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Rising seas, shrinking shores: Small island communities planning for harsh realities of climate change

Last week in Boston, icy seawater flooded downtown streets and train stations during a “bomb cyclone” that brought over a foot of snow and caused several feet of storm surge. While images of a financial district underwater left many wondering how Boston would fare if this phenomenon intensifies, Bostonians were largely able to simply avoid the area, retreating into the rest of the city.

Around the world, however, residents of islands realize they will not be able to do the same as sea level rise threatens their homes.

The inevitability of this reality has driven certain island communities to seek alternative land altogether. In 2014, the island nation of Kiribati finalized its purchase of a parcel of land measuring just over 7 square miles. This plot, sold by the Church of England, lies more than 1,200 miles from Kiribati itself, on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu. The $8.77 million dollar investment represents an absolute last resort for Kiribati. The President says he hopes the nation will not be forced to relocate all of its 110,000 residents from their current collection of islands in the Central Pacific Ocean, but if need be, Kiribatians have a backup plan.

Other groups have followed suit out of a realization of urgency and necessity. “Kiribati is just the first on a list which could get longer as time passes,” admits Ronald Jumeau, the Seychelles ambassador to the UN.

A Feb. 14, 2017 photo shows Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana. Louisiana officials have chosen a sugar cane farm as the next home for residents of the tiny, shrinking island. Dozens of Isle de Jean Charles residents are to be relocated about 40 miles (64 kilometers) to the northwest, in Terrebonne Parish, Nola.com|The Times-Picayune and The New Orleans Advocate report. (Sophia Germer/The Advocate via AP)/The Advocate via AP)

Recently, a group of American citizens have found themselves in the spotlight; residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana became benefactors of a “climate resilience” grant from the federal government. In January 2016, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development granted $1 billion to communities particularly at-risk to damage from climate change across 13 states. $48 million of that money is a unique type of grant: the first allocation of federal money for relocation of an entire community because of climate change.

For now, islanders will be relocated to a 515 acre plot on a sugar farm 40 miles north of the island. But in the majority Native American community, residents have a deep attachment to their home and in some cases, are extremely unwilling to leave.

Answers to the many questions accompanying climate change do not come easy, and an increasingly long list of communities will have to find ways to adapt. But as in the cases of Kiribati and Isle de Jean Charles, adaptation is not always an option, and drastic measures will increasingly have to be adopted.

 


Sources:

Roads, cars submerged: Storm raged with snow, floods – The Boston Globe

Besieged by the rising tides of climate change, Kiribati buys land in Fiji – The Guardian

Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’ – The New York Times

Here’s where residents of sinking Isle de Jean Charles will relocate – Nola.com