Rising Sea Levels Could Spark Largest Migration of Displaced People in History
This Saturday March 2 is the Warrior Day of Action when Pacific Islanders on the frontline of climate change will mobilize to send a message to the world that they will fight to protect their land, their existence and their identity from rising tides.
To support their efforts for climate justice, Specialty Studios is offering the award-winning film The Hungry Tide free for viewing and sharing through March 3. The Australian-produced 53-minute documentary personalizes the plight of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, which is already being inundated by rising seas and could become the world's first climate-induced migration of an entire nation.
Kiribati is expected to be one of the first countries to disappear as a result of climate change. Sea level rise and increasing salinity are threatening the homes and lives of 105,000 residents spread over 33 atolls. 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.
The Hungry Tide shows clearly the tragic impact of climate change on Kiribati, and exposes the stark global inequalities driving the global warming phenomenon. The film personalizes the story by following the life and work of Maria Tiimon, who evolves to become one of the most prominent advocates for the rights of Pacific Islanders. Originally from Kiribati, Tiimon works for an organization in Sydney as an impassioned campaigner for her sinking nation. But right from the start, Tiimon finds herself frequently torn between the needs of her family on Kiribati and her role on the world stage.
A rather shy Tiimon travels to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to press for a new binding treaty to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions. "Industrial countries are causing change in the climate and we are the first to feel the consequences,” said Tiimon. Later, as a more confident advocate, she travels to Cancun for the next Climate Change Conference (COP16).
While Tiimon’s life and work unfold, the situation in Kiribati deteriorates. Seawalls protecting an entire community are swept away. Only decisive global action will save Kiribati from disappearing. But pledges made at the climate change conferences to cut carbon emissions have fallen far short of their targets. And promises to assist poorer countries to adapt to climate change haven’t materialized. As a result, Kiribati’s president believes that relocation may be the only option, “To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that.”
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
By Melissa Gaskill
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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