The Marshall Islands and Global Warming

marshall islands

This year marks the 70th anniversary of WWII’s D-Day, and countries such as the U.K., France and the U.S. will pay their respects to the slain war-heroes and veterans who were a part of the Allied Forces. Nature, instead, seems to have a different take on the war. Global warming has caused the Pacific Ocean to rise and inundate the Marshall Islands, washing graves ashore the coastline of the region that witnessed fierce fighting during WWII.

France saw some of Europe’s biggest political and royal figures gather in Normandy to pay their respects and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the  D-Day landings while the Marshall Islands reported a memorial of the gory kind. Tony de Brum, minister of Foreign Affairs, Marshall Islands, reported that the skeletal remains of 26 possible Japanese soldiers were washed ashore Santo Isle. Voicing serious concerns about the issue at the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, de Brum said that because coffins and graves were washed away due to the rise in tides, it effects the communities who call the island home. The spring tides that started at the end of February and April inundated and flooded the living space of the communities, leaving the regular land unusable.

With global warming causing a sharp increase in sea levels, these comments drew focus to the future for islands below sea level. With over 1000 isles and 70,000 people, Marshall Island is 2 meters at its highest, de Brum said. It is reported that the tropical western Pacific experiences a four-fold increase in the global average rate of sea-level increase. This means that on the Marshall Islands, global warming increased the level by 12mm a year during the past 16 years, an alarming rate compared to the global average of 3.2mm annually. The UN projected an estimated increase of 98cm from the current average of 26mm with the turn of the century.

Discussing relocation options, de Brum says there was really no option. The communities who traditionally settled along the coastline had no option but to move to the inner parts of the islands. The move would help in the long run, since the move to the inner parts of the isles exposes them to the shores on the other side, taking them back to square one. The Marshall Islands, once a Japanese naval base, was the base that launched the ill-fated attack on Pearl Harbor. It is still unclear if the skeletal remains belonged to the Japanese. There were no signs of war wounds. The U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor is testing the remains to identify them and eventually return them to Japan, but that will have to wait until September because they need to wait on the Japanese team for help.

De Brum said that almost 300 meters of land was eaten away by the tides from the capital island Majuro. A bomb on the runway, a WWII ordinance and beat roads connecting the isles have been discovered. The roads were damaged beyond repair, leaving cars to drive over the reefs that add to the natural beauty of the isles. Boken, a small island, was washed away too, now sitting silently under the waves of the Pacific Ocean. With a very fragile ecosystem, the damage inundated salt can cause to the land without rainfall may cause severe damages. Recovery is highly doubtful, since the island is losing its flora and is being swept into oblivion by the strong winds and even stronger tides. The skeletons from WWII that washed along the shore are the least of the problems global warming will bring to the Marshall Islands.

By Rathan Paul Harshavardan.

The Sydney Morning Herald