Sea Level Rise Swallows 5 Pacific Islands Whole, Groundbreaking Study Blames Climate Change

The ocean has swallowed five whole islands in the Pacific’s Solomon Islands due to climate change, according to a groundbreaking study published on Friday.

A further six reef islands have been severely eroded. Nuatambu Island, home to 25 families, has lost more than half of its livable area, having 11 houses swept into the sea between 2011 and 2014. The reef islands ranged in size from one to five hectares, some of them consisted of up to 12 acres of land which are now on the ocean floor due to sea level rise, erosion, and coastal flooding. They supported dense tropical vegetation thought to be over 300-years-old.

“They were not just little sand islands,” Simon Albert, the lead study author and senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, told AFP.

In a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, scientists think anthropogenic climate change is the cause of the. The paper is the first time the continued loss of the Solomon Island shoreline has been directly linked to global warming and the first scientific evidence that confirms the dramatic impact climate change can have on oceans, coastlines, and people worldwide.

“At least 11 islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades or are currently experiencing severe erosion,” said the study, which could lay a valuable foundation for future research. “Shoreline recession at two sites has destroyed villages that have existed since at least 1935, leading to community relocations.”

The five islands that are completely gone were not inhabited but were used from time to time by fishermen. On other islands in the region, villages that have existed since 1935 have been destroyed by the recession of shoreline.

Taro Island, a populated atoll and the capital of the Choiseul Province of the Solomon Islands, is likely to go down in history as the first capital city on Earth to relocate entire communities and services due to rising sea levels from climate change, according to AFP. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, visited the Solomon Islands and nearby Kiribati in 2014, and he reportedly witnessed the entire population of Taro preparing to flee. His hotel came equipped with life preservers.

Many who remain on Nuatambu and other islands want to leave but can’t afford to, and such widespread community relocations can be fraught with tension.

“There are large volcanic islands where people can relocate to,” Albert said, according to the Washington Post. “The majority of land is tightly controlled by traditional owners — so moving one group of people onto other peoples’ lands has been the source of ethnic conflict.”

According to Scientific American, the loss of these islands may be just the beginning of a much longer and more painful global process.

“For the past 20 years, the Solomon Islands have been a hotspot for sea-level rise. Here the sea has risen at almost three times the global average, around 7-10 mm per year since 1993. This higher local rate is partly the result of natural climate variability. These higher rates are in line with what we can expect across much of the Pacific in the second half of this century as a result of human-induced sea-level rise. Many areas will experience long-term rates of sea-level rise similar to that already experienced in Solomon Islands in all but the very lowest-emission scenarios.”

According to Newsmax, to gather the data, the researchers “looked at 33 islands using aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2014, combined with historical insight from local knowledge,” and “found that rates of shoreline recession were substantially higher in areas exposed to high wave energy, indicating a ‘synergistic interaction’ between sea-level rise and waves.” Albert noted this could be useful for future studies, and allow localized responses to the ravages of climate change.

[Photo by Chris Jackson – Pool/Getty Images]