Friday, May 8, 2009

Carteret Islanders - First Climate Refugees Begin Move

The trees you see on the beach used to be a source of food for the Islanders; but, the encroaching saltwater has destroyed the roots of these trees causing them to just fall over and die. As the salt water encroaches more and more, more food-bearing trees are lost to the Islanders.
Rising sea levels have eroded much of the coastlines of the low-lying Carteret Islands situated 50 miles from Bougainville Island, in the South Pacific. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert /Greenpeace.

The Yup’ik Eskimos of Newtok, Alaska are still in the planning stages of moving their village 9 miles upriver; so, the coveted title of “World’s First Climate Refugees” has been given to the residents of the Carteret Islands off the coast of Bougainville off the coast of Papua, New Guinea. One more “off the coast of” and we would have been in the middle of the ocean which is exactly where the islanders have found themselves.

Two weeks ago, an event that will forever change the way we view manmade global occurred with the world’s first evacuation of an entire peoples. The islands are small coral atolls which support 2,600 inhabitants or used to until two weeks ago.

This is certain to be the first of many such evacuations with other such communities being forced into the same or similar actions. The combination of sea levels continuing their steady rise and a distinct lack of meaningful action from governments of rich, polluting nations will mean more helpless communities will be forced to leave their homes or sink slowly in the sea and possible oblivion. The islands are estimated to be completely underwater by 2015. Not surprising since highest point in the islands is a mere 170 cm (5.5 ft) above sea level.

Photo via the Daily Mail.

The first five families have moved to Bougainville in preparation for the final stage of the evacuation. The islanders consist of approximately 40 extended families comprising the total of 2,600 evacuees.

Over the past few years the islanders have been repeatedly inundated by spring tides which have wiped out the islanders' vegetable and fruit gardens leaving the land salty. This destroys their subsistence and makes supporting and feeding the families increasingly difficult with each tide.

An earlier picture of water flowing onto Han Island during January 2007 high tide.
(Source: Pip Starr Pictures).

Dan Box from the Ecologist, one of only a handful of media outlets to cover the story, and the only one to have a reporter on hand to witness the evacuation. In Dan's words:
The men climbed silently from the boat and into the shallows. They splashed towards us, carrying almost nothing. From beside me, others who had come to meet them walked out quietly in welcome. The air was still, both sad and happy, which seemed to suit the moment. That single boat carrying these five men is the first wave in what is, as far as I can tell, the world’s first official evacuation of an entire people because of climate change.

The sea level has risen enough to effectively cut Huene Island into two pieces. Photo by Pip Starr.

For those who still don't believe in global warming - there's a small coral atoll off the coast of Bougainville off the coast of Papua, New Guinea that can be bought at a rock-bottom (or is that ocean-bottom) price!

The following videos are incredible and describe the problem well.


kathi said...

This story brought me close to tears. I guess because it's Mother's Day. I wish we all cared more about our ultimate mother - the earth. This seems like a great day to rededicate myself to doing what I can to reduce global warming and reduce the damage to Mother Earth and all her peoples.

kathi said...

BTW, can't see these videos or yesterday's. Happy Mother's Day!

Pippa said...


Anyone else having trouble with the videos. I can't seem to find the problem; but, will keep working on it. The videos seem to work fine from my end. Comments, please!!

kathi said...

I still can't see them. Didn't have problem before, now have red "x." I click okay to the warning about non-secure items.