Tarawa Fate

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there lay 33 small islands belonging to the Republic of Kiribati. These islands are in fact atolls which rise just a few meters above the sea level. One of the three main groups of islands which I am going to focus on are the Gilbert Islands, consisting of 16 atolls and situated thousands of kilometers north of Fiji. Being so exposed, the atolls of the Gilbert Islands are facing severe consequences of climate change and are slowly fading from the world’s map.

Source: Google Maps

With the ever increasing temperature and melting of the ice, the sea levels are predicted to rise by approximately 45 cm by the end of the century. It is difficult to imagine what will happen to the low-lying atoll, such as the Tarawa Atoll. Adding up an additional exposure to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (a phenomena during which warm and cool periods alternate over the mid-latitude Pacific and which results in the switch between La Niña and El Niño events), the situation is not as promising for the population of Tawara.

PDO positive phase global pattern
Credit: Giorgiogp2, CC BY-SA 3.0

Since the 1970s, the inhabitants of the Tarawa Atoll have risen concerns regarding the ever more approaching sea water level. However, although this gradual process allows corals to grow and therefore raise the atoll, the rising has been occurring too rapidly and the corals have also been damaged by ocean acidification, which is another indirect consequence of climate change. 

The Tarawa population started coming up with some solutions to prevent their houses being flooded. One of the most natural, per say, was to start planting mangrove seedlings along the sandy and wave-exposed coast. Children and young people had gathered together and after a certain time of consistency, the mangrove trees started growing and prevented the coastal erosion to some extent.

This solution, however, was far less immediate than building walls in front of people’s houses. Only few of them could build these walls using concrete, since it is an expensive resource for construction in that area. Other inhabitants were forced to collect the massive coral skeletons during low tide and make a temporary wall, which contributed to an even more intense coral damage.

But why has the population not simply moved away? Well, given the fact that people have been living with constancy of their tradition for ages, they have rooted so deeply that the abandonment of their homes and their island would most probably result in the loss of their culture. Not to mention that the Republic of Kiribati is one of the least developed countries in the world, which makes it even more difficult for its inhabitants to leave the area.

The question that has kept reappearing in the back of my thoughts is whether there is any chance of introducing a management plan to help these people living their lives without constantly worrying about having to migrate away. Could it be possible to introduce some activities that would help them earn money for house restoration purposes? Would the building of high-lying sheds bring back happiness? The problem here is that, as much as mankind is capable of developing some sort of futuristic innovations, nature always finds its way of conquering us, especially in such cases as is the Tarawa Atoll.

Marine conservation is widely appreciated and has been growing ever since its introduction. Focusing on the health and biodiversity of marine ecosystems, marine conservation has helped not only the marine flora and fauna but also people from places like Kiribati to live in synergy with each other. For instance, the mangrove planting projects have resulted in less eroded coasts, but also an increased biodiversity of bird species living among the mangrove limbs and of marine organisms nursing their juveniles among the mangroves’ roots. It has also increased the fish stock and helped third world populations to thrive.

Nonetheless, given the fact that climate change is seriously progressing, it is rather inevitable to predict that small mid-ocean islands will face drastic changes first.

As accepting beings, we could help these populations by giving them space in safer areas and give them the possibility to continue their long-practiced traditions.

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