As young Pacific Islanders working in the climate movement, our role must be to to shift this single story that paints us as victims of climate change, to one that reflects our multiple truths as Pacific Islanders, living with climate impacts, but thriving nonetheless.
As a people, we need to retell our stories. We need to shed light on our multiple truths and record this part of our history, so the next generation can learn from our stories. Not just for the sake of Pacific Islanders in the climate discourse, but for Pacific Islanders in general.
The stories told to the world about us, have not been an accurate reflection of our unique Pacific perspectives, and that is why 350.org Pacific paid close attention to story collecting and storytelling this year.
The stories we have collected across the region, represent our climate realities. It also represents our shared hope for the Pacific and the world. This year 350.org Pacific took ownership of how our stories are being told to the world.
The following are our truths as a people at the frontlines of climate change. These are our stories of how we are bearing witness to climate impacts as well as holding strong to the resilient spirits of our people.
Our teams across the region are currently traveling throughout the Pacific to listen to and collect stories of how climate change is destroying the Pacific way of life. We will take these stories and weave them into traditional mats. These mats, and the stories they represent, will then travel with us to the Vatican to show what is at risk if religious leaders do not divest from fossil fuels.
We hope to also share these stories so that world leaders meeting in Paris for COP21, will understand that for us in the Pacific, climate change is a question of survival, and they need to listen to the plight of the Pacific from our Pacific Leaders in Paris.
The first island to tell their stories is Kiribati, earlier this year Kiribati was hit with King Tides that destroyed nearly everything in its path.
While king tides occur naturally, we know that climate change played a hand in making the king tides more extreme. It’s given us a sobering indication of just how damaging any sea-level rise from here on in will be for Kiribati. Small amounts of sea level rise are causing disproportionately large amounts of damage
Photos and interviews by 350 Pacific Communications Coordinator Fenton Lutunatabua
These children play outside a kava bar that was destroyed by the recent king tides. Most kava bars in Kiribati provide a steady source of income for its owners and their families. Now that this kava bar is destroyed, kids use it as a playground, while the owners clean up around it and figure out how to provide for their families.
Most wells in Tarawa were flooded by seawater making them unsafe to drink. These two women now have to fetch rainwater or preserved water from the Bonriki Government Water Supply source for their families. The king tide also completely flooded villages destroying banana trees, breadfruit trees, and crops a well. Their access to fresh drinking water and food is being threatened not just by climate change, but by king tide’s as well.
This seawall on which this 3-year-old boy plays was too low for the king tides- with it’s insatiable thirst for land and infrastructure. His parents only just recently renovated their kitchen. It, along with this little boy’s front yard, lounge area, and bedroom, was destroyed by the king tide. His family was unfortunately not the only family to experience this.
“This is the 3rd time I have had to rebuild my seawall because of the high tides. The recent king tides was the highest I have ever seen the tides. I have to keep rebuilding though because I need to protect my family.”
60-year-old Pauro of Temwaiko in Kiribati is the only male in his family. In his entire life, he has never been as scared of the waves as he was, during the recent king tide. His fear his not for himself, but his daughters and his people.
An old broken down blue lorry becomes a playpen for these children in Betio. This has become a normal sight in Kiribati; children playing in unsafe environments. Old rusty cars become jungle gyms, broken down seawalls become adventure parks, and devastated beaches become a soccer field.
“I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe I was witnessing all these things happening. Everything being destroyed, it was saddening. We heard that another king tide was on its way, so we are waiting for it. My son has already built a new seawall around our house to protect us.”
For these old ladies, this was the most severe high tide they had seen in their lives. The first lady, Kiariari, had her home destroyed by the king tides, and the second lady, Karo Tebenuakai, had her garden destroyed. The people of Kiribati live in simple traditional homes that make them more vulnerable to the rising tide. They also depend on their starchy root crops for carbohydrates. Life is a little more difficult when their shelter and food source is taken away from them.
Thomas Katioua, the security guard at the Betio Hospital, was on duty the day the king tides destroyed the maternity ward. His main priority during all the chaos was keeping mothers and their newborns safe. This old shell of a ship he is standing in front of was actually a shipwreck out in the lagoon. It was carried by the strong waves towards the seawalls, smashing them up! Fortunately, it just missed the hospital, this entire coastal community was in complete chaos.
“We are currently renovating the whole place because the patients need to be taken care of. Now the clinic is operational again, a new higher seawall has been constructed; the maternity ward has been reopened and everything is done now. I think everything has happened because of climate change.”
“The king tides brought with it so many problems. We were however very fortunate that the waves did not destroy the seawalls, instead what happened was, the tide was so high that it swept right over the seawalls and straight into the hospital.”
The roads and the seawall along this coastal village in Temwaiko are no match for the waves that continuously leave a trail of destruction when the tide is in. Travel to other villages is made harder because the roads have been destroyed, and seawalls meant to protect the villages, crumble at the force of the high tides.
Frontline Truths: Papua New Guinea
The next island to share their stories is Papua New Guinea. Again, we would like to reiterate, that while king tides aren’t a direct result of climate change, it does make them more extreme.
A team from 350 Papua New Guinea recently travelled to Buka to collect stories from the people of the Carteret Islands- some of the world’s first climate change refugees. The team, headed by Arianne Kassman, 350 PNG Coordinator, collected first hand accounts of climate change realities in the Carterets.
Ursula and the king tide
Ursula tells of the biggest king tide she ever experienced on Carteret’s and what happened to the environment.
The vanishing ‘pulaka’
Twenty nine year old Loyd Micah born on the Carteret Islands tells the story of ‘Pulaka’ a Polynesian Taro found on Carterets. In this story, he tells us what has happened to the taro due to the impacts of Climate Change.
I am here to find a home for my grandchildren.
Martha was born in 1962 on the Carteret Islands. As she shares her life story with us, it is evident that every decision she has made, she has done so for the future of her grandchildren.
We need to grow our own food to survive
Brigette Tsibi shares her reasons for leaving her home. For her, she has come to terms with the fact that she cannot survive on her home island. She made the painful decision to leave her home and relocate her family so they could grow their own food to eat.
Why Carteret Islanders are relocating
Ursula Rakova heads Tulele Peisa, the organization that is facilitating the relocation of the Carteret Islanders to the mainland, Buka. In this video, she talks about why the Carteret Islanders are moving and how king tides and frequent storms have affected their way of life.
Joseph Riosi of Han Island shares climate change realities on his island.
Frontline Truths: Vanuatu
The next island to tell their stories is Vanuatu. Earlier this year Vanuatu was hit by Tropical Cyclone Pam– the worst natural disaster in the history of Vanuatu, and the strongest storm ever in the South Pacific. We know that climate change plays a hand in making these cyclones more extreme.
Photos and interviews by 350 Vanuatu Coordinator Isso Nihmei
My Name is Thomas Roror and I come from the island of Malekula in a village called Malwa Bay. We live close to a small lake where we fetch water for drinking and bathing.
Climate change is a really big issue for us in Malekula, especially in my village where we are living with climate impacts. After Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, I went back to my home island to check if my family and friends were safe. They were, but the lake that ran alongside our home, was completely destroyed. The fresh water is now all mixed with seawater that now washes in so easily.
Our local Public Works Department have tried to build sea walls to block seawater from coming in, but its not strong enough to hold off the seawater for a long enough time.
I am Sethy Melenamu and I can see that climate change is big issue in Vanuatu and something that doesn’t just affect the environment, but also the next generation and their future. I want developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and move away from the fossil fuel industry. I also don’t want to be labeled a climate change refugee in the future – because I have my own land, country and government. In Vanuatu right now, we are experiencing dry season and a lot of our water supply from wells have dried up. We need water to survive, but what can we do, more and more wells are drying up.
I think that as young people, it is our duty to support our government in representing our people and our voices at international climate negotiations. Our main call as a people should be for the transition towards renewable energy. I am supporting the government in pushing for a strong legally binding climate agreement that guarantees our survival.
21 year old Lili lives in Erakor Village on Efate Islands. She is the daughter of the paramount chief, who owns a piece of the beach at Etmat Bay that used to be a very popular place where friends and family used to gather for BBQ lunches and picnics.
I remember this one tree that had fallen onto the beach, when we were younger we used to play hide-and-go-seek around that tree, I have a lot of childhood memories on that beach.
Tropical Cyclone changed a lot of things for us and for that beach property my father owned. The temporary picnic houses and BBQ stands that we had erected along that beach property was all blown away, the high tides are a lot higher than I remember, and the coast line has at least shifted by 20 meters closer to the road.
One of the things I am most fearful of is losing all the land my father owns to the sea. If we lose that, we have nothing.
Fred Langa lives in Mele Village in the Efate Islands. For Fred and his family, climate change is a big concern. He has lived in his village for 21 years and he has seen with his own eyes, how much the sea level has risen and how much coastal sites have changed. Fred, like many others in Vanuatu, says that Cyclone Pam was the largest cyclone he had ever experienced in his entire life, but he, like many others, fear there are more larger ones to come.
My family has had to move inland because there is no way we can live and stay where we used to.
Since I was little, I have lived with the impacts of climate change. I worry about my future even more now. I am at a point now in my life, where I want to find out the causes of climate change and hold those responsible for it to account.
Frontline Truths: Solomon Islands
Next we travel to the Malaita Province, where 350 Solomon Islands Coordinator, Starling Konainao speaks with elders in Auki Harbor about climate impacts in their community.
I am Starling Konanaio, and I come from Lilisiana and Ambu, both communities are located on each side of the Auki Harbor. The Malaita Provincial capital is located at the centre. As coastal communities, we rely on the sea for both food and economic activities.
Ambu Community, Auki, Malaita Province
This is Ambu Community High School. The building behind these children, are about 5 to 6 meters away from the sea, and not so many years ago, there used to be a public road right there where the kids are walking. The school administrators are getting worried because it is estimated that in about 5 years time, the sea will have reached the foundation of the building.
This little boy was just a baby when his parents planted these mangrove shoots. The community in Ambu has had to carry out a mangrove replanting initiative in an attempt to stop coastal erosion, he told me that he will carry on the fight from his parents and continue to do what he must, to protect his home and his family.
Lilisiana Beach, Auki, Malaita Province
That patch of land and trees are the only things holding the sea back from reaching the wetlands inland. If, or when, that happens it will cause a lot of damage to the vegetation as well as to the people of Lilisiana.
Lilisiana Village, Auki, Malaita Province.
The village has tried to protect their village the best way they can by building their homes on high stone- walls. No matter what they do though, they are still vulnerable to high seas and cyclones. The elders in the community told me that they are getting confused with the change in the sequence of the tides, and feel that their traditional knowledge is no longer as valuable as it once was.
Frontline Truths: Fiji
Next, we travel to the Fiji islands where George Nacewa and the 350 Fiji team had travelled for roughly 12 hours to get to Vunisavisavi, a small village on the second major island in the Fiji group, Vanua Levu. Vunisavisavi was identified by the iTaukei Affairs Board (the administrative arm of the Government that looks after indigenous people of Fiji), as a community that may need to relocate due to the impacts of climate change. George spoke with a few villagers to understand their realities with climate impacts.
I was born in Vunisavisavi, and I remember as a child playing so many fun games in trees that grew by the beach. See that ‘Baka’ Tree, we used to play in that tree years ago, back then the sea wasn’t as close to the land as it is now. In those days, it was about 10 to 15 meters out. Nowadays, its so close to the land, and its scary. Recently, we just built a home by the beach. When we dug the holes for its foundations and posts, seawater came rushing out of the earth. It is taking over our land and causing a number of problems. Our septic tanks are filled with seawater when the tide is in, the streams behind our homes where we used to fetch drinking water from is all inundated by seawater now, and our crops cannot grow anymore. On top of that, our drinking water has been disrupted by the dry spell we are experiencing so we need to limit the use of our remaining water pipes, only using it for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Experts that have visited my village have warned the elders that in ten years, our entire village might be covered by the sea, already the elders in the village are advising us to move further inland and build our homes on hillsides.
I can tell you that even though these things are happening to us right now, we are not just sitting around waiting for these impacts to dictate our lives. We are doing what we can to ensure these impacts are dealt with.
I am 47 years old, my entire life I have never seen the sea level as high as it is now. Now it comes right up to this ‘Kavika’ tree, this has never happened before. The stream on my left used to be where our elders fetched water for drinking and cooking, but now we can’t use it anymore because the sea has mixed with it.
This land that we are on is our ancestral ground. We are standing near the birthplace of the first paramount Chief of Cakaudrove, as the paramount chief the ‘Tui Cakau’ had asked my ancestors to remain here and watch over the land for him. We are still fulfilling that request till today and have come to love this place, even though a lot of people have come and advised us to leave because of the sea level rise, we cannot, this is the birthplace of our ancestors and where the foundation of our customs and traditions was built.
All we can do is continue to prepare ourselves to live with the impacts of climate change and hope that we get some assistance to protect our ancestral grounds from climate change.
I am a retired school teacher, I taught for just a little under 40 years. My husband and I moved to Vunisavisavi, my husbands’ village, in 2012 to serve the people and look after the ancestral grounds. It is such a privilege to be back in Vunisavisavi after so many years teaching in different parts of Fiji, mainly because we get to educate the children and share the word of God.
When we moved back, my husband and I realized that we needed to build a concrete house to protect others and us from hurricanes, especially because we live so close to the sea. We also decided to build our home this way so children could come and use our tables and chairs, and have good enough lighting to do their homework in the evenings.
When I was working and earning money, we could afford to buy from the shops. Now that we have moved back here, my husband plants and we live off the land. In the village, the land plays an important role in helping provide for our needs. I told my husband that if our ancestors could survive off the land, so too could we. We may not have much, but what we have and get from the land we share, as this is who we are as a people.
When you live in the village, you realize that there is very little you need to buy from shops. From a coconut, for example, we can make cooking oil, body oil, and coconut milk and get fiber to make ropes. Everything we need to survive is right here, and we are blessed to have that. God has provided us with so many things and it’s important that we use that well, but climate change threatens this way of life, our traditional way of life.
Now we live off solar power, which is very convenient as it powers the electrical appliances we need. We only pay $18 a month and it is available around the clock, but not as noisy as the generator. The generator we used before was $20 a month with a time limit of 3 hours a night for usage. We are glad that we are using solar power, energy its most raw form.
If I have one message for you reading this, it would be to never forget who you are and where you belong. Always remember those of us here in villages that have the great responsibility of protecting our indigenous identity, keeping it alive through the protection of your ancestral ground. If you can help us, we welcome your assistance.
All the young people in Vunisavisavi are now working with the elders to build water catchments for our drinking water and also learn about the old ways. There aren’t a lot of young people in the village nowadays, but those that remain do what we must, to ensure the next generation will know the Vunisavisavi we know. Every day I think about the challenges the next generation will have to face because of the sea eating into our land. The rising seas always affect the homes beside the beach, we can’t plant food around the village anymore, and the change in weather is resulting in so many changes to our normal way of life.
Pio- Turaga Ni Koro
Before this place used to be rich with banana, breadfruit, and coconut trees, but in the past few years, we have seen that the trees have died and can’t bear any more fruit. The sea continuously keeps eating away at our land. These stones are all that remain from the barrier that surrounded the traditional home of the Tui Cakau. The rest have been swept away by the sea.
We have had to move into another home because the house that we used to live in is being torn apart by a combination of the rising sea and the weird weather we have been having. The original home we lived in was built on the ancestral ground of the Tui Cakau, but we have had to move from there because of the rising sea levels. However, the Tui Cakau has stated his intention to rebuild his bure (traditional resting home) on that piece of land again. Despite the threat posed by climate change, he believes in the ‘mana’ of the land and wants to live again on this land of his ancestors.
Frontline Truths: Tokelau
Next we travel to Tokelau, where Climate Warrior Litia Maiava shares her truths as a Pacific Islander living with the impacts of climate change.
Years ago, our land was wider and larger. Now with climate change our land is getting smaller and smaller due to the rise in sea level.
I remember when I was a child, my friends and I use to play on the beach, but now it’s gone. Our beach is underwater and I can’t imagine what it will be like in the next twenty years if we do not fight against climate change. Our homes may go underwater, we may lose everything!
My father built my family three homes to live in. Unfortunately, these homes were destroyed by Cyclones Val and Olaf in 1991 and Cyclone Percy in 2004. This wasn’t just unique to my family, many other homes close to the sea were destroyed. People have told us to move because they believe Tokelau will disappear in the next 20 to 50 years. I cannot, I will not, I have to stand my ground as a Tokelau Climate Warrior and defend my islands. This is my responsibility and duty to protect my land from the threat of climate change.
I am here in Europe to ask world leaders to move away from fossil fuels and divest their investments in the fossil fuel industry. Tokelau currently meets 100% of their electricity needs from renewable energy. If we can do it, so can you!
Frontline Truths: Marshall Islands
by Niten Anni from the Marshall Islands
My home is made up of a few small and low-lying atoll islands. There are about 70,000 Marshallese people that make up our population. A majority of them live on Majuro, which is the capital, and Kwajalein, which is the largest atoll in the world.
Today, our islands, much like many other atoll islands, are in great danger because of climate change. King tides, which are exacerbated by climate change, damage many of our homes and destroy many of our beaches making them smaller and smaller.
So many things have changed in the islands. When I was younger and used to go diving with my uncles, the marine ecosystem was a lot lusher and alive with color and character. Nowadays they aren’t as beautiful as they used to be.
A usually simple thing like having access to drinking water has been made a little more difficult because of climate change. The droughts in the islands are a lot more constant now, which means our water catchments aren’t filled and we have to fetch water from wells. Usually that would be OK, but now because the high tides are higher than ever before, our well water is all salty. But, we have no other choice but to drink them.
The biggest challenge for my people in the Marshall Islands are the high tides. It is making our normal everyday life almost unbearable.
We do however, have a great team of young people doing what we can to ensure the survival of our people. Two of my colleagues Milañ Loeak and Kathy Jetnil- Kijiner, are especially leading the way on this. In 2014, Milañ was one of the Pacific Climate Warriors that blockaded the largest coal port in the world to send a direct message to the fossil fuel industry, letting them know that the expansion of the fossil fuel industry is exporting destruction to the Pacific, and Kathy, represented the plight of the Pacific so beautifully when she addressed world leaders at a UN Climate Leaders Summit in New York, last year.
Video of Climate Impacts in the Marshall Islands:
We will be releasing stories from different islands every few days. Come back soon.