and representative of fishermen, complains that the shield of spurs protects tourist attractions and high-class hotels, but changes the maritime current and affects the areas where the most vulnerable live.In Tierra Bomba, for example, there live “black communities that were enslaved” and “that today resist losing their identity,” Aaron proclaims.“The sea is collapsing, in slow agony, it doesn’t know how to say ‘enough is enough,’” Giraldo says worriedly.

    Resonance Costa Rica
    At Resonance, we aspire to live in harmony with the natural world as a reflection of our gratitude for life. Visit and subscribe at Resonance Costa Rica Youtube Channel
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