Rising seas washing away Pacific leader's home island

Jun 26, 2013 by Giff Johnson
This file photo shows the main the road in Majuro, the capital of Marshall Islands, being flooded from high tides and ocean surges, in December 2008. The low-lying islands, a Pacific atoll chain, rises barely a metre above sea level.

As the US urges world leaders to ramp up action on climate change, the leader of one small island chain in the North Pacific Ocean has already got the message—watching helplessly as rising seas slowly erode his birthplace.

The idyllic beaches on the island of Buoj where Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak fished as a boy are already submerged, and the ever-encroaching ocean now threatens to wash away roads, schools and airstrips.

"The end of the island gets shorter every year. Some places we used to stand on the beach to fish are now in the water," Loeak, 60, told AFP.

Buoj is one of 52 islands in Ailinglaplap, an atoll that a Marshall Islands survey found was one of its most vulnerable to .

"I have great attraction to Ailinglaplap," Loeak said in the capital, Majuro. "I can live on other islands, but I was born and raised there. I always think about going back there to live."

The Marshalls, an island nation of some 70,000 people about halfway between Australia and Hawaii, will have a rare moment in the international spotlight in September, when it hosts the annual Pacific Islands Forum.

Loeak said he wanted to use the opportunity to send a strong message to the world, particularly larger polluting nations, about the need for action to slow down climate change.

"We will not stop telling people that climate change is a real issue for humanity," he said. "We will be the first to feel it, but it will come to them and they should realise it."

The warning was echoed by in a landmark speech Tuesday, in which the US president dismissed climate change deniers and outlined steps aimed at making Washington a global leader in .

This undated file photo, provided by the office of environmental planning and policy coordination, shows the effects of the climate change at Marshall Islands atoll of Ailinglaplap.

"We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," Obama said.

"Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it is not going to protect you from the coming storm."

The impact of global warming is starkly evident in Ailinglaplap, with the ' senior climate change advisor Steve Why saying the majority of the atoll's shorelines were eroding.

"Infrastructure at risk of eroding includes three airstrips, roads, causeways and schools," he said.

Why and his survey team documented coastal erosion as an increasingly serious problem affecting many of the atoll's islands and noted the threat of rising sea levels to the entire country.

"Strong northeast trade winds since October 2012 have elevated sea levels three-to-six inches (7.6-15.2 centimetres), noticeably accelerating erosion on Ailinglaplap," he said.

About 1,700 people are scattered on the atoll's islands, which are barely a metre (three-feet) above , even at their highest points.

A causeway linking some of the islands is disappearing, while salt water makes previously productive agricultural land useless.

This undated file photo, provided by the office of environmental planning and policy coordination shows the effects of the climate change at Marshall Islands' atoll of Ailinglaplap.

Why said discussions with the community showed people wanted the infrastructure problems fixed, but they were reluctant to confront the worst-case scenario.

"Most conversations stalled as we envisaged what the future held—over a three foot rise in average sea level during this century, and more beyond that," he said.

"(It's) not difficult to imagine what will happen over the coming decades while standing, talking, sleeping and raising one's family on land that is just a couple of feet in elevation above the high tide mark—a line that is now always slowly moving inland—when there isn't anywhere else that's easy to retreat to."

Loeak said the fate of the low-lying nation raised questions about the basic human rights of those affected by global warming, warning that if the were ultimately engulfed by the ocean, "we become refugees".

Loeak said that while he was happy to see world leaders such as Obama talking about climate change, it had not changed the fact that sea levels were continuing to rise in the Pacific.

And he said in the face of rising waters, his own fate was tied to that of the island.

"I will remain here until I die," he said. "If the water comes, it comes."

Explore further: Underwater elephants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Islands want UN to see climate as security threat

Feb 16, 2013

(AP)—The Marshall Islands and other low-lying island nations appealed to the U.N. Security Council on Friday to recognize climate change as an international security threat that jeopardizes their very survival.

UN chief calls for urgent action on climate change

Sep 08, 2011

(AP) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that urgent action was needed on climate change, pointing to the famine in the Horn of Africa and devastating floods in northern Australia ...

Extreme tides flood Marshalls capital

Feb 21, 2011

Extreme high tides have flooded parts of the low-lying Marshall Islands capital Majuro with a warning Sunday of worse to come because of rising sea levels.

Recommended for you

Underwater elephants

1 hour ago

In the high-tech world of science, researchers sometimes need to get back to basics. UC Santa Barbara's Douglas McCauley did just that to study the impacts of the bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) on cor ...

Malaysia air quality 'unhealthy' as haze obscures skies

7 hours ago

Air quality around Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur and on Borneo island was "unhealthy" on Tuesday, with one town reaching "very unhealthy" levels as haze—mostly from forest fires in Indonesia—obscured skies.

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Egleton
3.1 / 5 (16) Jun 26, 2013
Damn. No climate change deniers.
VendicarE
4 / 5 (16) Jun 26, 2013
Impossible according the the Climate Change Denilists. "Ocean levels have been falling for years"

Liars and Tardieboys.
antigoracle
1.6 / 5 (22) Jun 26, 2013
"Strong northeast trade winds since October 2012 have elevated sea levels three-to-six inches (7.6-15.2 centimetres), noticeably accelerating erosion on Ailinglaplap," he said.

The AGW Alarmist stupidity and propaganda continues.
aroc91
4.1 / 5 (15) Jun 26, 2013
"Strong northeast trade winds since October 2012 have elevated sea levels three-to-six inches (7.6-15.2 centimetres), noticeably accelerating erosion on Ailinglaplap," he said.

The AGW Alarmist stupidity and propaganda continues.


That's some very convincing counter-evidence you've got there.
gregor1
1.5 / 5 (17) Jun 27, 2013
This has been dealt with by this study
http://www.abc.ne...g/851738
and this explains it rather well too
http://wattsupwit...al-bird/
Howhot
4.3 / 5 (11) Jun 27, 2013
Gregor1 says;
This has been dealt with by this study
http://www.abc.ne...g/851738


What a bird turd lie. the gregormister wants us to listen to his propaganda and conclude the that "pacific-islands-growing-not-sinking" even thought the article photos show clearly otherwise. Another neocon-denier and lier exposed.

deepsand
3.2 / 5 (18) Jun 27, 2013
"Strong northeast trade winds since October 2012 have elevated sea levels three-to-six inches (7.6-15.2 centimetres), noticeably accelerating erosion on Ailinglaplap," he said.

The AGW Alarmist stupidity and propaganda continues.

AO is like an insane woodpecker looking for a grub in a block of concrete.
Mandan
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 27, 2013
"Strong northeast trade winds since October 2012 have elevated sea levels three-to-six inches (7.6-15.2 centimetres), noticeably accelerating erosion on Ailinglaplap," he said.

The AGW Alarmist stupidity and propaganda continues.


That's some very convincing counter-evidence you've got there.


Yeah, because changes in prevailing winds have to be separated from rising sea levels and rising temperatures-- otherwise adding them all up would lead to a big picture transformation and we can't have that if we want to keep doing things the way we're doing things.
antigoracle
1.5 / 5 (17) Jun 27, 2013
"Strong northeast trade winds since October 2012 have elevated sea levels ...,"

The AGW Alarmist stupidity and propaganda continues.


That's some very convincing counter-evidence you've got there.


Yeah, because changes in prevailing winds have to be separated from rising sea levels and rising temperatures-- otherwise adding them all up would lead to a big picture transformation..

Schwabe mentions in his quarterly report that the wind patterns in early 1905 were different than usual: the NE trade winds blew until June. He speculates that the typhoon incident which occurred on the last day of the report period may be related to this shift in wind patterns
http://marshall.c...ars.html


It is stupid because blaming a naturally occurring event on global warming is the kind of lies the AGW Alarmist cult enjoys using to prey on human suffering.
gregor1
1.5 / 5 (15) Jun 28, 2013
So the satellites and Charles Darwin are liars now Howhot? I suggest you actually read the links I posted. There are many potential reasons for the flooding in the photo
deepsand
2.7 / 5 (15) Jun 28, 2013
It is stupid because blaming a naturally occurring event on global warming is the kind of lies the AGW Alarmist cult enjoys using to prey on human suffering.

AO is like an insane woodpecker looking for a grub in a block of concrete.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (13) Jun 29, 2013
The picture (the 1 not showing simple erosion) is from 2008 so how many times since then has the main road in Majuro, the capital of Marshall Islands, been under water? The Island rises barely a meter above sea level so any good storm surge could have produced the conditions in the picture. What a scientist would do is to write down all the dates when that road has flooded over a couple of decades and see if there's a trend. Unless, of course it is underwater now and has been for some time in which case a more recent photo would be a bit more convincing. Since scientists and journalists don't seem to have much funding these days, maybe one of the residents could take a picture of this location and mail it in.

Now if one isn't a scientist or remotely interested in science beyond wearing it like a politician wears his nation's flag, 1 could forget about trying to demonstrate a trend of escalating flooding frequencies & just down vote every critical comment and call sceptics retards.
deepsand
2.9 / 5 (14) Jun 30, 2013
Did you, Sean_W, even bother to read the article?