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Swallowed by the Sea: The Islands That Won’t Survive Climate Chang


More and more people are starting to see the urgency of the problem that is climate change, and efforts to combat it are being put into high gear. The sea level will rise because of the melting icecaps and that will affect flora and fauna, but it will also extensively impact the human race.

There are islands which you can find on every scuba diver’s bucket list because of their tropical climate and their diverse population of sea life. Quite a few of these hotspots are now being threatened by the water that is both rising and heating up. One of the more extreme examples that is already feeling the heat of climate change is the Solomon archipelago that is located to the east of Papua New Guinea and north of Australia. This archipelago consists of close to a thousand coral islands and atolls that are all dealing with dwindling shorelines. Five of these islands that were all uninhabited have already been swallowed whole by the ocean because of the seven to ten millimetres with which the sea level has been rising annually since 1993. This annual increase of water level in the area of the Solomon Islands is three times the global average, but it is estimated that the global average will reach five millimetres during the second half of the twenty-first century. Back to the Solomon Islands; provincial capital island Taro is already being forced to relocate because the sea is getting too close to their current front doors. Relocating in this case means demolishing or deconstructing the whole town, which includes infrastructure and rebuild the whole town in a place that is safer from the rising water. This practice is not something that is limited to islands in the middle of the ocean alone. Relocation plans for Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana USA, Carteret Island New Jersey USA and multiple Canadian coastal towns are also being drawn up. The decision to “move a town” is based on a cost-benefit analysis; continuing to keep the water out of where the town is currently located, or move the whole town.

A situation that is about as dire as it is on the Solomon Island is also unfurling on the Maldives, an island group to the south-west of India. It is another archipelago with over a thousand coral islands of which eighty percent will be uninhabitable by 2050 if the earth continues to heat up at its current rate according to NASA. A former president of the Maldives who is now involved in the prevention of climate change has stated that about ninety-seven percent of the country’s groundwater is no longer fresh. Most wells in the country have become contaminated with salt water and as a result of that, the nation now mostly relies on collected rainwater and the import of drinkable water.

About half of the nation’s annual budget is spent on adapting to climate change. Island countries throughout the world have been asking developed nations for financial aid since 2009, but the amount of money they receive just never seems to be enough.

The sea is slowly filing away the land by carrying away a little bit with each wave. The most natural defence against this process are coral reefs surrounding the land by breaking the waves before they can get to the shoreline. The Maldives lost a large portion of this line of defence when approximately sixty percent of their coral reefs were bleached in 2016. When corals are exposed to changes in light, nutrients or temperature it is possible that their main food source, the algae zooxanthellae leaves the coral. This in turn leads to the coral turning completely white, like when leaves on plants turn brown when they lack sunlight or water. Similar to these leaves, bleached coral is not necessarily dead and it is possible that the colour returns. The thing with bleached coral is that it becomes more susceptible to diseases that can possibly kill it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is now predicting that if the elusive 1,5 degrees Celsius temperature increase were to be reached about seventy to ninety percent of the world’s coral would be lost. This will in turn drastically affect the whole eco-system, and it will certainly not help the continuation of human life.

Research has shown that healthy coral reefs can absorb ninety-seven percent of the energy that waves exert. Because of this, there has been an increase in coral reef building and expansion initiatives around the world. There is still hope, but not much time left.

Poem by Daneel Akers | Swallowed by the Sea | 14/03/2022

As the sun beats down on the ice,

Another cease fire as the moon shows its face,

No time to recover,

As the stars start to fade,

Night turns into day,

As the hole we have dug ourselves deepens.

The oil spilled into the sea,

The gasses that rise to the sky,

The oil drenched animals on the beach,

That lie down to die,

The ground trembles,

As valuables are sucked from the earth,

The world is in shambles,

Hoping for a miracle,

For rebirth,

But that is hope wasted,

While the hole we have dug ourselves deepens.

Life not what it used to be,

As we escape into the digital realm,

The world burns like a match,

Through the open gates of hell,

As the thunder strikes,

And the swirling wind ploughs through town,

As cars take to the sky,

And the people hunker down,

You’d expect a realisation to set in,

Yet the hole we have dug ourselves deepens.

Waiting will no longer work…

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