As waves incessantly lap against the shores of its 33 coral atolls straddling the equator, the island nation of Kiribati is looking to buy land in Fiji as part of its “Plan B” in dealing with sea level rise.
According to recent news reports from Asia Pacific, Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, is negotiating to buy 23 square kilometers (9 square miles) on Vanua Levu island in Fiji for growing crops, settling about 500 farmers and extracting earth for sea defenses to be transported by barge back to Kiribati.
The president has said that relocating Kiribati’s entire population of about 100,000 is a last resort, but he acknowledges that his people may face a losing battle with the sea (you can watch a message from Kiribati to the world here). Some smaller atolls have been inundated and erosion and intrusion of salt water are making some areas on the narrow islands uninhabitable. Previously, Kiribati launched an “Education for Migration” program to help residents receive training for in-demand jobs, such as health care, that would support younger citizens to relocate to other nations, such as New Zealand or Australia.
The global problem of sea level rise, as a result of expanding ocean water and the gradual melting of glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets with warmer temperatures, is affecting shorelines worldwide. But low-lying islands in the Pacific are on the front lines of this challenge to adapt to climate change.
In Choiseul province in the Solomon Islands and Manus province in Papua New Guinea, The Nature Conservancy and many partners (including the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities with support from Australia’s International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative) worked with villages to create community plans that take into account rising sea levels and the risk of storm surges and salt water intrusion affecting crucial services such as crops and drinking water.
Through a participatory planning process, the residents of Boe Boe village in the Solomon Islands came together over the course of a week for a hands-on project to build a three-dimensional scale model of their islands with papier mâché, cardboard and glue. Community members painted important features on the model, such as rivers, forests, schools, garden areas, coconut plantations and canoe routes to coastal mangroves, reefs and fishing areas.
When combined with a digital elevation model prepared by a university partner, showing potential sea level rise of 1-2 meters (a meter is a little more than three feet), the planning exercise became a powerful source of community information, connecting science with local knowledge. The village will be able to use the model, displayed at their community center, and the discussions it spurred, to support its planning and development in the years to come.
“This model was made by the community and is owned by all the people of Boe Boe,” said Jimmy Kereseka, the development coordinator for the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities. “It is up to us Lauru people to take the initiative on community issues and ensure our traditions and customs are not compromised by development pressures or outside forces such as climate change.”
Lisa Hayden is a blogger and conservation writer for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user jopolopy (The Nonoti coast on the island nation of Kiribati.) Used under a Creative Commons license.
Photo 2 by: Kat Gawlik (Villagers in Boe Boe, in the Solomon Islands’ Choiseul province, build a model of their community to help plan for sea level rise and other challenges.)
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