Karen Ehmes on the Coral and Ice Exchange

arcticSEP 30, 2017

Imagine three teenage students from the tropical islands of Micronesia walking on the ice of the Arctic. I’m telling you, as a student who went through the experience, it was indeed the best, most powerful, and the most life-changing experience of my life. But, I’ll start off by saying this: the experience is very hard to explain. To understand it best is to experience it oneself.
Students On Ice is a program that accepts students from countries all over the world to take them on an expedition through the Canadian Arctic and off to Greenland. The program teaches students about climate change, Inuit culture and history, and many other scientific studies, arts, and humanities that any teenager may want to learn about.
As a Micronesian in the program, I noticed some similarities between the Inuit people and the Micronesian people. These similarities include the history of the people, some parts of the cultures, and facing the effects of climate change. I learned about the Inuit culture and history. The Inuits were once living their own lives before they were introduced to the Europeans. They lived in nice, warm igloos, they hunted and gathered food, and they even respected each and every other person in the tribe. Similar to the Inuits, past Micronesians lived in nice, breezy huts, farmed and fished for their food, and respected every single person on their island. These two groups of people share similar lifestyles. They’re only slightly different because of their environment and the climate they’re used to. Inuits were also removed from their original lands and were also introduced to modern government and businesses. Similar to Micronesians, specifically and the Marshallese, were removed completely from some of their islands to satisfy the U.S. needs.
Inuits also depended on the food around them and they’ve made it their cultural food. Their type of food includes seal, walrus, narwhal, caribou, and many other animals. Before eating these animals, they skin them and use their skin to make clothing. On the other hand, Micronesians have breadfruit, banana, taro, yam, and many other recipes that are made for cultural activities. They also use plant fibers of their surroundings to make traditional clothing. These two groups of people may live in extremely different climates and yet have very similar lifestyles.
I also learned about climate change. I learned about how the ice melts to affect sea level rise. I learned about how the earth is heated to cause the melting of the ice, and how the melting of ice in turn makes the earth heat up even more. I saw with my own eyes the melting ice that causes our home islands to erode away. Being in a small boat in front of a glacier and witnessing icebergs calve from it and fall into the ocean was both really amazing and also heartbreaking. I was glad I got to see it with my own eyes and also very heartbroken when the thought of my own home came to my mind. The ice falling into water in front of me is what increases the sea level back home. Likewise, my Inuit friends were devastated to watch the ice in their home melt. The melting of their home is the sinking of my home. Climate change is very real and has to be dealt with.
I learned so much on this trip and I recommend every student in Micronesia to apply and learn from this—the more, the better. Lastly, I would like to thank the help of my parents, friends, Xavier High family, and most especially Island Research & Education Initiative (iREi) from Pohnpei for funding my expedition. All thanks to you, I learned so much and I’m willing to make this world healthy and alive.

Dylan Tellei on the Coral and Ice Exchange

Leaving home, alone, for the first time was definitely the first of the many new things I experienced that caught me off guard and had a lasting impact throughout the trip. That sense of being alone wasn’t necessarily bad though, it gave me a sense of freedom, a sense of individualism going into the trip. Soon after, however, I found that I wasn’t entirely alone. I found myself in the company of Chloe, a Micronesian from Chuuk, together we traveled to Canada, I had found someone similar to me and had begun to feel more comfortable going into the expedition. For the next few days we roamed the city of Ottawa, getting a chance to try local food, or “country” food as they call it. We walked around the city market watching street-performers and musicians, visited museums of history and nature and a gallery of Canadian and Inuit art, and cycled around the city to the waterfalls at the end of the canal.
Once our tour of Ottawa had concluded we embarked on our expedition starting with a flight to Resolute Bay, one of the northernmost communities in Canada. Before I go into this next section please keep in mind that Palauans were NOT meant for cold climate at all. I’ll be honest once the doors of the plane opened and the slightest touch of the Arctic winds touched me I was ready to go back to Palau. Being from a place that is normally 30-40°C to 0° was a total shock! That intense cold was so foreign to me. As I got off the plane I saw my breath for the first time in that 0° cold and kept breathing just to see it over and over again until I couldn’t see it anymore. Finally when it was time to board the zodiacs, which are small rubber boats that use inflated pockets to stay afloat, I saw it for the first time, ice. This was the first time I had ever seen ice just floating in a body of water, excluding the ice I get in my iced tea or water, this was a joke I had told countless times throughout the expedition.
Throughout my time aboard the Ocean Endeavor I was able to experience so much. Each day we were given a presentation about something new and exciting, along with that we participated in workshops that tested both our hands on skills and overall knowledge. Each workshop was designed to accommodate everyone’s personal style of learning from artful crafting workshops to scientific data analysis workshops. Off of the Ocean Endeavor we were given the opportunity to go on hikes to arctic glaciers and rock formations and mountains, go standup paddle boarding and kayaking around various fjords, and even do some fishing and foraging around certain areas.
All in all the expedition was great educationally but what really had a lasting impact on me was the hospitality and warmth of the staff, students, and people I met along the journey. Throughout the entire expedition I was met with nothing but open arms and warm smiles. Each and everyday everyone would meet and be glad and we would all enjoy the day conversing and joking, each of us enjoying each other’s company. The atmosphere surrounding our group reminded me of my home and my family, and soon enough that’s what we became, a small little family nearly 200 strong all connected by the experiences and stories we all shared. My hope is that ALL future expeditions will develop a bond similar to ours and that each and every student and staff may stay connected as alumni and family.

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.

Chloe Arnold on Coral and Ice Exchange

When I was introduced to the Coral & Ice Exchange program developed by Island Research & Education Initiative (iREi) and Students On Ice (SOI), I was drawn in by its goal which was to educate youth about climate change. As an islander, I first learned about climate change through my school, where it taught me that climate change would impact the people living on small islands like mine. So when the opportunity presented itself -- a trip to the north to learn about climate change -- I had to take it. And believe me, the Arctic expedition was an eye opener.
Before the expedition, I thought the impacts of climate change were only affecting my islands. I only knew climate change in the perspective of an islander. When I went on my expedition to the north, I began to see climate change from different perspectives. I learned that this is a shared issue. In the North, people suffer tragic loss every year because of global warming. The melting ice in the North is causing huge environmental, cultural, and social changes. Sea level rise threatens low lying islands in the Pacific. All over the world, natural disasters occur. I thought I could not do anything to help and that I could only sit by and watch these problems happen. The expedition told me otherwise. The trip taught me that no matter how young I was, I could still join hands to help prevent climate change. The Arctic expedition offered much more.
The expedition offered a chance to see what an island girl like me could only see in pictures. On every daily excursion on land, I was amazed by the beautiful landscape, the ice caps, glaciers, sea ice and the living organisms. The islands I visited were filled with so much history about the Inuit and past whalers and explorers. I got to learn about the history of the Inuit on one of their historical sites. I could only imagine what they had gone through during the winter and how much hardship they had to endure. The trip to the north introduced me to the fascinating Inuit culture. A culture that was so similar to mine. Who knew places so distant could share so much in common? For me, learning about their culture was one of the best highlights of the trip.
The Arctic expedition was indeed an experience of a lifetime. For a while, I could not believe that I was actually in the north. Because of this expedition, I now know what I want to become in life. This was so much more than a trip to the North Pole. I was taught to get out of my comfort zone and experience new extraordinary things. I learned and experience so much in less than three weeks. I met so many wonderful people from all across the globe. We created friendships that are sure to last and help us in the future. By the end of the trip, we all had one ambition which was to protect the planet.

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.