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Just northeast of Australia the small island nation of Tuvalu is shrinking into the ocean due to global climate change. The people of Tuvalu are imploring the global community to take drastic measures in slowing global warming, and are hoping to save their tiny country.
Text by: Lauren Williams     Country: Tuvalu

uvalu sits just 2-3 meters above sea level, and is home to just over 10,000 people. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, Tuvalu is a former British colony, largely populated with people of Polynesian and some Micronesian heritage. In the Tuvaluan language the name of the island means “group of eight,” referring to eight of the nine atolls that stretch over 750,000 square kilometers.

Now, because of climate change, this small chain of islands may disappear into the sea.

Why?

Rising ocean levels may mean that in the next 30-50 years Tuvalu will be underwater. The problem of global climate change is creating a situation where sea levels rise due to thermal expansion of water and meltingice caps and glaciers.

These rising tides mean that Tuvalu is one of the most endangered countries on the planet. Not only will Tuvaluans be affected years from now but their day-to-day lifestyle is currently in jeopardy.

The warmer waters are affecting coral reefs, which in turn is affecting the availability of fish for Tuvaluans to eat. Fish are a staple in the Tuvaluan diet and the main source of protein for the people living on the island. The people of Tuvalu are limited in how much they can farm because their country consists largely of sand, which is not viable land to sow crops.

The sea is also constantly invading freshwater supplies, according to an article in Reuters. Because of this, people are limited in how much water they can drink. The lessening availability of clean water means that the people of Tuvalu run the risk of rising diseases and are more susceptible to pandemics.

Climate change has also meant that Tuvaluans are faced with more cyclones and droughts then in previous years.

“We keep thinking the time will never come. The alternative is to turn ourselves into fish and live underwater,” Deputy Prime Minister Tavau Teii told Reuters.

Tuvalu’s geography

Because Tuvalu is so low lying and narrow geographically the ever-increasing waves are predicted to swallow the country in the next few decades, turning Tuvalu into the modern-day Atlantis.

The highest point in Tuvalu is 4 meters above sea level, making the island very close to the ocean level and the huge waves are constantly eroding away the islands’ coastline.

Many of the coral reefs that surround the country are highly vulnerable to heat stress, and with the changes in water temperature the coral reefs are dying, according to a report from the United Nations.

How Tuvaluans feel

In the Miss South Pacific event in 2009, Miss Tuvalu was outspoken about the effects of climate change on her country. She used the Miss South Pacific pageant as a platform to voice concern for her country. The slogan for the pageant that year was “Preserving our environment the Pacific way,” writes Mother Jones magazine.

Many Tuvaluans are moving away from their country to nearby countries like New Zealand and Australia where they sometimes struggle to mesh their own culture with that of their new country. New Zealand has a limited immigration program with Tuvalu, and is seen as a kind of best-case scenario for Tuvaluans.

“We try to run away from the sea rise in Tuvalu, but this is another sea-level rise,” a Tuvaluan in New Zealand told Mother Jones referring to cultural and economic struggles between Tuvaluan immigrants and their host countries.

A United Nations report on Tuvalu writes that the increase in immigration and ensuing culture clashes that are bound to happen, may create tension and unrest between Tuvaluan immigrants and their new homes.

Solutions

A reduction of greenhouse emissions is a top priority on the list of changes that must be made in order to save Tuvalu.

The small country must also learn how to adapt to the rapidly changing environment they are finding themselves in. The United Nations report suggests financial aid to countries that are at risk of disappearing due to climate change as well as regional centers for adaptation to the new environment.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT TUVALU
Continent: Oceania
Day of independence from Great Brittan: Oct. 1, 1978
Languages: English and Tuvaluan
Economy: Relies heavily on imported goods
Geography: 9 small islands stretched over 750,000 square kilometers
Government: Parliamentary democracy and Commonwealth realm
Agriculture: Coconuts, fish


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Summary Basic Level – A1

In the Tuvaluan language the name of the island means “group of eight,” … Now, because of climate change, this small chain of islands may disappear into the sea.

People are limited in how much water they can drink. The lessening availability of clean water means that the people of Tuvalu run the risk of rising diseases and are more susceptible to pandemics.

Because Tuvalu is so low lying and narrow geographically the ever-increasing waves are predicted to swallow the country in the next few decades, turning Tuvalu into the modern-day Atlantis.

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The disappearing island of Tuvalu
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The disappearing island of Tuvalu

The environment