San Blas Islands

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Main threats and issues facing the San Blas Islands

Where it is

  • The San Blas islands lie off the north coast of Panama in the Caribbean Sea.
  • There are 365 islands and most of them are uninhabited
  • The islands are low-lying and protected by coral reefs

Basic Facts

  • The indigenous people are called the Guna (formerly Kuna) and live on the  main islands
  • The Guna communities on the San Blas  and the Caribbean coast form an  indigenous province in northeast  Panama which is known as Guna Yala
  • They have their own Assembly and  autonomy over their own affairs


  • The San Blas Islands lie outside the Atlantic hurricane zone
  • The weather is mainly hot and humid
  • There is a short dry season from  about January to April and a longer rainy season from May to  December


  • The Guna have preserved much of their traditional  lifestyle, and have a rich culture of legends, music  and dance.
  • They speak their own language but Spanish is also  spoken.
  • Guna women create unique appliqué cloth panels  called Molas
  • Tourism is a main source of income as  tourists come to enjoy the beautiful sandy
    beaches, clear tropical waters and coral reefs
  • The islands are also popular with sailors as  they are outside the hurricane zone
  • The Guna practice subsistence agriculture  (coconuts, bananas) and catch fish and
  • They use traditional dugout canoes to sail  between the islands

Flora and Fauna

  • The San Blas reef system is considered to  be one of the 10 best preserved in the
  • The reefs are home to many types of  colourful fish and marine mammals such
    as porpoises

Main environmental challenges

  • Rising sea levels
  • Coral reef damage due to:
    – ocean acidification
    – mining by local people to create more land,
    which also causes coastal erosion
  • Pollution: no facilities for recycling plastics,  batteries and other non-biodegradable waste
  • Lack of fresh water supplies

Useful links

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