Tuvalu is a Polynesian island situated midway between Australia and Hawaii. It’s the world’s fourth smallest nation; made up of six coral atolls and three reef islands spread across 500,000 miles of the South Pacific Ocean. Why am I spouting statistics about Tuvalu to you, reader? Despite all the remote charm Tuvalu offers as an isolated and comparatively tiny paradise in the middle of the ocean, its people face rising sea levels, a threat exacerbated by the island’s geographic characteristics as low-lying land and barely above the tide.
The highest point of Tuvalu is only 16 feet above the water line. The residents of Tuvalu have already experienced multiple warning signs, with monstrous tides already washing into homes and saltwater rising into “grow pits”, where vegetables and other crops are grown. Many residents have already left their homes for New Zealand. The threat to their livelihood is all too real, rendering their birthplace into a vulnerable, defenseless island that may be swallowed up by the ocean within the century.
The current known causes of world sea-level rise are both directly and indirectly due to a climate phenomenon you may be familiar with: global warming. Directly increasing world ocean temperatures causes the water to expand. Indirectly, because global warming is currently melting Arctic glaciers at a rapid and unprecedented rate, more water is being added to the world’s oceans overall mass.
It is an entirely realistic possibility for the current children living on the islands of Tuvalu to have no other option but to abandon their homeland. It will be either that or imminent death.
Tuvalu, with a population of 10,698 has practically no economy to mention and scarce natural resources to export. I think of Tuvalu, miniscule islands amidst a vast sea of brilliant blue, and I can’t help but compare its situation to other settlements on low-lying lands, like New Orleans and Manhattan. All three societies fully recognize the possible impacts of continuous sea-level rise including complete submersion leading to the disappearance of their cultures, people and history. From above water, we would only be able to witness the occasional ripple across the surface of the ocean as a reminder of the civilization that once stood in the same place, hustling and bustling with life.
What separates these cities is the action the inhabitants have the capacity to implement. New York’s mayor announced in June 2013 a $19.5 billion plan to protect the world famous metropolitan from rising sea levels. The Big Apple will be saved. Their history, culture and innovation will be preserved. As much relief I felt when I heard this and (not just because my sister currently resides in Brooklyn), I couldn’t help but wonder about Tuvalu. This faraway island, once mentioned to me in a Geography class years ago, so distant I can’t help but imagine it as if I was trying to conjure an island used as a setting for a fictional story, and its history, culture and innovation. The prospect that some day in the near future I would no longer be able to think of Tuvalu and wonder, at that moment, what sort of traditions are taking place, what way of life the residents are engaged and what meals are being eaten at the tables insides the homes resting on the islands of Tuvalu, instead when I find pictures, listen to podcasts and read articles online about Tuvalu, it would be about a civilization of history.