Sirilo Sutaroti, 94, is a chief of the Paurata tribe in the Solomon Islands. He and his people recently had to abandon their village.
“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.”
His is just one of several coastal communities to be among the first displaced by sea level rise caused by climate change, ABC Online reported. A new Australian study has detailed these relocations and a sobering finding: five of the Solomon islands have vanished due to the rise in sea level.
Climate change is having many drastic impacts on the planet, but none more challenging than the rise of the oceans, erosion, and coastal flooding. This study in the Solomon Islands provides the first scientific evidence to confirm local stories across the Pacific of how climate change has affected island coastlines and the region’s natives, providing valuable insight into the planet’s future.
Many people in the Solomon Islands have had to flee rising sea levels using their own limited resources; thankfully, the government provides a safety net.
Entire communities have had to pack up their lives and leave homes their families have lived in since the early 1900s when they were established by missionaries. They’ve resettled in old inland villages where their ancestors once lived. Other communities, of around 100 to 200 people, have split up into handfuls of family hamlets.
A regional capital in the Solomon Islands, Taro, will soon become the first provincial capital to “relocate residents and services due to the threat of sea-level rise,” according to the study, Agence France-Presse added.
Lead study author Simon Albert said the Solomon Islands is a “sea level hot spot” because levels are rising there three times higher than the world average. Many experts fear the rising seas will erode and swallow low-lying atolls in the Pacific, and now scientists have evidence to suggest their fears are warranted.
In their study, researchers examined 33 islands by combing through aerial and satellite imagery dating from 1947 to 2014. They augmented this data with local historical and traditional knowledge, sea level records, wave models, and radiocarbon dating of trees.
They found that five of the Solomon Islands vanished into the Pacific due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Another six reef islands have been severely eroded. The islands lost ranged in size from one to five hectares; they supported 300-year-old tropical vegetation. They weren’t populated but used by fisherman and were still substantial, Albert noted.
“They were not just little sand islands.”
Eighty-year-old villages have also been destroyed due to coastal erosion. On Nuatambu Island, 11 houses have washed into the sea since 2011; half of the island’s habitable area has been lost.
Researchers also noticed that the nature of the waves affected the islands significantly. If an island was exposed to high wave energy, they were more likely to lose land than more sheltered islands. The five lost islands and six eroded ones were subject to high wave energy.
This suggests there is some kind of relationship between sea level rise and waves.
The study in the Solomon Islands contradicts previous studies that have suggested islands can “keep pace” with sea level rise and in some cases, expand as a result. But these studies have been conducted in areas where the rates are in line with the global average of a three millimeter-rise per year.
In the Solomon Islands, the rate of sea level rise is much higher at 7 to 10 millimeters per year, partly as a result of the natural climate. However, the world is likely to experience these higher rates in the second half of the century as a result of climate change. Some areas may see even more dramatic sea level rise.
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