Oct 18, 2018 Last Updated 6:03 AM, Oct 9, 2018

AS the sun sets over Tuvalu, children shriek in the lagoon of the main atoll - Funafuti.

This is the way life has been in the Pacific for as long as people can remember.

But sea levels in the lagoon are rising and the waves have started to gnaw away at the coast – slowly, surely – in an inevitable march which may see the world’s and fourth smallest nation sink and disappear.

A modern-day Atlantis under siege from coastal erosion and salt water intrusion.

What happens if Tuvalu’s nine atolls descend into the blue Pacific, swamped by rising waves or washed away by deadly storms? Once uninhabitable or invisible, who will own the 900,000 square kilometres of ocean between Hawaii and Australia?

The United Nations estimates Tuvalu’s tuna to be worth an annual USD41million – that’s about 36,000 tonnes of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Bigeye Tuna.

Tuvalu operates a single vessel in conjunction with a South Korean company with most of the stocks being harvested by international fishing vessels.

Current laws governing the Exclusive Economic Zone and the borders of maritime nations refer to specific physical reference points from which to determine the area of sovereignty.

Those physical points are generally islands or atolls which can sustain life.

Sustainability of life on remote islets and atolls is becoming increasingly difficult on Tuvalu, Kiribati and other Pacific countries.

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Tuvalu ain’t sinking

REMOTE island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans have for many years been considered extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and, in particular, rising sea levels.

However, new research by the University of Plymouth and University of Auckland is seeking to demonstrate that islands formed on coral reefs are in fact ymore resilient than has perhaps been suggested to date.

University of Auckland Professor Paul Kench and co-researcher Dr Murray Ford examined changes in the geography of Tuvalu’s nine atolls and 101 reef islands between 1971 and 2014, using aerial photographs and satellite imagery.

They found the total landmass of Tuvalu of 26 square kilometres, which is just bigger than Auckland’s Rangitoto Island, had a net increase of 2.9 per cent during the 40-year period of study. This represented 73 hectares (180 acres) of land increase, despite competing sea-level rise rates of over 3.5 mm per year simultaneously.

This peer-reviewed scientific study published recently flies in the face of sensationalised rhetoric for over a decade by Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu.

In December 2014, Sopoaga asked fellow world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru: “If you were faced with the threat of the disappearance of your nation, what would you do?”

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FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu -- The government of Tuvalu has rejected findings of a research conducted by scientists at the Auckland University that says the tiny island nation may not be sinking due to the impact of climate change. Enele Sopoaga has called on scientists and the media to exercise care when conducting research of atoll islands such as Tuvalu which he is Prime Minister of, so as not to confuse the public.

Speaking at press conference he called in Suva, Fiji last month, PM Sogopaga said Tuvaluan as well as Pacific scientists whom he did not name believed the research ‘had holes.’ “The important thing is to have the scientific reports properly clarified by credible scientific communities,” the PM said. “The scientists working with us are very stunned by the manner in which this report was done and was released and the media was able to pick it up and put it out without verification.”

Funded by the Auckland University, the New Zealand study largely based on 40 years’ worth of imagery of the Tuvaluan shoreline concluded amongst other things that the country’s habitable land mass had expanded.

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CLIMATE change has become a global phenomenon impacting the whole world. There are cynics who say that there is no such thing as climate change believing that climate is just a natural procession of evolution, a natural procession of change.

There are those who believe that all of these natural catastrophes and disasters is God’s way of punishing humans for their immoral and depraved way of living and predict that the end of time is closing in on us. Then there are those who see the changes in weather patterns comparing the present with the past seeing phenomenal differences exacerbated by the constant barrage of natural disasters the world over.

More often than not these are people at the brunt of it all, experiencing these extreme weather changes. Some of these people are inhabitants of small islands states and right here in the Pacific quite a number of these islands have become quite vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is not unusual for elders to tell you that 10 years ago the coastline was ‘down there’ now it is ‘up here’ it has shifted.

And they point out that fishing, is just not how it used to be the. Nowadays they have to know where it will ‘catch’ or go farther out to sea get a decent catch. One of these small island states is Tuvalu, one of the smallest countries in the world with a population of a approximately 12,000 living on low lying coral atoll islands that are only around three meters above sea level. 

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TUVALU Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga has not rested. Barely settled at home after the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in Morocco in November, Sopoaga plunged straight into laying the platform for his country’s inaugural Climate Resilience Week, while juggling an intense government budget debate in Tuvalu’s national parliament.

“There is no time to waste. This is all part of building protective measures long term. We cannot just sit around and wait for outside help and that is why we must keep the momentum going from Paris as well as Morocco,” says Sopoaga as he rounded up from yet another meeting, this time a strenuous week-long United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) regional meet in Suva in December.

Tuvalu is among those at the forefront of advocating for the inclusion of a legal mechanism to recognise the rights of persons displaced by climate change. “We are pushing for a Pacific Islands Insurance Facility for the region. There will be a specific formula which we are putting together as part of this based on things like the strength and damage of natural disasters and of course, easy access to those affected,” Sopoaga says. 

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Guide to the 49th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting – Nauru 2018

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