GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Conservation Society of Pohnpei official Ben Namakin points to the location of an islet that has disappeared and another that has been split due to rising seas and global warming. CLICK FOR LARGE
Micronesia vanishing as climate warms up
Some say the U.S. not giving crucial support
KOLONIA, Pohnpei » The seas are rising from global warming and starting to take away islets in Micronesia, a conservation group told leaders of the voyaging canoes Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu.
Ben Namakin, an official with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, said that in the last five years rising ocean levels have taken a sandy islet a couple of miles south of Pohnpei and split another nearby islet.
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Namakin, whose home atoll Kiribati has a mean elevation of less than 10 feet, said he's worried about the future of Micronesia.
"Imagine your home sinking," he said.
As the crews of the Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu sail through Micronesia to the home island of renowned navigator Mau Piailug, they are learning about the tenuous condition of many low-lying atolls.
Mau's home island of Satawal is about a mile long and a half-mile wide and about 12 feet in elevation.
Throughout the more than 2,000 islands, atolls and islets of Micronesia, many islanders are noticing an alarming change in weather patterns.
Nongovernmental organizations as well as the nations of Micronesia have been speaking out about the impact of rising seas and global warming.
In the Federated States of Micronesia, Pohnpei resident Rihse Anson said the sea has risen by about a foot in the last 20 years and is just a few inches below her house floor, which has been raised several times.
During an unusual high tide about 10 years ago, the ocean flooded her home.
"I'd like to move, but the problem is financial," she said. "My husband died four years ago."
In the Marshall Islands -- where the average elevation of the 1,225 islands, atolls and islets is 7 feet above sea level -- more than 60,000 residents face potential devastation.
William Kostka, director of the nonprofit Micronesia Conservation Trust, fears that with ocean levels predicted to rise by 7 to 23 inches by 2100, the loss of farm land could be devastating.
"It's a big threat to us, and a lot of people who are living in the outer islands depend on the taro patches," Kostka said. "If there's saltwater intrusion, you're taking away their livelihood."
The oceans might even rise 4 to 8 inches higher than the projected 23 inches, depending on the rate of melting by polar ice sheets, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The panel said human-induced global warming, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, is also likely increasing the power of storms, which can also create flooding in the low-lying atolls of Micronesia.
Some Micronesians say they aren't receiving the crucial support needed from the United States to combat global warming.
Alson Kelon, who runs a canoe sailing group in Majuro, said the Marshallese have allowed the U.S. to use Kwajalein for missile testing and for past nuclear tests on the northern atolls of Bikini and Enewetak.
But he said the Bush administration has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, a pledge for nations to adopt guidelines to reduce greenhouse gases and global warming.
Kelon helps perpetuate the tradition of sailing canoes among young people in the Marshall Islands.
But all that work, he said, could be literally washed away.
"I think of the kids. Where are the grandchildren going to live?" he said.
Native beverage threatens forest
The success of a native drink on Pohnpei is threatening the watershed forest.
Sakau, a drink made from the kava root, is leading some to cut forest in upper elevation areas to replant the areas with kava.
Ben Namakin, an official with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, said his group has been asking the growers to plant the crops at a lower elevation so that it does not impact the native forest.
Namakin's group is supporting an initiative called "The Micronesian Challenge," to conserve at least 20 percent of the forest and 30 percent of marine areas by 2020.
The initiative has been adopted by government entities in Micronesia, including Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Namakin said groups are using modern and traditional means to attain the goals, working with regional chiefs who serve as monitors at nearby preservation areas.