As we get closer to setting a date for our pending nuptials, my fiance and I have started thinking about the really fun part – tropical honeymoon destinations. We have a huge stack of travel magazines just waiting for us to peruse, ogle, dream… And as we ponder important questions such as, “What are the best tropical islands?” and “What are the best places to see before you die?” we’ve had to factor in climate change problems. That’s right. Climate change. Our travel bucket list is being prioritized based on global warming and rising sea levels because many small island nations today are threatened by climate change and are nearing extinction. As in, being submerged beneath the rising ocean levels, which promise to decimate entire cultures and populations of people. The fun day-dreamy part of our planning quickly took a serious, depressing and practical turn that evolved into conversations along the lines of, “We should consider the Maldives because it is estimated that it will only be in existence for another fifty years, so we should prioritize it on our list of best tropical vacation spots.” Sadly, some of the most beautiful places on earth are endangered islands that are being forced to face the reality of the effects of rising sea levels. So, our list of exotic honeymoon destinations/places to travel before you die has become more of a list of places to visit before they’re gone.
Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with its highest points barely reaching five feet above sea level. Of the endangered islands, it is one of the most high-risk small island nations that must deal with the effects of rising sea levels. Island relocation is a hot topic, as residents must face the reality that their home may disappear in their lifetimes, potentially turning them into climate refugees. The president of the Maldives held an underwater meeting for its cabinet to drive the point home.
Fijians take climate change seriously and introduced a National Climate Change Policy as a step toward developing a framework for dealing with climate change issues in a country where they are already feeling its impacts. Ministry permanent secretary Mrs Saipora Mataikabara stated, “We are experiencing sea level rise, and the other natural catastrophes that are caused by this phenomenon. It even affects our traditional knowledge and our very identity as island people.”
Fiji’s neighbor Kiribati is in a more dire situation, with some of its atolls already disappearing beneath the sea. Kiribati’s President Anote Tong is talking with Fiji’s government to possibly purchase up to 5000 square acres of land with plans of gradually relocating its residents if necessary. “The tides have reached our homes and villages,” says Tong. “Our people will have to move … This is the last resort, there’s no way out of this one.”
The Marshall Islands has raised an important legal question: if their country becomes uninhabitable due to climate change, forcing their inhabitants to flee and become climate refugees, will they remain a nation-state and keep their seat in the United Nations? Will they maintain control of their waters and their fishing rights? The risks that these endangered islands face today are changing the international law landscape. Nations have “disappeared” due to war and secession, but “no country has ever physically disappeared, and it’s a real void in the law,” stated Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York.
It is estimated that Tuvalu has approximately fifty years left, and its government is in an uproar that its small population of 11,000 people has hardly contributed to global warming, and yet is suffering the effects of climate change. Tuvalu is plagued with extreme weather, warmer water, which has resulted in a depletion of their dietary staple of fish, over-salinated soil which makes it difficult to grow food, and a drinking water shortage.
In other legal climate news, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) sued a major carbon emitter to take a stance against the polluters and the damage they are inflicting on island nations. “The very real impacts of climate change are happening on our disappearing shores,” said Maketo Robert, Secretary of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federated States of Micronesia. “This legal tool demonstrates that nations on the frontline of climate change are now supported by, and must prepare to invoke, the international law in making meaningful and more effective inputs into energy decisions.” In a separate action, FSM together with Kiribati, Palau and the Marshall Islands, plead their case to the United Nations.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Solomon Islands and after being briefed on the Climate Change Adaptation Project said, “No one here can doubt that climate change is a security issue. On the frontlines of conflict, there are surging waves of fighters. Here, there are surging waves of the ocean. These ocean waves can be more dangerous than an army. They can wipe out whole islands. The ocean is already destroying crops in low lying atolls like Ontong Java. That puts food security at risk. Poor food security means weak social stability.”
In the Caribbean, a non-profit organization CARIBSAVE is working to preserve the Caribbean islands by reducing their vulnerabilities and improving their resilience to climate change. As the most tourism-dependent region in the world, the Caribbean is moving toward more renewable energy as they strive to maintain biodiversity and deal with sea level rise and coastal erosion. In some countries such as Belize, mangrove forests are being restored after being decimated by commercial development. Mangroves protect coral reefs and shorelines from erosion.
Watch this video to learn more:
Sadly, this is a short list — there are many more endangered islands in the world. Hopefully the most beautiful places on earth will find a way to survive climate change. It would be a shame for these islands to disappear, and it’s crazy to imagine that this may happen in our lifetimes. We can make a difference every day when we consider the environment and make eco-conscious choices. As for our honeymoon, we haven’t made our decision yet, but we will certainly make sure that our trip has the lowest carbon footprint possible while respecting the local environment. Many resorts have programs that benefit local communities and the environment, and we’ll be sure to seek out the most eco-friendly resort we can find. Recommendations are welcome!