Island getaways are a dream come true for a wide range of travelers, from adventurous backpackers to families and retirees. Destinations such as Bora Bora, Tahiti, the Maldives, and the Seychelles captivate visitors with their pristine, untouched beauty.
However, these idyllic island escapes are facing a dire threat from human-induced climate change. The warming of ocean waters, rising sea levels, and increasingly severe storms are putting these islands at risk. Consequently, many of these paradises may face partial submersion and become uninhabitable in just a few decades.
The islands that make up Venice, one of the most beloved tourist destinations in the world — and which famously floods frequently — have recently been inundated with historically high flood waters that have imperiled its artistic treasures. Venice isn’t the only famous tourist spot threatened by climate change. Here are the attractions that are being destroyed by climate change.
As nations attempt to address the climate change crisis, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of islands that might not exist in 20 years. We created our list by reviewing material from sources such as the United Nations, which calls climate change “the defining issue of our time,” and websites from nations to create our list.
The rise in greenhouse gases, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, has led to an increase in temperatures all across the globe and glacial ice melting, causing sea levels to rise. In addition, as the oceans get warmer, they begin to expand, causing sea levels to rise further. The sea begins to eat away at coastlines, causing erosion. These are the effects of climate change that can’t be stopped.
The rise in sea level varies from place to place. It depends on water temperature (hot water has more volume than cold); the effect of wind; the direction of oceanic currents; and even the contours of continents and the shifting of tectonic plates.
The severity may vary locally, but it is a global issue nonetheless. At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, a spokesperson for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: “Some countries will flat-out disappear.”
Many of these island nations are taking action, formulating sustainability strategies, building walls to keep out rising oceans, relocating people who are at risk from surging sea levels, or planning to construct floating islands sustained by solar and wind power like French Polynesia.
1. Federal States of Micronesia
> 2018 Population: 112,640
The average rate of sea-level rise worldwide has been 3.1 mm per year since 1993. But the Federated States of Micronesia, which consists of four main islands — Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae — are losing lands three times faster. The sea level is rising as much as 10 mm a year. The country is at risk of disappearing because of coastal inundation, flooding, erosion, and storm surges.
2. Shishmaref, Alaska
> 2018 Population: 617
In 2016, people living in Shishmaref, Alaska, located near the Bering Strait, voted to relocate before melting ice and land erosion would forced them to. (Alaska had granted the city $8 million toward the move, but officials say it will cost $200 million.) The island has sometimes been called “ground zero for climate change in the Arctic.”
3. Marshall Islands
> 2018 Population: 58,413
Residents of Marshall Islands, a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean, have known for years that they have to either build new artificial islands to relocate or raise the existing ones. Some research suggests that the sea level in the Marshall Islands will rise by as many as 16 inches by 2045 if nothing is done to fight climate change.
> 2018 Population: 11,508
Tuvalu is a small chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Its relatively small size and isolated location have made it enticing to tourists but also susceptible to climate change. For more than 25 years, its representatives have raised alarms that climate change could raise sea levels enough to submerge the islands. Even if waters never get that high, Tuvalu could still become uninhabitable as rising sea levels have contaminated the nation’s groundwater resources with salt and caused reduced crop yields.
> 2018 Population: 515,696
The Maldives is one of the nations that is most vulnerable to sea-level rise. According to a U.N. report, the vast majority of the nation’s land area is less than a meter (3 feet) above sea level. These islands off the southern coast of India are a popular tourist destination, but climate change is already affecting the tourism industry. Nearly half of all tourist resorts have experienced “severe beach erosion.”
> 2018 Population: 17,907
The sea level has risen in Palau, a country of about 700 islands, by about 0.35 inches, or 9 mm per year since 1993, about three times the global average rise, according to research by the Pacific-AustraliaClimate Change Science Program. The accelerated rate may be due to natural weather phenomena that occur periodically such as the El NiÃ±o-Southern Oscillation. Sea level is expected to rise between 5.5 and 13.8 inches by 2050, depending on the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere.
> 2018 Population: 883,483
Fiji, a popular honeymoon destination consisting of about 300 islands in the South Pacific, is at the mercy of climate change. Powerful tropical cyclones, erosion, and flooding are part of the reason the annual sea level in Fiji has been rising by an average of 6 mm per year since 1993. In 2012, the entire population of one village abandoned its homes and relocated to higher ground.
> 2018 Population: 96,762
The 115-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean is primarily a tourist destination — but its beaches are eroding. Theoretically, just one meter (39 inches) of sea-level rise may sink 70% of the nation’s entire land. So far, the annual sea-level rise in the Seychelles has fluctuated, but between 2002 and 2006 there were five instances when it reached almost 4 inches due to extreme storm events and flooding.
9. Solomon Islands
> 2018 Population: 652,858
Solomon Islands, a country comprising six major islands in the South Pacific, has already lost five reef islands because of sea level rise and erosion caused by climate change, according to a 2016 study published in Environmental Research Letters. The sea level has been rising in the Solomon Islands archipelago by 10.1 mm, or 0.4 inches, per year. Villages have been forced to relocate because much of their inhabitable land is now under water.
10. Torres Strait Islands, Australia
> 2016 Population: 4,514
Sea levels around the Torres Strait Islands are rising at an average rate of 6 mm to 8 mm per year, almost triple the global average of 3.1 mm sea-level rise. The ocean water has become warmer and more acidic due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide, and this has also sped up erosion as the acid in the water reacts with minerals in the land. Local governments have organized many climate change workshops to develop and adapt plans to deal with the threat of rising sea levels.
11. Tangier Island, Virginia
> 2018 Population: 706
Tangier Island, Virginia, also called the soft-shell capital of the world, is on the front lines of climate change in the United States. The highest point of the island is just 6 feet above sea level. The island has lost two-thirds of of land area since 1850 because of the longer term effects from what is called glacial rebound. The island has been sinking by about an inch a year because of rising sea levels. Storm-powered erosion and sea-level rise may force people to flee the island. The state of Virginia has offered $3 million to build a wall around the island’s harbor, but residents think they need a wall around the whole island to save it from being inundated.
12. Cape Verde
> 2018 Population: 543,767
Cape Verde is a nation comprising a group of islands off the west coast of Africa. Like many island states, Cape Verde is vulnerable to climate change impacts because of its small surface area, high population density, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of potable water resources. Because of its geographic vulnerability, Cape Verde is also prone to natural catastrophes. The archipelago has embarked on a strategy to integrate environmental issues into its planning goals and promote sustainable development.
> 2018 Population: 115,847
In 2017, low-lying Kiribati declared that global warming was literally killing it. The nation, which consists of 33 islands, with a total land mass of just 309 square miles, that are about 6 feet above sea level, may actually become the first to be completely submerged by global warming. Rising sea levels have already swallowed sections of coastline. The country is expected to become uninhabitable long before it’s completely under water.
14. French Polynesia
> 2018 Population: 277,679
French Polynesia is home to two of the most exotic travel destinations in the world — Bora Bora and Tahiti. With the island group threatened by rising seas, the California-based Seasteading Institute has introduced the “Floating City Project,” which is a proposed self-sustainable community whose energy is provided by solar and wind power. The Pacific nation became the first country in January 2017 to sign an agreement to locate the floating islands off its coast. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said sea levels in French Polynesia are expected to rise by as many as 32 inches by the end of the late 21st century.
> 2018 Population: 292,680
Vanuatu, formerly called the New Hebrides, is an island nation in the South Pacific, northeast of Australia and west of Fiji. Like many islands in the Pacific, rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change will have a profound impact on the nation’s fisheries, one of the most significant sources of food in Vanuatu, and the impact will be felt also in tourism. The nation is already feeling the effects of coastal erosion and ocean acidification. Vanuatu is signatory to the Paris Agreement that aims to limit greenhouse gases, and it has adapted plans to reduce the risk of disaster from these inevitable changes.
16. The Philippines
> 2018 Population: 106,652,922
The Philippines consists of 7,107 islands. It is also the most vulnerable Asian country to climate change, according to a 2018 HSBC report. Sea levels in the Philippines are projected to rise by 9 to 18.5 inches by the end of the 21st century. Typhoons are common in the Philippines, and these events are forecast to become more intense because of rising sea surface temperatures. Storms and sea-level increases are projected to affect 60% of towns in the island nation. Ten of its largest cities are located on the coast. The United States Agency for International Development and the Philippines are advocating for low emissions development strategies and seeking to improve ways to address climate change.
> 2018 Population: 111,454
The Caribbean island nation of Grenada just north of South America was slammed by two hurricanes in 2004. The hurricanes destroyed 90% of the nation’s buildings and caused damage 2.5 times its gross domestic product. According to a Grenada government recent report, climate change is already disrupting economic sectors such as tourism and agriculture. To address the projected impacts of climate change, Grenada has implemented plans such as more construction of concrete structures and expanding education about the effects of climate change on the community.
18. Hatteras Island, North Carolina
> 2018 Population: Unpopulated
The Outer Banks on Hatteras Island are a very popular summer destination, known for wild horses roaming freely and, of course, beaches. But some areas of the island chain are disappearing due to more severe storms and rising sea levels brought on by global warming as well as urban development. A part of Hatteras Island has already lost 75% of its original width.
19. Canary Islands, Spain
> 2018 Population: 2.1 million
Climate change is reportedly having a profound effect on animal life in the Canary Islands, which are located just off the coast of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean. Government officials have raised concerns that rising temperatures could allow non-native pests to flood the islands, which could destroy the agricultural industry and be expensive to treat. Agricultural groups in the islands have also noted that droughts, heat waves, and dust storms blowing across the water from the nearby Sahara Desert could spell disaster for the country’s food sector.
20. Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana
Locals in Isle de Jean Charles have lost 98% of their land since 1955 due to gradual sinking, erosion, and sea-level rise. Only 29 homes remain. The U.S. federal government granted the island $48 million to relocate residents, an unprecedented move. The money was used to buy land on higher ground some 40 miles from the island.
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