A recent study that compiled satellite and areal photographs of the Solomon Islands from 1947 to 2014 found that five islands have become completely submerged in water and six more are quickly losing ground.
Islands in this region, off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea, provide shelter to rare and endangered wildlife. For example, the Hawksbill turtle’s largest breeding grounds are threatened because many of the beaches on the Arnavon islands are underwater.
Some local residents have relocated to higher ground, whereas poorer people have reconstructed huts near the water’s edge. In the north of Choiseul (an island in the region), more than half of Nuatambu village has been literally washed away by the sea.
The study found that there was little change between 1947 and 1990, after which the islands started seriously receding. Sea levels in the Solomon Islands rose by roughly 15 cm between 1994 and 2014. The authors suggest that we can expect between 24 cm and 89 cm of sea level rise in this region by 2090, compared to 1996 levels.
Rising tides aren’t the only thing that is destroying these islands. The impact of strong waves and shifts in the Earth’s crust are also pushing them into the sea.
Migration is affecting villages in different ways and customary rights to land have influenced where some people settle. The Nuatambu villagers have separated themselves into five separate establishments, whereas, the entire village of Moraro, located on the east side of nearby Malaita Island, collectively decided to move to an elevated area. The Mararo people historically lived on the mountainside but relocated after missionaries moved them in the early 1990s.
This is the first study that analyzed shoreline recession in the Solomon Islands and can help other similar communities plan for rising sea levels.
Sea level rise is threatening coastal communities all over the planet. Taro, located in Choiseul Province, will be the first regional capital in the world to relocate because of sea level rise. Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, is also projected to be underwater in the next 30 years.