Scientists in Australia found that rising sea levels and coastal erosion have caused the disappearance of at least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands – believed to be the first evidence of climate change wiping out Pacific islands.
A study of aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2015, backed up by local knowledge and carbon dating of trees, examined shoreline changes across 33 low-lying islands.
It found that five have been completely lost and six have been severely eroded, including some that are at least 300 years old.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that in the island of Nuatambu, home to 25 families, half of the houses have been “washed into the ocean as a result of dramatic shoreline recession”.
Many of the islands families have fled to a nearby higher volcanic island.
Sirilo Sutaroti, a 94-year-old tribal chief who recently abandoned his village, told the researchers: “The sea has started to come inland, it forced us to move up to the hilltop and rebuild our village there away from the sea.”
Previous research of islands in the Pacific has found that shoreline changes were caused by a mix of extreme events, seawalls and inappropriate coastal development rather than sea-level rises alone.
But the study found that islands were being directly lost to phenomena caused by accelerating sea-level rises and other recent changes to the climate.
It found the five lost islands ranged in size from one to five hectares and were previously the site of tropical vegetation that was at least 300 years old.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Queensland, focussed on the remote Solomon Islands, which has been a “global sea-level rise hotspot”.