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Rise and fall: social collapse linked to sea level in the Pacific

Patrick Nunn writes in The Conversation (16.3.16) about the dramatic social impacts on Pacific island communities of rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.

‘Last month I spent some time in Navunievu, a coastal village near the western tip of Vanua Levu island in Fiji. The people of Navunievu worry about sea-level rise and their concern is not exaggerated. Every high spring tide, much of the lower part of the village is flooded (it never used to be).

‘Off the coast are the remains of two seawalls intended to keep out the ocean. One, built in the 1950s, is now levelled by the waves. The other, built more recently nearer the shore, has collapsed in most places, the sea eating away at the sand behind it, undermining the closest buildings.

‘Island nations are often considered to be on the front line of climate change. But are islands really as vulnerable as this? One way of understanding the effects of sea-level changes on Pacific Island peoples is to look to the past.

‘My research shows that sea-level changes in the Pacific have triggered dramatic upheavals in island society.’

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