The Pacific Swallows Five Islands As Sea Levels Rise


Climate change affects different parts of the world in different ways and sea level rises, erosion and coastal flooding are some of the greatest challenges humanity faces, as climate change becomes a bigger issue.

There is now evidence of at least five islands that are completely lost due to the rising sea and coastal erosion with another six islands already severely eroded. 

The area affected are the remote but beautiful Solomon Islands which is host to many reef islands.

The Islands which were lost were reef islands and had tropical vegetation at least 300 years old. The Islands were dense with greenery and ranged in size from one to five hectares. One of the largest Islands on the verge of being lost, the Nuatambu Island, was home to 25 families and since 2011 has lost 11 houses and more than half of its habitable area.

There was always a concern of these islands facing the negative affects of climate change but this is the first scientific evidence that confirms the many accounts from across the Pacific of the dramatic impacts of this climate change. The research was recently published in Environmental research letters.

The islands serve as a kind of canary in the mineshaft type scenario, where what happens to the islands of the Pacific could serve as a proper warning as to what to come to the rest of the world. There were studies done before examining how these islands could be affected by rising sea levels. These studies stated that islands can keep pace with the sea-level rise but they were conducted in places where the sea level rises 3-5 mm per year. But the Solomon Islands are the worlds hot spot of rising sea levels with their sea rising almost three times the global average, 7-10 mm per year.

Although the rates are higher then the worlds average they are said to be what we should expect in the future in the Pacific. The human-induced sea level rises should kick up the average in the second half of this century. With the exception of the very lowest-emission scenarios, the Solomon Islands now show what to see this second half of the century, with the Solomon Islands themselves getting even worse.

As far as erosion, it seems wave energy plays a major role into how dramatic the erosion damage is. The wave energy coupled with sea-level rise will make for an accelerated loss for the island. 

The communities on the Solomon Islands, for the most part, are humble and of lower economic standing. The habitats had to deal with the rapid changes to the shoreline and many had to relocate their costal communities. The government did not plan the moves and are ad hoc relocations using their own limited recourses. There have been communities of roughly 2200 people who had to break off into handfuls of tiny family hamlets. Chief of the Paurata tribe, Sirilo Sutaroti had to abandon his own village himself stating “The sea has started to come inland, it forced us to move up to the hilltop and rebuild our village there away from the sea.

There have been billions of dollars promised through global funding models but it remains to be seen if it will help those in need in remote communities like those in Solomon Islands. These small communities are just a sampling of the displacements to come, if they cannot be properly helped, then what hope do the rest have as the problem inevitably gets worse? 

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