Sustainability Climate Change

Shocking photos show how ocean swallowed island

a 2017 aerial view of several smaller islands that are part of the Solomon Islands

Story at a glance

  • At least 11 islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades or are experiencing severe erosion.
  • Locals are spearheading conservation efforts alongside other solutions, such as constructing homes on higher stilts above water and building stone walls to protect them from the sea.
  • Photos taken by one advocate reveal the gradual disappearance of the island of Kale.

The consequences of climate change aren’t far off — in fact, for residents of the Solomon Islands, they’re already here. 

“I honestly still can’t believe it today,” 26-year-old Gladys Habu told two local Solomon Islands teenagers working for the Mirror’s NextGen International project. “Every time I go back, it’s like it was never there at all. I began documenting various observations of climate events from a very young age, particularly of Kale island which was home to my grandparents. In 2009, I noticed it was strikingly much smaller than it used to be during my childhood. And by 2014 it was completely submerged underwater. There’s that stump sticking out of the ocean. It was heartbreaking.”


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The UNICEF Pacific ambassador and Miss Solomon Islands is also an avid advocate for climate action, according to her Twitter bio — not to mention a pharmacist. The pandemic has hit the region hard, just as climate change is devastating its environment. 

“It saddens and angers me that we face these huge daily challenges, while millions around the world are fuelling the destruction we suffer, yet their own lives remain relatively unaffected,” Habu wrote in a 2020 article for the International Institute for Environment and Development. 

At least 11 islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades or are experiencing severe erosion, according to a 2016 study, and Kale is just one of five vegetated reef islands that vanished into the sea. 


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Along with the island, its infrastructure and entire ecosystem is at risk, including the salt-tolerant mangrove trees that feed many local communities and water supply. Habu and others are promoting conservation efforts alongside other solutions, such as constructing homes on higher stilts above water and building stone walls to protect them from the sea.  

 

“No one here is crying every single day because we wake up having to walk through really high tides or stormy weather or paddle our canoes out further than we used to to get water for drinking. We do it because there is no other way. And so, in that sense, I see our people as fighters and this is the spirit that I believe everybody should have to fight for climate justice,” Habu told the Mirror. “And I believe the international community should not portray our people as victims, but rather accept where the damage has started and try to correct it rather than looking at us and saying, ‘OK, but we can’t do much because that’s where they live.’”  


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