Sunday, 5 October 2014

Shifting Coastlines

 The Kivaumai beach that used to be inland of the village.
As we travelled about Gulf Province by dinghy, I heard stories of the changes in the land and water around them. Much of what I heard I could confirm from my own observations.

At Maipenairu village, we were told that they had moved there a few generations ago and that it had been the beach. Now the beach was a kilometre or so away, beyond more rivers and islands. At night you could sometimes hear the breakers on the beach, but it was not within easy access. The growth of land in this area was put down to soil coming down the river from the Highlands.

At Kivaumai village, we were told that the village had moved inland some generations ago, because the ocean had reclaimed the land where it was before. Some sticks in the water indicated where the village had been. Once again the village is thinking about moving inland, as the ocean continues to invade.

While we were in the area, we experienced unusually high tides. People told us that high tides have been happening for generations, but not with such frequency or severity. The water would come into the village maybe once or twice a year and never so deeply. For three days we saw the water flood the entire village twice a day.

 Exposed roots show where the recent high tide
 pushed the beach towards the village yet again.
The truth of what we were told was confirmed by the loss of gardens and walkways. People in these areas know what the usual tide range is, so build their gardens out of reach of the salty and destructive water. For their gardens to be inundated indicated that the tides were not behaving within the normal range. Similarly, walkways which had been in use for some time and had been built to be above the range of the tide were being damaged by the higher-than-high tides.

We heard stories of people learning to adapt to the new normal, of finding new ways to plant mini gardens on every high point they could find. Still, I cannot help but wonder how rising sea levels will effect these people in the long term. The ground of their villages is not far above sea level and will easily go under. Where then do they go when their gardens and their land is taken from them?

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