Pohnpei’s shrinking reef islands: an impact of climate change?

laiap 02By Patrick Nunn
August 1, 2017
FSM—Many readers will be familiar with the small beautiful islands, covered with coconut palms and fringed with white-sand beaches, that sit on the edge of the coral reef off the south coast of Pohnpei. From Dawahk in the west, through Nahlap and Laiap in the center, to Nahpali way out east, these islands have been a feature of Pohnpeian geography for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
But there are not as many islands as there were once. North of Kehpara, according to Ertin Poll, there was once an island named Kepidau en Pehleng that has now disappeared. And northeast of Penieu, there was a famous island named Nahlapenlohd. This island was so large that in the year 1850 it was the site of a pitched battle; some stories recall that fighters hid behind coconut palms to avoid musket bullets. But today, there is no sign of Nahlapenlohd, not even a mound of sand marking where it once was. Perhaps, as some stories tell, so much blood was spilled during the battle that it washed all the vegetation off the island, leaving it exposed to erosion by the waves. More likely, the rise in the ocean surface (sea level) that has been affecting FSM for several decades is responsible for the disappearance of Nahlapenlohd.

laiap 01
Although there have been minor fluctuations, sea level has been rising in most parts of the Pacific for the last fifty years or more. Over the last twenty years, sea level has been rising faster than the global average in FSM-Palau and in Solomon Islands. To understand the effects of this, a recent study was conducted by Patrick Nunn and Roselyn Kumar from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia with Augustine Kohler from FSM’s Department of National Archives, Culture and Historic Preservation. The research team visited ten reef islands off the south coast of Pohnpei and found that some of them – not all – were showing signs of erosion consistent with the effects of rising sea levels.
While islands like Dawahk, Kehpara and Nahlap on the sheltered (leeward) side of Pohnpei showed little sign of erosion, those more exposed to waves and wind from the east did. These include the island of Nahtik, which is estimated to have lost 70% of its 2007 landmass, and Ros which has shrunk by about 60% since 2007. The sand strip that once connected Dekehtik and Na off the southeast coast of Pohnpei seems to have disappeared some time in the last twenty years.
When sea level rises, it forces changes to the shape of sandy beaches. It removes material from their higher parts and dumps it offshore. This is known as the Bruun Effect and is believed to be responsible for most of the shoreline erosion that has been observed over the last few decades on many Pacific Islands. While it is difficult to be certain, the weight of evidence suggests that sea-level rise is behind the disappearance and shrinking of the sand islands off Pohnpei’s southern reef barrier.
But there is some better news. Patrick’s team found hardly any evidence of shoreline erosion consistent with sea-level rise along the fringes of the main island in Pohnpei. This is hardly surprising considering that most of it is cloaked by mangrove forest – and it does underline the importance of preserving mangroves. Throughout the Pacific Islands, mangroves have been shown to be the best way to protect shorelines from erosion associated with sea-level rise. The researchers also visited Ant Atoll, where no clear signs of the effects of sea-level rise could be observed.
If you would like an e-copy of the full research report, please email Patrick on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and he would be happy to send you one.

Linking Climate Change and Health in the Lower-Mortlock Islands

By Zag Puas - JULY 2017
Climate Change is a cutting-edge reality in the Lower Mortlocks. The rise in the sea level is one of the major consequences of climate change; it affects food production, water conservation and especially human health. In November 2016, a new partnership between US based organization- the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the FSM Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSA) and an indigenous Mortlockese, Zag Puas (PhD), formed a partnership to develop strategies to address the link between climate change and healthy life style. Food production and water conservation practices were adopted as top priorities in anticipation of the increasing incursion of salt water on farm land and fresh water wells. The extent of the project also calls for the sharing of ideas between the Mortlockese stake- holders, DHSA, ASTHO and the public at large.

The Lower Mortlocks is a collection of four islands, Lukunor, Oneop, Satowan and Ta. Lukunor and Oneop shared a lagoon, while Satowan and Ta are located on a separate lagoon. These islands communities suffer from lack of health care services due to their geographical distance from the major porttowns, for example, Weno and Pohnpei. Despite this, many of the low-lying atoll dwellers persist in living on their islands. This is despite the knowledge that one day their islands will not be able to sustain them, due to the anticipated rise in the sea level. Recent studies indicated that arable land will be overwhelmed by salt water within a fifty-year time frame. The islands’ elevation ranges from 3-4 metres above sea level. Because of their vulnerability, they are among the first to experience the ongoing and brutal reality of climate change induced sea level rise. Relocation will be the last option, however, a great number of the people have stated that it is not an option for them at all. For instance, during my field interviews, many Mortlockese cannot foresee living in an alternative environment, even if it is on another island, where they would be the subject to someone else’s dictates. They expressed a preference to remain in the Mortlocks and die, rather than to live in an alien space somewhere beyond the horizon.
However, to prolong their ability to remain living on the island in the face of climate change, providing appropriate health care in the communities, remains a major challenge. The above partnership is undertaking a project which seeks to enmesh traditional and outside knowledge to enhance a healthy life style in the age of climate change. Taro farming targeting specific species of taro that can withstand increased salinity in the soil, together with the construction of a low-cost water storage facilities, are the two of the strategies proposed as a way of promoting and maintaining a healthy life style in the Mortlocks. At this stage, the project has been progressing well in meeting its main objectives. ASTHO, the principal provider for the project, together with the FSM DHSA, and many prominent members of the public, have been very supportive of the project since communities on low-lying islands are often exposed to greater health challenges. The Mortlockese people wish to express their deep appreciation to the two major supporters and look forward to continue the partnership in light of the ongoing climate change induced health challenges as they arise in the future.

From Paris to Marrakech to the Pacific, an overview of the UN Climate COP22 outcomes

Mr Kosi Latu, Director General, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)

“While the Twenty-second Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP23) may be over, it was straight from one monumental environment event to another with the start of the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13) that followed in Cancun, as well as the eighth Green Climate Fund Board Meeting hosted by Samoa. Finding a moment of calm in this hectic international schedule, there is always a good time to reflect on the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP23 hosted in Marrakech this year from 7 – 18 November, and to understand how some of these outcomes may impact us here in the Pacific region. We won’t paint a story of how climate change is impacting us in the Pacific islands as this is a story that we all know so well. We will, however have a look at what 190+ country parties have agreed to at the international level, which will eventually affect us all in our homes at the national and community level. History was made yet again, with the Paris Agreement legally coming into force just days before the actual COP22 started in Marrakech, Morocco, and for this we must congratulate our Pacific island members who played a pivotal role in helping to make this happen by ensuring they had all ratified the agreement within a one year period.

Read more: From Paris to Marrakech to the Pacific, an overview of the UN Climate COP22 outcomes

Sea Level rises faster than projected

US scientists raise bar for sea level by 2100

wilkins ice shelf collapse

Wilkins Ice shelf Collapse - Antarctica - British Antarctic Survey

22 APRIL 2017

The report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) set the "extreme" scenario of global average sea level rise by 2100 to 8.2 feet (2.5 meters), up half a meter from the last estimate issued in 2012.
"We raised the upper limit of our scenarios," lead author William Sweet told AFP.
"It is possible. It has a very low probability. But we can't discount it entirely."
The figures are among the highest ever issued by the US government, and take into account new scientific studies on the disappearing ice cover in Greenland and Antarctica.
"Recent (scientific) results regarding Antarctic ice sheet instability indicate that such outcomes may be more likely than previously thought," said the report, released on January 19.
It also revised the lower end of the anticipated range, saying nearly one foot (0.3 meters) is expected by 2100, up from four inches (0.1 meters) previously.

Read more: Sea Level rises faster than projected

The FSM gets ready for the Green Climate Fund

climate fund

The national inception workshop for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Readiness Program for the FSM was held in Pohnpei State, from November 21 to 24, 2016. The workshop was attended by the key stakeholders for climate change from the four States including the traditional leaders and dignitaries from both the national and state governments. Lieutenant Governor of Pohnpei State, Honorable Reed B. Oliver, gave an invigorating welcoming address and referred to the recently released documentary on climate change. He expressed his gratitude for the opportunities offered by the Fund, especially as a way to bypass the ‘climate change deniers’, and urged participants to keep engaged with the task of reducing emissions and increasing resilience of communities in the FSM, beyond the workshop. On the closing day of the workshop, the Honorable Sihna Lawrence, Secretary of Finance and the designated GCF National Designated Authority (NDA) gave an inspiring yet cautious closing address.

Read more: The FSM gets ready for the Green Climate Fund