Just above the waterline – Isabel

Salt water invades Sokopiu area in the West Bugotu District in Isabel Province. Solomon Islands.
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Salt water invades Sokopiu area in the West Bugotu District in Isabel Province. Solomon Islands.

SEA level is rising, while storms are intensifying and seasons are becoming unpredictable.

Salt water can reach the lower areas where villagers live and now they have lost trees and coconut trees that supported the coastline.

The sea level rises in the Ysabel Province add to major concerns over the impact of climate change on villagers’ lives in the island.

Santa Ysabel Island is today usually known as Isabel Island. It lies west of Malaita, north of Guadalcanal, east of the New Georgia Islands and south of Choiseul.

Isabel Island is the largest island in what is now Isabel Province, with San Jorge a substantial contiguous island in the south and several smaller islands extending out around Kia in the north.

The salt water never stops moving, waves roll in and recede and the tides keep rising and continue to move closer to the coastline.

Island Sun witnessed firsthand the significant amount of threat that sea level rise, due to climate change has taken the beautiful shores of other parts of Isabel several meters above the ground.

But for some communities that have long lived in harmony with nature, even more subtle climatic changes have profound consequences.

I was in West Bugotu District in the Isabel recently and asked Lot Togasania from Sepi Village over the impact of climate change on villagers’ lives as he witnessed the impacts of the changing climate daily.

“Before, we used to know the seasons, but now the wind, the rain; the cyclones can come at any time. We don’t know when.” Mr Lot says. “Cyclones always used to come when the wind was from the south and west wind, now they come even when the wind is from the east.”

He said Climate change has not only affected the weather, it has affected everything, the people, the sea, the land, even the food we eat has changed and people’s lives have already changed so much.

“Storms now can happen any day and come very quickly,” he says. In July 2015, Cyclone Raquel became the first cyclone on record to hit the South Pacific Ocean in July. It caught Solomon Islanders by surprise and left many villages devastated.

Mr Togasania who resides at Sokopiu passage in the West Bugotu said the people fear what the future might hold.

“We felt that our small islands and shoreline were affected due to sea level rise, and the question begging answers is what it would be like in the future if we are not prepared to withstand its consequences,” Togasana said.

He said many different types of changes always happen daily, but one of the changes is sea level rise which causes more drastic changes that continue to affecting our island.

Togasana said salt water can reach the lower areas where they live resulting in loss of trees that support their coastline.

He said the daily changes usually occur after strong winds, tides, and currents movement. He said before the cyclone, the shoreline was about four meters away from its current position.

The only options he thinks is to plant mangrove trees to support the coastline when sea level rise occurs.

“Ocean never stops moving closer, it continues to eat the shoreline.

“As waves reach further in our shore, it kills the vegetation that holds the ground along the shoreline including coconut trees”. he added.

“Maybe not soon enough this rapid change would destroy our coastal communities”, said Togasana.

He said the sea is beginning to cover their main shoreline and coming closer to where they live.

“If you look over to our coastline, first the sea reaches about more than four meters away from this current shoreline, this is similar to other villages that leave close to the sea”.

“We are planning to build sea wall using stones so that we can protect our trees and most especially our homes”.

The changes are now obvious at Bugotu District and the sea comes much higher to the island than before so the communities are worried that this is like a time bomb, due to the small size of their island.

“We love our home so much, but if nothing is done to protect our island, who knows what is going to happen in the future.

“This is where we call home since our childhood days. My great grandfathers have left us here so this is our village,” he said.

“We ask the responsible authorities to teach us how we can adapt to this global environmental threat, climate change.

Meanwhile, a new study of the Environmental Research, sea-level rise and coastal erosion have already claimed five reef islands in the country, who knows what will happen to other communities within Isabel in the future.

The study, carried out by a team of Australian researchers, provides the first scientific evidence that confirms numerous anecdotal accounts of extreme shoreline changes put forward by scientists and local inhabitants across all provinces of the Solomon Islands.

This has put Solomon Islands, which support a population of roughly 560,000 people, at a much greater risk of inundation due to climate change-induced sea level rise.

When this paper asked about the climate change to the rural populace, they replied we heard about climate change but we didn’t understand how climate change affects our island.

He said villagers are worried for their future generation and most communities within Bugotu District are now experiencing sea level rise and changing weather patterns that contribute to climate change in the rural community.

They are calling on responsible authorities to do more awareness program, based on climate change to educate the rural populace.

Climate change affects all of us, and it is up to all of us to take action to ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.

Today if you happen to visit Isabel Province, you will notice a lot of drastic changes affecting the island.