Tuvalu, a small island nation on the Pacific Island, has been battling the consequences of climate change like sea-level rise, sweltering heat, fish poisoning, and saltwater intrusion in areas where they grow their food and crops.
Tuvalu looks like a paradise, a tiny scar of sand densely planted with coconut palms and ringed by shallow emerald waters” from the air. But a fragile and vulnerable nation otherwise, the atoll islands are experiencing the threats of being swallowed up by rising ocean waters and impacts of climate change almost daily (Roy, E.A., 2019).
“Tuvalu is sinking” has become a catch-all phrase of its people. Some residents claim that they used to see sand stretching out into the ocean, and they could swim on its shores, enjoying the corral beds underneath it. Now, they say the “sea is eating all the sand, ” and the water has gone cloudy all the time as the corrals have died (Roy, E.A., 2019).
Tuvalu will become unhabitable in the next 50-100 years, according to scientists, says the article.
Effects of climate change in Tuvalu according to The Guardian article:
- Porous, salty soils have made the ground useless for planting, destroying staple crops and reducing the yield of fruits and vegetables.
- The rising ocean contaminates the underground water supply, and the Tuvaluans are now heavily reliant on rain for freshwater as droughts are becoming more intense and frequent.
- Even if locals wanted to grow their food, the water is insufficient to supply their household and plant or garden needs.
- Fruits from their native trees like breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, and pandanus do not ripen and fall to the ground, inedible and rotten.
- Fish has ‘become suspect’ as ciguatera poisoning affects reef fish who have ‘ingested micro-algae expelled by bleached corals’. Currently, 10 Tuvaluans are experiencing ciguatera poisoning every week, accounting for 10% of climate-related illnesses, which has also increased. When people consume these fishes, they get sick, experiencing diarrhea, fevers, and vomiting.
According to the Hospital’s research, other climate-related illnesses and diseases that are increasing in Tuvalu are influenzas, fungal diseases, dengue fever, and conjunctivitis (Roy, E.A., 2019).
Evacuating the islands is the last resort?
With all these happening in Tuvalu and more extreme events expected to come, evacuation would be their last resort, says their Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, according to Roy’s article in The Guardian.
Despite frequent talks from Pacific neighbours that Tuvualuans will be the world’s “first climate refugees, and Australia’s offer for full citizenship to Tuvalu’s citizens in exchange for their country’s maritime and fisheries rights, Tuvalu’s PM rejected these offers, saying that Australia’s offer is an “imperial thinking” and that moving out of the atolls will not solve any climate issues rather it will only boost these industrial countries’ consumptions and greenhouse gas emissions (“One day we’ll disappear,” 2019 May).
Building an artificial island
To preserve their land, identity, and way of life, Tuvaluans are reaching out to the international community to help them. The government is proposing to create an artificial island, a reclaimed land with an area of 16 square kilometres in size and will cost US$ 280million (“Tuvalu PM looks,” 2019 October).
The RNZ news article says that the Tuvalu Prime Minister looks to Japan and other countries to provide financial assistance to the “artificial island” project.
“Tuvalu PM looks” (2019 October) provides further information on the said “artificial island” plan:
- The local council plans to “dredge up the sand from the lagoon and build a new landmass in a pocket of shallows in Funafuti’s far south” (Tuvalu PM, 2019).
- This reclaimed land “south of Fongafale will also raise the land 10 metres above sea level and build high-density housing.”
This project of ‘building a new landmass, Dubai-style will show a runway, port, solar farm, new village for up to 5000 and a reservoir which could be used for farming fish” and will take five years to build (“Tuvalu’s fight to stay,” 2019 August).
The land deposit is already happening naturally in the proposed reclaimed area. The elders are proposing to speed up the deposit of sand and gravel. The Ulu believes that this will be their new sanctuary, the “Tuvalu’s fight” (2019 August) adds.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF), an international funding facility, has given $53 million for this project that would help “extend the foreshore out by a hundred meters long, along a kilometre stretch of the lagoon edge” (“Tuvalu’s fight,” 2019 August).
Our previous blog featured Dr. Theuns Henning’s study on the Implications of Sea-level Rise on Coastal Pavement Infrastructure for the Funafuti Airport Runway, Funafuti, Tuvalu.
The airport is significant to the community as it is a crucial link to life outside the atoll nation. It provides access to travel, medical care, work and education opportunities, relief, and other important links to the Tuvaluans. Henning’s study establishes the reality of sea-level rising and its impact on Funafuti.
It will be interesting to see the development of Tuvalu’s climate adaptation and mitigation measures.
Roy, E.A. (2019, May 16). One day we’ll disappear: Tuvalu’s sinking islands. The Guardian [article]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/may/16/one-day-disappear-tuvalu-sinking-islands-rising-seas-climate-change
Tuvalu PM looks to Japan for help with ‘artificial island’ plan. (2019, October 25). RNZ News and Current Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/401756/tuvalu-pm-looks-to-japan-for-help-with-artificial-island-plan
Round, S. (2019, August 4). Tuvalu’s fight to stay above the waves. RNZ News and Current Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/insight/audio/2018706787/tuvalu-s-fight-to-stay-above-the-waves
BACKGROUND PHOTO CREDIT: Funafuti Atol by Leigh Blackall via Flickr Creative Commons Licence.