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Event Details

Sea-level Rise event report

Category: Sea-level Rise
Observation: 04.06.2007
Continent: Pacific ocean - middle
Country: Marshall Islands
Area: Majuro Atoll
Severity: Hight
Event details
The people of the Central Pacific do not need science to understand one possible effect of global warming. These Micronesians, whose islands spread from near the Philippines on the west to five hours from Hawaii on the east, require no charts or graphs to know that rising ocean water is a critical and constant presence in their lives. When the moon is full, the ocean waves at high tide are several feet higher than ever in the past, according to longtime island residents. The powder sand beach of Laura village at the tip of Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, is famous throughout the Marshalls for its beauty and tranquility. But today, the beach is noticeably narrower. Some of its giant trees lie half in the ocean, half on the sand, their gnarled roots reaching up like the desperate fingers of the dying. The 7,897-foot (2,407-meter) asphalt runway of the Amata Kabua International Airport, on the road from the capital, Majuro, to Laura, was constructed by building a causeway across several small islands. It is just wide enough for the two-lane road and the runway, the ocean on one side, the lagoon on the other. This runway, only six feet (1.8 meters) above the ocean, is a major source of fresh drinking water as well as of tourism and trade. Sea walls have been built on both sides of the road to the airport and the runway itself, and are now being continued toward Laura. "Sometimes, the ocean washes across this road. It never did before,'' said a leading Marshallese, Carmen Bigler, president of Women United Together for the Marshall Islands and the first woman member of the former Congress of Micronesia. "We don't know what to do about the rising water. We don't want to move from our homes. We want to stay here,'' Bigler said. The Micronesians' ancestors traveled to their particular atoll or island some 2,500 years ago. Their names and their lineage, and in some cases even their character, are identified by their place of birth. They want to stay, and some are working to save their land. Charles T. Domnick, managing director of Anil Development Inc., does not want the ocean to wash away his business or his home. He is edging his property with abandoned cars and gutted rusted tankers. Wilfred Kendall, education minister and former ambassador to the U.S., and his wife, Rosemary, are collecting rocks and cementing them into a sea wall around their land. "It's hard work keeping up with the ocean,'' Rosemary Kendall said. "We clean the land and then the ocean comes back and piles all the trash on the area that we've just cleaned. So we have to clean again, and clean again, and clean, clean.'' "Who knows,'' Ambassador Kendall said with a wry smile. "One day maybe a fishing boat will drop its anchor into my window.'' To the east of the Marshalls, Chuuk, formerly called Truk, is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia. It has a combination of flat coral and high volcanic islands within its lagoon, which is second in size only to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshalls. Chuuk is famous for its World War II role when in 1944's "Operation Hailstone'' the U.S. sank 41 Japanese ships within the lagoon. These have now become a world-famous attraction for divers and snorkelers. In one of the 18 high, inhabited islands, Risko Walter, an educator at the College of Micronesia, says: "I woke up on my cot swimming in the water. My house is down by the beach. It was really scary.'' In Chuuk's flat outer Western Islands, the ocean has washed over Pulap Atoll. Marine Resources Director Romio Oseina and former Chuuk State House Floor Leader Ruphin Mickey say salt water has killed the taro plants. Taro is a major source of food for the islanders. Disaster teams have sailed to the area with food and supplies. The same story is heard from the Mortlocks and other outer islands on the eastern side of Chuuk. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Guam have also noticed the change. The 10,000 people of Tuvalu are negotiating to move to New Zealand. Kiribati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, has lost two small islands to the ocean and is facing the possibility that their 100,000 people, too, will have to find another homeland. Island people disagree on whether it is global warming, but they know there is less sand and the trees are falling into the ocean. The question for some islands is, will there be anyone left to hear them fall?
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