Sea-level rise along with coastal flooding and erosion have seen five islands in the Solomon Islands chain effectively lost to the sea with another six islands severely eroded and threatened.
Solomon Islands disappearing
This new evidence that was published in Environmental Research Letters show the future of the oceans with climate change being responsible for coastal inundation in the Pacific. The islands that disappeared supported tropical vegetation and the island of Nuatambu was home to about 25 families before the sea claimed 11 houses in 2011 and over half the habitable area of the island is now gone.
There have been a number of prior studies that show that islands are fairly resilient in the face sea-level rise and sometimes even expand. Those studies, however, focused on areas of the Pacific that saw an average sea-level rise of 3 to 5 millimeters per year. The global average for rising sea levels is about 3 millimeters per year. However, the Solomon Islands are a whole different animal with sea-level rise of 7-10 millimeters for more than two decades.
And unfortunately, that is going to become par for the course according to most climate change scientists and their modeling for the second half of the century.
Only in the lowest emission models is the Pacific not expected to rise at a rate similar to what is being observed in the Solomon Islands. One of the additional problems facing the Solomon Islands is higher wave energy. Twelve of the islands covered in this study had low wave energy and the islands were largely able to keep up with the sea-level rise. But, for the 21 islands with higher wave energy five have just gone under with another six suffering severe coastal erosion.
This study utilized satellite imagery from 1947-2015 and looked at the coastlines of over thirty islands.
Forced relocations are becoming more common
On these islands, especially those with higher wave energy, several communities on the coast of been forced to abandon the land that has been in their families for nearly a century and unfortunately for these communities, they have received very little help from their government and have been forced to move with nothing more than their limited savings.
Clearly these moves are moves inland. “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,” said Sirilo Sutaroti, the 94-year-old chief of the Paurata tribe after he and his tribe were forced away from the coast.
This ultimately calls for support from development partners and international financial mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund. This support should include nationally driven scientific studies to inform adaptation planning to address the impacts of climate change in Solomon Islands,” said Melchior Mataki who chairs the Solomon Islands’ National Disaster Council when speaking of the importance of traditional knowledge and local efforts when considering where to relocate.
The Solomon islands along with another eleven Pacific Island nations signed the Paris climate agreement in New York this April. And while sea-level rise continues, the islands that signed the deal are optimistic that the agreement will have a real impact. That said, the Green Climate Fund has not made it clear how much money the Solomon Islands and the other signers of the Paris agreement will be receiving to help with climate initiatives and relocations.