Best of 2015: In the Pacific, a lifeline for vanishing islands

man standing on sea wall in Kiribati

In the low-lying island nation of Kiribati, building a man-made coral rock sea wall may be the best defense communities have against erosion and rising sea levels. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See more here. 

It’s a disaster in slow motion.

Sometime in the next few decades, the tiny islands scattered across the Pacific will no longer be able to support human life, as rising seas spoil their freshwater supplies or swallow them up entirely.

“Imagine living in a place where you know it’s going to go away someday, but you don’t know what day that wave’s going to come over and wash your home away,” said Conservation International’s (CI) Greg Stone.

But the islands aren’t going quietly. In what is being called a “Marshall Plan” for the Pacific, a coalition of low-lying island nations announced an ambitious effort to react to a changing climate that threatens their very existence. Seeking to invest in job training, cultural preservation and even island-building, the plan sets out strategies for adapting to an uncertain future — including an unprecedented human migration.

In this special report, CI’s Stone — an oceans expert and an adviser to the government of the island nation of Kiribati — shows an up-close look at the plight these nations face.

Bruno Vander Velde is CI’s editorial director. 

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