Inhabited Lohachara, uninhabited Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea islands disappearedOctober 13, 2007 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Abanuea, Atolls, Climate change, Inhabited, Islands, Lohachara, Sea rise, Tebua Tarawa, Uninhabited | 11 Comments
Greetings! Before you all pounce on me for digging up old misleading news stories, please bear with me as I explain a few points. As most of you know, I do not read the news and expect all I read to be true. I am not even suggesting, let alone promoting, this first story as proof that climate change has already caused the submergence of an island. Instead, I am trying to build a picture of instances that may be relevant to talk about with kids who watched AIT last week, and are due to watch TGGWS this week, and are aware of last week’s Dimmock court case against the Education Secretary and the Nobel Prize being awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore.
If anyone tells a kid that Al Gore was lying when he mentioned that people from Pacific island nations are moving to New Zealand, I think it is fair to steer the conversation to the concern that there are people living on low-lying coral atolls, remote islands, and coastal regions of the world who do face an increased threat of losing their homes as a result of environmental deterioration. That deterioration is caused by many forms of over-use, due to over-population and over-consumption, of local and global resources, and there are people who have left islands because of deteriorating conditions. Climate change is just one component that adds to the environmental cauldron, through rising sea levels, increased likelihood of more damaging storms, with more forceful storm surges, and all the things that go with flooding, including disease and—for coral atolls that depend on a fresh water lens—the increased salinity of the water which makes it unpotable and may cause islands to become uninhabitable well before they are inundated or submerged.
So, the stories below are old ones I dug up that provide some background to disappearing uninhabited atolls, such as Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, in the Pacific as well as a story of evacuation from Lohachara, a river island in the Indian Delta. To put this in context, Wikipedia says
“The islet is one of a number of ‘vanishing islands’ in India’s part of the delta: in the past two decades, four islands – Bedford, Lohachara, Kabasgadi and Suparibhanga – have been permanently flooded and 6,000 families have been made homeless. The loss of land has created thousands of refugees in the area.'”
😐 I am including these stories to provide background for further investigation and discussion. They cannot be used to prove Al Gore’s point, but they begin to put his remark in context for me.
As far as newpapers are concerned, I think they can be used (as I mention in my comment to William below) as a starting point to discover more. For example, once you have found dates, names and figures, they are easy facts to verify. In the case of the news generally, and this first headline in particular, I am not in favour of alarmist expressions, such as “marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true,” because they discredit the serious work done by others to raise awareness. Nor do I like the misleading title, “Global warming claims tropical island,” because this cannot be attributed to climate change without suitable evidence. However, these are indicative of attention-grabbing headlines and we cannot dismiss the content following them with a scornful snort. There are grains of truth hidden in some newspaper articles, and it is good to learn how to figure out how to find them.
I have more to say on these points after collecting a few more stories … but I want to stress that there is absolutely no point in spreading doom and gloom to scare teenagers witless or make them fatalistic. This is where articles worded like the following one do not help. On the other hand, if this had not been written in such an alarmist style, it may never have been printed … so we would not know about Lohachara, and its evacuated peoples, so we couldn’t even begin to care. That is where this conversation leads ultimately … do we care, or not?
Disappearing world: Global warming claims tropical island
For the first time, an inhabited island has disappeared beneath rising seas.
Environment Editor Geoffrey Lean reports
Published: 24 December 2006Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India’s part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.
As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.
Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands – in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati – vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.
It has been officially recorded in a six-year study of the Sunderbans by researchers at Calcutta’s Jadavpur University. So remote is the island that the researchers first learned of its submergence, and that of an uninhabited neighbouring island, Suparibhanga, when they saw they had vanished from satellite pictures.
Two-thirds of nearby populated island Ghoramara has also been permanently inundated. Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the university’s School of Oceanographic Studies, says “it is only a matter of some years” before it is swallowed up too. Dr Hazra says there are now a dozen “vanishing islands” in India’s part of the delta. The area’s 400 tigers are also in danger.
Until now the Carteret Islands off Papua New Guinea were expected to be the first populated ones to disappear, in about eight years’ time, but Lohachara has beaten them to the dubious distinction.
Human cost of global warming: Rising seas will soon make 70,000 people homeless
Refugees from the vanished Lohachara island and the disappearing Ghoramara island have fled to Sagar, but this island has already lost 7,500 acres of land to the sea. In all, a dozen islands, home to 70,000 people, are in danger of being submerged by the rising seas.
They’re going under
Independent, The (London), Jun 13, 1999 by GEOFFREY LEAN
The placard said it all. Held high by a small boy in Male, the capital of the Maldives, it carried a simple slogan: “Down with sea-level rise”. It was 1989 and the boy was making his denunciation (or was it a heartfelt plea?) at a demonstration greeting ministers from 15 island nations as they gathered to confront a threat to the very existence of their countries. Scientists were increasingly concluding that global warming was real and that, as the world heated up, the oceans would rise.
President Gayoom of the Maldives, who had called the meeting, set the sombre tone. Reminding delegates that, on average, his country’s 1,196 islands jut just three feet above the waves, he warned: “We are an endangered nation.”
Ten years on the gloomy predictions are coming true, faster that anyone expected.
As we report on page one today, two islands in the Pacific Ocean nation of Kiribati – Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea – have already disappeared beneath the waves. And others, reports the official South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) have almost gone, both in Kiribati and in the neighbouring island nation of Tuvalu.
So far the seas have completely engulfed only uninhabited, relatively small islands. But all around the shores of the world’s atolls – often described as idylls – the crisis is growing. Populated islands are already suffering.
So far this year the main islands of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands (also in the Pacific) have suffered severe floods as high tides demolish sea walls, bridges and roads and swamp homes and plantations.
Almost the entire coastline of the 29 atolls of the Marshall Islands is eroding, reports SPREP.
Second World War graves on its main Majuro atoll are being washed away, roads and sub-soils have been swept into the sea and the airport has been flooded several times despite being supposedly protected by a high sea wall.
The people of Tuvalu are finding it difficult to grow their crops because the rising seas are poisoning the soil with salt.
In both Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, says SPREP, families are desperately trying to keep the waves at bay by dumping trucks, cars and other old machinery in the sea and surrounding them with rocks.
“Sea-level rise is so horrible here the people just don’t want to think about it,” said Jorelik Tibonn, general manager of the Marshall Islands’ national environmental protection agency.
“There is nothing they can do to stop it.”
It is much the same story far away in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The beaches of one-third of its 200 inhabited islands are being swept away.
“Sea-level rise is not a fashionable scientific hypothesis,” says President Gayoom.
“It is a fact.”
The seas are rising partly because global warming is melting glaciers and nibbling away at the polar ice caps, but mainly because the oceans expand as their water gets warmer. Scientists’ best estimate is that these processes will raise sea levels by about one and a half feet over the next century, not apparently a large amount but quite enough to damn several island nations. The higher the seas rise, the more often storms will sweep the waves across the narrow atolls carrying away the land – and storms are expected to increase as the world warms up.
And many islands will become uninhabitable long before they physically disappear, as salt from the sea contaminates the underground freshwater supplies on which they depend.
Some families have already begun to leave the most endangered atolls.
The small but higher island nation of Niue has already taken in refugees from the Marshall Islands and Kiribati has begun moving people from its most vulnerable areas.
In future the whole population of the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu may have to be evacuated, spelling an end to centuries- old cultures: the people of the Marshall Islands, for example, have lived there since before the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain.
Even islands with higher ground such as Tonga Nauru, Barbados and the Bahamas are likely to suffer grave damage as coastal plains, where most of their people live, are inundated.
All the world’s small island states put together contribute only 0.6 per cent of the pollution that causes global warming. But as the seas rise much bigger countries will also start to suffer.
President Gayoom notes that a three-foot rise would flood out 10 per cent of the people of Egypt, 60 per cent of the population of Bangladesh and 70 million people in coastal China.
And President Clinton has warned of grave damage to low-lying parts of the United States such as Florida. Once the seas start to rise there is not much that can be done about it. Building sea walls is prohibitively expensive, especially for poor countries. Providing temporary protection for just one of the Marshall Islands’ 29 atolls would cost $100m, says SPREP – well over twice the entire national wealth produced in the country each year.
And such is the awesome inertia built into the world system that the present rise in sea levels merely reflects the relatively minor global warming of decades ago. As the world heats up it will be storing up much greater trouble for the future. The rise is effectively unstoppable.
“Once the process is set in motion,” says Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the official body that brings together the world’s top scientists in the field,
“it cannot be slowed down in anything less than a few millennia.”
Kiribati formerly the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands: 313 square miles of land scattered over 2 million square miles of ocean; population 75,000.
Tuvalu formerly the Ellice Islands: chain of islands 420 miles long, total land area 7.25 square miles; population 9,300.
Marshall Islands 1,200 islands scattered over 700,000 square miles, 70 square miles of land; pop 50,000.
Tokelau territory of New Zealand: three atolls, total land area four square miles; population 1,700. All the above are in the Pacific.
In the Indian Ocean: The Maldives: 1,296 islands, 202 inhabited, in an area of ocean 510 miles long by 80 miles wide, total land area 115 square miles; pop 220,000.
Copyright 1999 Newspaper Publishing PLC
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.
Death by drowning
Jan 10, 2001
by Kathy Marks in Tarawa
The ocean should be Teatu Tsuria’s friend. A villager in the tiny South Pacific nation of Kiribati, he lives on a soft white beach fringed with coconut trees and catches enough fish in his canoe to feed his five smiling children. He wakes up each morning to the whisper of the waves and falls asleep at night fanned by a cooling sea breeze. But the ocean is Mr Tsuria’s most implacable foe. It is killing his crops and poisoning his water. In the next decade it will swallow his thatched wooden hut and his modest plot of land; within a few generations, it may have annihilated his homeland.
Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribas”) – 33 coral atolls strung across two million square miles of the Pacific – is steadily vanishing beneath the waves. Around the world, sea levels are rising as greenhouse gases discharged by industrialised countries warm the oceans. The future is bleak for low-lying island states – and Kiribati, barely two metres above sea level, could be the first to go under.
The latest round of international talks on global warming collapsed in The Hague six weeks ago, following a dispute over implementation of a miniscule cut in carbon dioxide emissions. Despite a dramatic appeal for action by 40 vulnerable island nations, no date was set for the resumption of negotiations. Wealthy, developed countries believe that they can afford to bide their time.
For the 92,000 inhabitants of Kiribati, one of the world’s most remote spots, the matter is rather more urgent. The ground is literally disappearing beneath their feet. As the seas continue to rise, they could be forced to emigrate en masse, together with tens of millions of other people in low-lying island and coastal communities around the globe.
Mr Tsuria has watched the tide creep ever closer, devouring large chunks of beach and felling 30-year-old palm trees. A ferocious storm in 1997 flooded his home and the pits in which he cultivated taro, a staple root vegetable; nothing grows here now. The water in his well has turned brackish. His family can no longer drink it. If they wash with it, they develop rashes.
“When we came here 11 years ago, the sea was about two metres further away,” says Mr Tsuria, who lives in the village of Eita, on Tarawa, the densely populated main atoll. “I am very worried, but there is nowhere for us to move to. All of the land is occupied and anyway, I have no money for another plot. What will become of my children and my grandchildren?”
Similar stories can be heard all over Tarawa, a horseshoe-shaped chain of islets surrounding a central lagoon. Pancake-flat and barely 500m wide, the atoll is being eaten away from both sides, with the population squeezed into an ever narrower strip of land between the lagoon and the Pacific.
So badly eroded are Tarawa’s beaches that the Mormon Church recently imported several tons of sand from Australia to build a new house of worship here.
The international community, too, should spare a thought for beautiful, dirt-poor Kiribati – a former British colony known as the Gilbert Islands – as it digests the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that collates the work of 3,000 leading scientists.
Their 1,000-page unpublished report, excerpts of which have been seen by The Independent, predicts that sea levels will climb by 14cm- 80cm between now and 2110. It says that the effects will be borne disproportionately by the world’s most impoverished countries, which make a negligible contribution to global warming and are least well- equipped to adapt.
The report – which is being reviewed by governments and will be finalised at a conference in Shanghai later this month – says that even if greenhouse- gas emissions were reduced sharply in the immediate future, “sea levels will continue to rise due to thermal expansion for hundreds of years”. Other studies suggest that the oceans may ascend even more rapidly than forecast by the conservative IPCC.
For Kiribati, which nestles against the International Date Line, the implications are clear. A year ago, its citizens were among the first people on the planet to welcome the dawn of the new millennium. Before the end of the century, they could become the first environmental refugees, their 3,000-year-old Micronesian nation wiped off the map, their unique language, legends and culture extinguished.
As you drive along Tarawa’s single paved road, with the deep blue ocean unfolding on one side and the turquoise lagoon on the other, it is difficult to comprehend that this is a place that faces oblivion. All around you, everyday life is being played out in accordance with the languid rhythms of the Pacific. Young men in lavalavas (sarongs) wade out across the mudflats to the reef, fishing-nets slung over their shoulders. Bright-eyed children shin up tall palms to collect the sap, which is fermented to make the local grog, sour toddy. Groups of laughing girls immerse themselves in the warm lagoon. Elderly women sit on the ground, salting clams and weaving mats from pandanus leaves.
I-Kiribati, as they are called, have lived the same subsistence lifestyle for generations, growing crops, catching fish, gathering firewood, building shelters. They have no television and little contact with the outside world; only a handful of tourists visit. Society revolves around the extended family and the maneaba, the communal meeting-house that is the focal point of every village.
For these gentle, engaging people, the notion of uprooting themselves and resettling in another country is inconceivable. But they know that something is badly amiss.
All around Tarawa are signs of severe coastal erosion, particularly on Betio, the westernmost islet. Two uninhabited islands, Tebua Tarawa and Pikeman, have completely vanished beneath the surface of the lagoon. In the cemetery in Betio, which overlooks the Pacific, ancient gravestones have been washed away. In Bairiki, the administrative centre, concrete houses have just crumbled into the sea.
Many families have built crude sea walls to protect their homes from the unusually high spring tides. Others have resorted to more desperate measures. A few years ago, Uearimone Saiborui physically moved her house in Eita away from the lagoon, dismantling it piece by piece and reassembling it 10 metres back from the water.
“We kept getting flooded; I couldn’t sleep at night for worry,” Mrs Saiborui said. “But the high tide still comes close to the house, so maybe we will have to move again. The sea is such a big problem here that I fear for my beloved Kiribati.”
Bolted to the new jetty in Betio are two tidal gauges, one installed by the University of Hawaii, and the other by Flinders University in Adelaide. Analysis of their data suggests that the sea level has been ascending by 3.3mm a year for the past 25 years, faster than the global average.
As the waters rise further, there will be nowhere to go. There is no high land in Kiribati – with the exception of Banaba, a raised limestone atoll that the British mined for phosphate, exhausting its final valuable reserves just before granting the country its independence in 1979.
With Banaba wrecked by mining, i-Kiribati joke that they will have to climb to the tops of coconut trees to escape the ocean. But the islands will become uninhabitable long before the last morsel of land is submerged. The underground lenses that are their only fresh water supply will be polluted by frequent floods; fiercer storms together with higher waves are expected to accompany global warming. Deprived of water, the few crops – taro, pandanus and breadfruit – that grow on these smudges of barely fertile land will die. Diseases will spread, and roads and infrastructure will be damaged. Warmer water will gradually kill the coral reef, and the precious fisheries – the islanders’ sole source of protein – will disappear. Fishermen say that the reef is already dying.
“We don’t believe we have a future as a country if the sea level rises,” says Johnny Kirata, Kiribati’s chief fisheries officer. “Either we go under the sea, or there’ll be no fish for us to eat.”
Not everybody subscribes to this doomsday scenario. Many people in this devoutly Christian nation quote the Old Testament – Genesis, chapter 9 – in which God promised Noah, after he left the Ark, that there would never “any more be a flood to destroy the earth”. There were no greenhouse gases back then, of course.
Some locals attribute the erosion on Tarawa to causeways built between the islets, which have changed all the natural currents and flows in the lagoon. They point to accretions of sand at various sites, and conclude that the land is simply shifting around.
However, Nakibae Teuatabo, a former senior Ministry of Environment official who is Kiribati’s foremost expert on climate change, is certain that there has been a net loss of land. He is also perturbed by the apparent changes to established weather patterns.
Mr Teuatabo says that the outer atolls, where no coastal development has taken place, have experienced similar erosion to Tarawa. On the island of Nonuti, for instance, 60 miles to the south, 10 families have been forced to move their houses back from the water.
“I remember first hearing the global- warming theory on the radio in 1987,” says Mr Teuatabo. “At first I didn’t believe it was true; perhaps I just didn’t want to believe it. But now I am convinced of it. It coincides with all the signs of change that we see here in Kiribati.”
His concerns are echoed by Kiribati’s Environment Minister, Kataotika Tekee. “We don’t need scientific papers to tell us what is happening,” says Mr Tekee. “We’ve been living close to nature for thousands of years. We drink the water from the wells and eat the fruit from the trees. We understand our own environment. Our problem is that we are only a small voice in the world.”
Just outside Mr Teuatabo’s village is an offshore island called Abairarang, which was once used as a campground by Boy Scouts. Over recent years, it has shrunk by around one-third, and the palm trees have given way to some stunted shrubs. He says: “This is my model for what will happen to Kiribati.”
All that his compatriots can do is cross their fingers and pray for a miracle. With the West still dragging its feet, Kiribati and other endangered Pacific nations – described by one early explorer as “pearls of priceless beauty … an earthly paradise” – cannot help but feel that they are somehow dispensable.
By the time that they can prove to developed countries the consequences of their actions, they will be gone, Third World victims of First World greed.
As Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, head of marine biology at the University of Queensland, says: “We are going to wonder about this historically. Why did a society ignore its own scientific evidence of a peril of this magnitude? What kind of a society would do that?”
Copyright 2001 Independent Newspapers UK Limited
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.