Charles Darwin discovered that many small islands are kept from succumbing to the waves thanks to the reef building mechanisms of corals. Unfortunately, even he wasn't prepared for what the 21st century would herald: that rising global temperatures could one day cause the sea to expand and rise faster than the corals could. It is not just a few fragile spits of sand that have been disappearing into the ocean, it is entire islands.
According to EPA (the United States Environmental agency), sea levels have risen 7mm a year since 1993, compared with a global average of 0.4mm. This has severely affected low-lying areas; including islands lying far out into the ocean and low lying coastlines. Today, roughly one million people reside on islands worldwide, and many more live in low lying areas vulnerable to erosion and rising se waves. Faced with inundation many inhabitants are abandoning their homes in search of safety in other countries. Still, there are many more purchasing lands in higher areas whenever they can.
Countless organizations and individuals have prepared lawsuits challenging the right of developed nations to emit the greenhouse gases that are considered to be the main cause of flooding in their homelands. Regardless of their actions, many people living on these island nations will soon become “global-warming” or “climate” refuges in spite of the fact that their contribution to greenhouse-gas pollution barely tops 0.6 percent.
Since 1991 over 40, 000 people have fled from Kutbdia, a small island off the coast of India and Bangladesh, with six villages already having been swamped. Although there are many more places where the situation is just as grim. Here is a sad list of some of the fastest disappearing islands in the world.
11 Sarichef Island, Alaska: 200 Inhabitants
The Sarichef Island is located off the coast of Alaska and it is the home of a 200 member strong Eskimo village. The island and its main village - Shishmaref village - have survived some of the world’s harshest weather conditions. It is surrounded by the Chukchi Sea which is usually frozen from November to June and this protects the island from wave surges and storms. But due to rising global temperatures, the sea freezes less and the permafrost that makes up the island and on which the villagers live has also begun melting.
10 Marshal Islands: 68,480 Inhabitants
The Marshal Islands is an island nation comprising over 1, 156 coral atolls islands and islets located north of Kiribati/ Majuro with a total population of total population comprised of 68,480 people. The nation’s capital city, lies just ten feet above sea level at its highest point, but most of the island is only 3 feet above the ocean. Rising sea levels and the slow death of corals protecting the islands are the two main factors leading causing the island’s slow disappearance.
9 Palau: 21,000 Inhabitants
The republic of Palau is an island nation comprising of 8 main islands and over 250 smaller ones located approximately 500 miles southeast of the Philippines in the western pacific. Palau is technically part of the large group of islands that make up Micronesia. The country’s population of roughly 21,000 inhabitants faces a threat against their survival in the form of rising sea levels. Johnson Toribion, Palau’s president, once compared the situation to "a slow moving but unstoppable tsunami."
8 Tegua: 100 Inhabitants
The island of Tegua is located between Australia and New Guinea. The main village has a population of just under 100 people. Tegua is now mainly uninhabited after the residents were evacuated due to flooding that occurred after the island suck nearly 5 inched between 1998 and 2009, but rising sea levels also played a part in the flooding.
7 The Carteret Islands: Inhabitants Relocated
Referred to as a “sinking paradise in some circles, the Carteret islands were originally inhabited by over 100 people. Over the last decade, the government of Papua New Guinea has been relocating families (considered to be the first “climate refugees”) as the islands are expected to disappear under the sea by 2015. The islands are no more that 1.5 meters above sea level and according to most environmental groups, the flooding is a result of global warming induced changes in seal levels.
6 Torres Strait Islands: 8,000 Inhabitants
This is a group of 274 islands located in the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia. Only 14 of the 274 island are inhabited by the country’s 80,00 strong population, with most of the other islands under grave of disappearance due to rising ocean levels.
5 Tuvalu (Formerly Ellice Islands): 11, 000 Inhabitants
Tuvalu is a Polynesian island located midway between Australia and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. Tuvalu is comprised of three reef islands and six atolls and its estimated population of just over 11, 000 a makes it the third least populous nation in the world. Since most of the inhabited parts are only six feet above the seal level- with the highest ground reaching only 15feet, most structures on the islands are built on tilts.
Rising ocean levels and sea side erosion are the main factors causing Tuvalu’s problems but like many other small island states in similar situation - dwindling fresh water supplies as the salty sea water slowly creeps inland.
4 The Solomon Islands: 585, 578 Inhabitants
Islands tend not to disappear overnight, but the warning signs of saltwater damage and coastal erosion have already started making a big impact here. The Solomon Islands is a group of over 1000 small islands located in Oceania and east of Papua New Guinea that form a sovereign island nation state. The islands cover a land area of 28, 400 sq meters and the capital, Honiara, is located on the main island of Guadalcanal. The Solomon Islands have been inhabited for several thousand years and have an estimated population of 585, 578.
The island of Vanikor has been the subject of a study by a team of French researchers and according to them, the island is gradually sinking. Apart from rising sea levels flooding and erosion are also chipping away.
3 Kiribati: 100,000 Inhabitants
The republic of Kiribati is an island nation located in the central tropical part of the Pacific Ocean. A former British colony that only gained independence in 1979, and a total population of slightly over 100,000 people, the nation is already facing threat disappearance after only 35years. It is located roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii and comprises of one raised island and 32 low lying atolls. Most of the 32 atolls and the coral island that make up Kiribati are less than six feet above sea level, with the highest point in this chain of islands only rising 9 feet above the ocean.
Most of Kiribati’s population shifted to another island, Tarawa, after the sea level rose above their land. An entire village in Abaiang, one of the 32 low lying atolls, had to be relocated to Tebunginako as a result of erosion and rising seas. Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, held talks with the Fiji’s government to purchase 5, 000 acres of land to relocate the nation’s estimated 102, 697 people.
As a result of the global warming induced rise in seawater levels, Kiribati faces a more immediate crisis; the fresh water supply is being poisoned by sea water, a situation that may render the islands uninhabitable long before they drown.
2 Maldives: 300, 000 Inhabitants
In October 2010, the government of the Maldives made an eye catching plea for action on climate change by holding an underwater cabinet meeting - the world’s first - to highlight the imminent threat of disappearance that is facing the island nation. At just less than 5 feet above sea level, the Maldives is the lowest lying country in the world. To put things into perspective, the island’s highest point lies just 3 feet above sea level. When the Sumatra earthquake struck, the Maldives was hit by a wave that was barely one meter high, but it left 82 dead, 12, 000 displaced and inflicted damage worth $375m.
The Maldives situation is dire that their former president Mohamed Nasheed considered purchasing land in Australia to relocate the country’s 300, 000 strong population.
1 Seychelles : 86, 775 Inhabitants
The republic of Seychelles is an island nation comprised of roughly 115 islands spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, some 1, 500 kilometers off the African mainland. Seychelles’ total population is estimated to be 86, 775, making it the least populous African country but roughly 90 percent of the population (about 80, 000 people) live on the Mahe, the biggest island. Mahe’s highest point reaches an impressive 900 meters, and it is a large granite formation surrounded by thick vegetation. Most of the island’s inhabitants live along the coastline, where the only airport is also located on, only 30 feet above the sea level.
The Seychelles islands are sinking due to rising sea levels brought about by global warming. As a result, the archipelago has witnessed a devastating coral die off. In 2010, Ronald Jumeau, the Seychelles ambassador to the UN, gave an interview where he stated that the country doesn’t know what they fear most: the death of corals which will result in so much erosion that the islands will be literally swept away or the steadily rising sea level which will simply “drown” everything. As it stands, it is only a question of what is going to get them first.