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Off the coast of Australia, five islands - and its citizens - are on the verge of disappearing

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

Not long ago in April, the Solomon Islands - along with 174 other countries globally, signed the Paris Agreement to curb climate change. In a sad turn of events, a recent Australian study has come out saying that the five islands that have already disappeared in the Pacific's Solomon Islands are because of rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

The study, which was published in Environmental Research Letters, was led by a team from the University of Queensland, and its findings should scare the world climate community into action if nothing else does - five vegetated reef islands have completely gone underwater. The coastline of six islands have suffered massive erosion - one of these islands had close to ten houses swept out to the sea.

Located about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia, Solomon Islands comprises hundreds of little islands and has a population of close to 640,000.

"They were not just little sand islands," Simon Albert, lead author of the study, told AFP.

"The islands of the Pacific with the small populations that subsist on them provide valuable insight into the geomorphic, ecological and social impacts of sea-level rise. How these Pacific islands and their inhabitants respond and adapt to sea-level rise will provide critical lessons to guide future responses to the significant sea-level rise anticipated in the coming century," says the study.

The researchers focused on two areas of the Solomon Islands which had the highest density of exposed reef islands - Isabel and Roviana. "We surveyed twenty reef islands on the barrier reefs along the north-west coast of Isabel, twelve reef islands on the barrier reef of Roviana Lagoon and Nuatambu and Mararo communities on the adjacent volcanic islands of Choiseul and Malaita," the researchers stated in the paper. Nuatambu and Mararo are the only two sites with reported human populations. In fact, Nuatambu was home to 25 families. Since 2011, it has lost 11 houses and half its inhabitable area.

None of the other areas have any history of continuous human habitation. However, the islands of Roviana are used regularly by nearby communities for fishing. Those in Isabel are also frequented by the region's fisherfolk.

There's little the affected people can do except migrate to safer regions

"Using time series aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2014 of 33 islands, along with historical insight from local knowledge, we have identified five vegetated reef islands that have vanished over this time period and a further six islands experiencing severe shoreline recession," the researchers wrote in the paper.

In fact, the six islands on Isabel saw their area decrease by more than 20% between 1947 and 2014. Hetaheta, Sogomou and Kale islands suffered the most in that time period, declining in size by 62%, 55% and 100% receptively.

What do these startling revelations mean in the context of climate change initiatives? The Guardian quotes the head of the Solomon Islands' National Disaster Council (NDC), Melchior Mataki as saying, "This ultimately calls for support from development partners and international financial mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund." That fund, part of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was founded in 2010 to help nations across the world deal with climate change.

If all else fails, then there's little the affected people can do except migrate to safer regions. Choiseul Province in the Solomon Islands is already on its way to becoming the first provincial capital in the world to relocate residents because of sea-levels.

And it isn't just the Solomon Islands. There's another very recent research doing the rounds that says the number of "climate refugees" could increase significantly in future. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia came out with a study that showed how the Middle East and North Africa will become too hot for human habitability in future - forcing people to migrate for a better environment.

The wars of the future may well be fought over habitable land where survival depends entirely on the climate. The sooner world leaders recognise this as an active threat, the better it'll be for humanity.

Edited by Sahil Bhalla

First published: 10 May 2016, 9:56 IST