Northwestern Isles vulnerable to rising sea levels
A rising sea level could put up to 75 percent of some low-lying Northwestern Hawaiian Islands underwater by the year 2100, a paper published yesterday by three Honolulu scientists says.
The remote islands are home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals and provide nesting grounds for Hawaii's threatened green sea turtles and for millions of seabirds.
All those creatures could find their land-based activities crowded into a smaller and smaller area as the sea level rises, according to a paper published in Endangered Species Research.
Researchers Jason Baker and Charles Littnan, of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and David Johnston, with the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, made measurements of the topography of French Frigate Shoals and Pearl and Hermes Reef in the spring of 2005, Baker said. Both of these sandy atolls are composed of multiple small islands, none of which stand more than 6 1/2 feet above sea level.
Their work was the first attempt to quantify how much land mass would be lost as sea levels rise, Baker said.
The projections do not include studies of currents and tides that could slow down or speed up the process, he said.
Some of the Northwestern Islands, such as Lisianski Island, would only lose about 3 percent to 5 percent of their land mass even if sea levels rise at the higher rate, Baker said.
"That's good because there will be some places that will be refuges for wildlife for a good amount of time to come," he said.
But wildlife managers already know from the loss of Whaleskate Island in the 1990s that less land means more crowding for the monk seals, which give birth on land, Baker said. There are about 1,300 Hawaiian monk seals in existence.
Projections for sea level rise by 2100 range from a low of about 4 inches to almost 3 feet, according to studies cited by the scientists. By comparison, sea level rose about 6 inches during the 20th century.
To read the full paper, see www.int-res.com/journals/esr/ contents.