KIRIBATI, March 21 ― They’re jewels of the oceans, small paradisiacal islands and atolls that rise up in the middle of the sea often developed for the pleasure of holidaymakers seeking tropical getaways. But they won’t last long.
Hyperbole? Not for the scientists who’ve been sounding the alarm for years on the dangers of rising sea levels; the locals who’ve already borne weather-related disasters on their islands; or the families who’ve already been uprooted from their homes and been relocated ― the world’s first climate change refugees.
Last year, presidents and leaders of small island nations assembled before the United Nations pleading with the world’s most powerful nations to save their countries from the threat of extinction.
“We are disastrously off course,” said President Anote Tong of Kiribati, a string of 33 islands in the central Pacific Ocean about 4,000km (2,500 miles) southwest of Hawaii.
Already, families on the Carteret Islands in the South Pacific have had to abandon their homes and be relocated to neighbouring islands due to rising sea levels that have slowly swallowed parts of their island.
With World Water Day set for March 22, here’s a look at some tropical island destinations you may want to visit, before rising sea levels threaten to bury them forever.
As the lowest lying country on the planet, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to the threat of rising sea levels. Pleasure seekers may know the destination for its thatched-roofed huts, luxury hotels like the Conrad Maldives and its underwater restaurant, but underneath the fantastical extravagance lies a grim reality that threatens to put the island under.
Set in the Indian Ocean, 1,600km from the east coast of Africa, the Seychelles is another island destination well-frequented by pleasure seekers. Comprised of 115 islands, luxury hotel brands like the Four Seasons and Hilton set up locations on this remote tropical outpost for their well-heeled clientele. What the holidaymakers may fail to see above their spa treatments and beach vacation, however, is that the country has experienced the worst coral die-off in the world, and worrying spans of drought.
History buffs may be particularly drawn to the Marshall Islands for its marine graveyard of sunken ships following the Second World War. Tourist activities include diving trips to the shipwrecks and big-game fishing. But island president Christopher J. Loeak has been vocal about the plight of his nation, saying that in recent months his country was ravaged by an unprecedented drought and a few weeks later a giant king tide that flooded the capital ― unusual phenomenons unseen during his lifetime, he said. “In the Marshall Islands, like elsewhere in the Pacific, climate change is no longer a distant threat, nor at the doorstep. Climate change is here.”
Home to the world’s largest coral lagoon, New Caledonia is the third largest island in the Pacific after Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, and boasts river valleys, rainforests, and tumbling waterfalls. A nature lover’s paradise, the island’s barrier coral reef is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO for its rich ecosystem. But a study released last year predicted that if sea levels continue to rise, by the end of the century New Caledonia along with French Polynesia would be among the worst affected: two-thirds of the islands that would be submerged would be within these archipelagos.
Pleasure seekers know French Polynesia best for dream tropical destinations Tahiti and Bora Bora. While Tahiti pitches itself as an island paradise for its rugged mountains, coral reefs and azure lagoons, Bora Bora positions itself as “the most romantic island in the world.” But along with New Caledonia, French scientists have identified French Polynesia as particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change: two-thirds of the islands combined would be submerged if sea levels continue to rise at current rates by the end of the century.
Located in the western Pacific Ocean, the island nation of Palau is best known among diving enthusiasts for being one of the best diving destinations in the world with its unspoiled reefs and caves. But the effects of climate change have been described as a “slow-moving tsunami.”
Set in the central Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is made up of 33 islands and is known for its world-class fishing, whether it be saltwater fly fishing or deep water big-game fish. The destination is also known as a surfing destination. Kiribati president Anote Tong is known for his straight-shooting ways, but he may not be far off the mark, considering that the warming projections predict that the ocean could swallow his country whole by the end of the century. In anticipation, the Kiribati government purchased 6,000 acres of land in Fiji, where they can relocate their people, according to Businessweek.
Located halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii in the South Pacific, the chain of 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands can be divided by the north and south groups. Southern islands are characterized by coral atolls and volcanic islands, while the northern islands appeal to adventure seekers for their deep lagoons and remote location. And while rising sea levels threaten the existence of the entire area, northern islands are particularly vulnerable.
Described as the melting pot of the Pacific, the Solomon Islands are made up of 992 islands and are inhabited by Oceania’s three main cultural groups: Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. As a travel destination, the islands are a diver and nature lover’s paradise with diving, snorkeling and surfing among some of the island’s main tourist attractions. But like many of its South Pacific neighbours, rising sea levels threaten their very existence. A report from the Pacific Climate Change Science program found that sea levels near the islands have risen by about 8 mm a year since 1993 ― larger than the global average of 3 to 4 mm a year. ― AFP-Relaxnews