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Disappearing Beauties

Island beach holidays — Maldives, Andamans, Fiji, Bermuda, oh so many beautiful islands —swimming, snorkeling, enjoying the sight of the sea and the calm of island life– it is many times what people work for all year around. The idea that the islands may not be part of our world in 50 short years does not come to mind.

The reality is that several small islands, have been entirely washed away from the earth’s surface and many more are on the verge of the same fate.

The Indian islands located in the Bay of Bengal of Lohachara and Suparibhanga were submerged under water in 2006. Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea in the island state of Kiribati located in the Pacific were washed away with the waves in 1999. These are only a few examples of islands that have already disappeared; there are dozens more all over the world under this same ominous threat.

Unfortunately this phenomenon is not geological evolution but rather a man made disaster that has taken place through the past century. For many of us global warming, the greenhouse effect, and carbon emissions are all buzzwords that we hear often and may be doing our part to reduce. The inhabitants living on endangered islands see the effects of global warming on a daily basis through flooding and the inability to grow crops due to soil erosion. Simply explained increased human activity has increased the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, thus creating and imbalance and warming the atmosphere. The increased greenhouse gas concentration or carbon emissions have led to changes in temperature and precipitation. This has resulted in global changes in soil moisture, an increase in global mean sea level, and projection for more severe extreme high-temperature events such as floods and droughts in some places. The evidence of these types of occurrences has been mounting worldwide. There are several endangered islands all over globe. Only a few prominent are highlighted here.

Maldives Situated 500 kms from Sri Lanka, its unmatched white sands and bright blue water home to beautiful marine life have made this tropical paradise one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations.

The population of the Maldives is currently a bit over three hundred thousand. Dhivehi is the common language and Islam is the common religion. Both bind the people to a unified and peaceful society.

With more than 80% of the land area of the Maldives less than a meter above mean sea level, the slightest rise in sea level proves extremely threatening. Many of the 1190 islands already suffer flooding and shoreline erosion. “Maldives…Come Visit Us Before We Disappear” was ironically a marketing slogan for the country a few years ago.

Along with rising sea levels, increased beach and soil erosion, more powerful storms, higher storm surges, and threats to biodiversity are among the major threatens to the Maldives due to climate change over the coming decades.

Kribalti Kribalti is situated in the South Pacific near Fiji. Kiribati consists of 33 coral islands divided among three island groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. Twenty one of these islands are inhabited with 94,000 people. Kiribati is not the typical tropical holiday destination. Unlike the Maldives Tahiti, Hawaii, etc. where you can go to relax and order room service it has few visitors and very few hotels options and no luxury resorts.

With a population of 50,000 South Tarawa, is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Other islands have far fewer people, but getting to them can be difficult, and conditions are even more primitive. Most tourists, especially from the USA and Europe, go to Kiritimati (Christmas Island). It was in the news on January 1,2000 as the first place to experience the new millennium. Conditions there are somewhat better than in the rest of Kiribati. The highest point of land on Kiribati is now just two meters above sea level, climate change for the residents of Kribai is not an issue of economic development but an issue of human survival. As two of Kiribati’s islands have already given to the sea, many of the residents of the remaining islands living in shoreline village communities have already been relocated from century-old sites. Only Tarawa and Christmas Island are serviced by international flights. You can fly to Kiribati via Nauru on Air Nauru/Our Airline or to Christmas Island from Honolulu and Suva, Fiji. Norwegian Cruse Lines also has Kiribati has one of the stops on their South Pacific routes. They have an 8 hour halt at Tarawa.

Tuvalu Tuvalu, a string of narrow coral atolls barely 1m above the high-tide mark in the South Pacific, also faces extinction within a century. Once a British colony known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu (the name means “group of eight (there are actually nine islands, but the southernmost one, Niulakita, has never been permanently inhabited) gained its independence in 1978. Today it has a population of a little over 10,000, and a total land area of about 26 sq km.

The code name for Tuvalu’s tiny international airport is FUN, it is located in its capital island of Fanafuti. From Suva in Fiji, Air Fiji flies two to three times weekly to Funafuti. Tuvalu is a gem in the island world but it is not the typical fun and sun you would get in the Caribbean, Andamans, or Sri Lanka. There is only one commercial hotel. This unspoiled remote island, however, offers a peaceful and non-commercialized surrounding that is ideal for pure rest and relaxation. The period between May and September is the most pleasant time for visitors, as the easterly trade winds moderate the tropical climate. The average annual temperature is about 30°C (86°F), varying relatively little throughout the year.

Actions Taken Today roughly 1 million people live on coral islands worldwide, and many more millions live on low-lying real estate vulnerable to the rising waves. At risk are not just islands or their populations but unique human cultures. Faced with the possibility of flooding, these people are beginning to envision the disintegration of their lands in front of their eyes.

Others are buying higher land wherever they can. Some groups are preparing lawsuits that will challenge the right of the developed world to emit carbon gases threatening to cause the flooding and soil erosion of their homelands. Some countries are negotiating being “taken in” by the US or Australia or other main culprits of high carbon emissions. The citizens of tropical island nations are likely destined to become the world’s first “environmental refugees” — although they contribute only 0.6 percent of greenhouse-gas pollution.

Kyoto Protocol The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted in 1997 and put in force in 2005. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This amounts to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

Under the Treaty, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. A reporting system is also implemented. One hundred eighty parties have ratified the Protocol to date. The Kyoto Protocol sounds simple and fair yet the United States, the largest carbon emitting nation has not signed it.

Associations The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is a group of small island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and environment concerns, especially focusing on the adverse effects of global climate change. It functions primarily as an informal lobby and negotiating voice for small island developing States (SIDS) within the United Nations system. AOSIS has a membership of 43 States and observers, from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea. Together, SIDS communities constitute some five percent of the global population.

ISISA, International Small Island Studies Association, is a voluntary, non-profit and independent organization whose objectives are to study islands on their own terms, and to encourage scholarly discussion on small island related matters such as smallness, insularity, dependency, resource management and environment, and the nature of island life.

Solutions The only solution to prevent endangerment of islands is to decrease carbon emissions. The entire world has been witness to increasing catastrophes around the world in recent times, many of them due to climate change…cyclones in Myanamar, hurricanes on the southeast coast of the US and Caribbean, and flooding in Orissa to name only a few. This is not by coincidence as many critiques may argue but by deliberate abuse of our globe caused by uncontrolled industrialization.

Individually we should take action to reduce our consumption and waste every day. During a beach holiday understand the ecosystems of the oceans. Be conscious of the damage done to the world around and spread awareness to the same effect.

Published in Jetwings, December 200

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