Pacific News Minute: Rising Sea Levels Claim Five Reef Islands in the Solomon Islands

May 17, 2016

Credit ravilacoya / Flickr

A study in the Solomon Islands by researchers from Australia found that five small islands have vanished, while six others lost significant acreage due to sea level rise. The authors say it's the first scientific confirmation of the dramatic impact of climate change...we have more, from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

None of the islands that disappeared were inhabited, but they were surrounded by reefs, covered in vegetation, and up to 12 acres in size. "They were not just little sand islands " according to Simon Albert, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland School of Civil Engineering and the lead author of the study, published in Environmental Research Letters.

A larger island, Nuatambu, lost 11 houses and half its inhabitable area, forcing 25 families to relocate... Among them, 94 year old Sirilo Sutaroti, chief of the Paurata tribe. "The sea started to come inland," he told the researchers, "it forced us to move up to the hilltop and rebuild our village."

The study examined the coastlines of 33 reef islands, using aerial and satellite images from 1947 to 2014, and researchers integrated that information with local traditional knowledge, radio carbon dating of trees, sea level records and wave models.

While other studies found that coral reef islands can hold their own and even grow as the sea rises, this study concluded that the rate of sea level rise is critical. In much of the Pacific, that may be less than a tenth of an inch per year, but in the Solomons, the researchers found the sea rising more than three times the global average, as much as four tenths of an inch per year.

That, they say, is more typical of the rate they expect to see across the Pacific in the second half of this century.