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Rising seas cause Solomons islands loss

Timothy Jones (with AFP)May 7, 2016

A recent study says five islands in the Solomons have vanished and others are suffering severe erosion. Scientists say information from the study could help with future research into the effects of sea-level rise.

Solomon Islands
Image: picture-alliance/robertharding/M. Runkel

Five islands have disappeared and another six have been badly eroded in the Solomon Islands owing to rising sea levels, according to an Australian study published on Friday.

"At least 11 islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades or are currently experiencing severe erosion," said the study, published in "Environmental Research Letters."

The researchers behind the study looked at satellite and aerial images of 33 islands made from 1947 to 2014, and drew additionally on accounts by local residents.

The five islands that had vanished were all vegetated reef islands of significant size that were unpopulated, but subject to occasional use by fishermen, the study said.

The study also said that between 2011 and 2014, 10 houses had been swept into the sea on one of the six other reef islands that have undergone severe erosion damage from the rising waters, which result from global warming.

In addition, receding shorelines at two sites had forced communities that had existed since at least 1935 to relocate, the researchers said.

Vulnerable region

The author leading the study, Simon Albert, told AFP news agency that the Solomons had rises in sea levels that were almost three times higher than the global average, making the islands an ideal place to study such phenomena.

Among other things, the study established a connection between sea-level rise and larger - and thus more damaging - waves, something that could prove useful for future study, Albert said.

In addition to the relocations mentioned above, the study said that Taro, the capital of Choiseul Province, was set to become the first provincial capital in the world to move residents and services to other locations in the face of the rising waters.

Salomonen Überflutung 9.4.2014
The 2014 floods left thousands homelessImage: REUTERS/Australian Defence Force

The Solomons have also borne the brunt of other climate-change phenomena, with flooding caused by Tropical Cyclone Ida in 2014 being ranked per capita as the world's most deadly single event disaster of that year by the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

Twenty-one people died in the floods, mostly children under 14, and 10 more children died of diarrhea and related complications in the following days. Thousands of others, this time mostly children under the age of five, became ill in the ensuing months with flu-like sicknesses or diarrhea.

The islands are home to some 600,000 people.