Kiribati, Photo by Brook Meakins

Kiribati, Photo by Brook Meakins

Kiribati, which straddles the equator near the international date line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.

The government purchased a sizeable plot of land in neighboring (but mountainous) Fiji. This land enables the country of Kiribati to produce food that would not grow in their own country, and for a back-up plan as sea level continues to rise.

President Anote Tong said the half-meter sea level rise projected by climate scientists over the next century would submerge a significant proportion of the land on which his people live.

One of the least developed countries in the world, Kiribati has contributed little to worldwide carbon emissions, yet has the most to lose from global warming.

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands, Photo by Brook Meakins

Marshall Islands, Photo by Brook Meakins

The 29 atolls that make up the Marshall Islands are located about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The total landmass of the islands, if squeezed together, would equal the size of the metro area of Washington D.C.; however, the tiny islands dot the map like distant constellations in a starry sky.

The mean elevation of the five islands and 29 atolls that make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands is about 6½ feet.

Barely 25 years into its life as an independent country, the Republic of the Marshall Islands already is contemplating its demise, as it contends with erosion and sea level rise.

Along the coastline of the capitol Majuro, old cars and trash are being piled up in an attempt to make seawalls and stop the rising water levels.

Every year, more and more of this nation’s graves disappear into the sea.


Marshall Islands, Photo by Brook Meakins

Marshall Islands, Photo by Brook Meakins

he Maldives, consisting of over 1,100 islands to the west of India, is the world's lowest-lying nation. On average, the islands are only 1.3 meters above sea level. A rise of just three feet would submerge the Maldives and make them uninhabitable.

Even small increases in sea level are likely to worsen existing environmental challenges on the islands, such as persistent flooding from waves often generated by storms far away. More than 90 of the inhabited Maldives islands experience annual floods. In 2007, a series of swells forced the evacuation of more than 1,600 people from their homes and damaged more than 500 housing units.

Some 191 of the country's 358 inhabited islands have fewer than 5,000 people and about one–third of all residents live in the capital city of Malé on North Malé Atoll. With roughly 104,000 people residing within 2.2 square miles (5.8 square kilometers), North Malé Atoll encompasses some of the most densely populated islands in the world.

The Maldives has pledged to spend 2 percent of its national income on clean-energy investments to fulfill their commitment to become 60 per cent solar-powered—and carbon neutral—by the end of the decade.


Tuvalu, Photo by Brook Meakins

Tuvalu, Photo by Brook Meakins

Tuvalu is often described as a canary in a mine, with predictions that it will become the first country since Atlantis into the ocean. It has one of the smallest populations in the world.

Beachhead erosion, coastal engineering, environmental mismanagement, overpopulation, deforestation, and deteriorating coral reefs are acting together and in conjunction with global warming to affect sea levels and cause damage to Tuvalu's underground water table.

King tides – the highest tides of the year – have grown over recent years with the increase of the average atmosphere temperatures; sea water is now bubbling up through the porous coral landscape.

Salt water is flooding the shores and killing coconut palms. Many large parcels of land used for palm plantations are no longer of any value, greatly affecting the local subsistence economy. The nation's chief export of dried coconut meat is threatened.

Floods used to occur twice a year. Now it is every month. One of the smallest islands, called Te Pukasavilivili, actually disappeared in 1997.

Pulaka is the staple diet of the people of Tuvalu. Salt water has seeped into the island's pulaka pits, which are used to grow the food crop, making the pits unfit for further cultivation. In some places, three-quarters of the plants have died, leaving people reliant on imported foods. Fruit trees and pandanas are also suffering. Salt-water intrusion has already affected communal crop gardens on six of Tuvalu's eight islands.