Tales of Disaster from the Tropical Islands

“Extrapolating their results to the 180,000 islands in the world, the scientists believe the Earth could lose 10,000 to 20,000 islands before 2100”
Science Daily, 2013

In ecology, the concept of isolation does not exist. The terrestrial ecosystem is characterised by the integration of living organisms with the living environment. Particularly, the phenomena that are altering the earth’s climate, depend for a large part on the activities of the agricultural industry, whose massive use of resources and emission of greenhouse gases impact on ecological cycles and marine biodiversity. Our often thoughtless practices of food production and consumption demand have therefore vast implications, imperilling the ecosystem and the very survival of people living on the other side of the world.

The changes in the earth’s climate conditions are directly affecting the islands states. Climate change is now observable at the local level, especially in the tropics during the hot season. These changes in climate are very noticeable where the Caribbean islands, the African islands and a part of the islands of Oceania are located, given that they experience a narrower range of temperature variation than other parts of the world. Islands are complex, fragile environments characterised by ecosystems that are highly sensitive to alterations caused by human activity. Changes in the aquatic ecosystems have both environmental costs in terms of damage to resources, and social costs in relation to human activities and food security.

Caribbean Islands

In the coming decades, the Caribbean Islands that are on the lowest level above from the sea, including part of the Bahamas, will have to be evacuated. The vulnerability of these islands is a result of their morphogenesis: they are non-volcanic islands, born from the accumulation of sediments that have formed shallow, sandy, barrier-type islands. In the island of Saint Lucia, the coastal areas are suffering a slow process of inundation as the sea is progressively invading the inland. Local fishermen are also already noticing the adverse effects of rising sea temperatures: corals are bleaching and fishery activities are not as productive as they used to be.

African Islands

One of the main issues for those islands is coastal erosion. Coasts are especially important for their economy since a large part of the internal production comes from fishery, tourism and commerce. This is one of the reasons why much of the population lives in these areas. However, sea temperature and sea level rise are posing serious threats to the archipelago of the Bijagos in Guinea Bissau, where its lowlands are exposed to the rise of the level of the tides. The risk of flooding imperils beaches, streets and infrastructures, villages, and the precious biodiversity upon which the local economy is based. Recent rise in the level of the tides has caused water to flood into the rice fields, damaging the canals and causing a loss in productive capacity. The island of Capo Verde, with its small dimensions, is highly vulnerable to climate change, especially to extreme weather events that are happening more often that in the past. The UNFCC in 2007 forecasted the rise of tropical storms, coastal erosion, and sudden variations of temperature. Torrential rains for instance, are becoming a more recurring phenomenon, causing loss and damage to agricultural fields, animals and infrastructures.

Republic of the Maldives

The Republic of the Maldives is among the most vulnerable states to the impact of climate change. The 80% of these island is in average only 1 meter above sea level: it is the most flat country in the world, facing the serious risk of being completely submerged within the end of the century. Moreover, changes in the marine ecosystem are exposing the Maldives to threats regarding food security, because of the dependency from fish as primary source of food, and the profit derived from touristic activities.

Republic of Kiribati

With a maximum of two meters above the sea level, Kiribati is also one of the most vulnerable states to climate change. Scientific studies forecast that most of its 32 atolls will be submerged within the next 50 years. As Kiribati’s President Anote Tong told the BBC: “The outer island communities have been affected, we have a village which has gone, we have a number of communities where the sea water has broken through into the freshwater pond and is now affecting the food crops”. The world Bank calculated that the capital Tarawa, where half of the population resides, risks to be inundated of the 25-54% in the southern area, and of the 55-80% of the northern area before 2050, if serious measures of prevention and adaptation won’t be undertaken. Extreme events as well, augmented in intensity. In 1997, Kirimati was devastated by torrential rains and flooding, destroying 40% of the coral barrier, while 14 millions of birds (among the richest fauna on earth) abandoned the islands. Below, an image from Tebunginako: the island inhabitants stand where there village existed before sea level rise and coastal erosion invaded it (Photo: Justin McManus/The Age).