Rising sea levels on Duke of York Isles

09.06.2008: Quelle: The National (PNG) vom 04. Juni 2008

Local authorities have no plans to counter the affects of global warming on Duke of York.


THE international debate on climate change and global warming is a topic which is becoming increasingly important to people in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific due to the fact that many of our islands are being affected by rising sea levels. The PNG Government is fully aware of the dangers of rising sea levels and according to global watchers, PNG is identified to be in the risk zone and in the last few years notable cases especially in the New Guinea islands region were recorded to be directly affected from global warming. Preparations in terms of prevention, preparedness and mitigation has not gotten off to full swing in PNG, however, minor awareness has already been done in affected areas. East New Britain is one of the provinces that have recorded sea level rises in the last two decades experienced mainly on the Duke of York (DOY) islands which are situated at a low lying island or area. Apart from Manus and Carteret islands in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville which are the two main focuses for awareness and prevention, DOYis slowly realizing the fact that quite a few things have evolved in the last 15 to 20 years that has made its populace mindful of the dangers of sea level rise and how it would affect their livelihood. But DOY islanders are not clearly aware about pollution caused by industrialized countries emitting tonnes of poisonous gas into the earth’s atmosphere causing climate change and global warming. All they know is their seashores are showing signs of the encroachment of sea waters and they are being forced to pack up and move inland. The idea of relocation to the mainland of East New Britain is a move the provincial government has seriously considered since 1994 to establish a second home for the islanders for two main reasons; the effects of thevolcanic eruption and in the long term, the disappearance of the little isles due to rising sea levels. To date the latter was shelved due to lack of eagerness from the DOY people simply because they have not felt the real damage of sea level rise. Neither the government nor non-government agents have come to the islands to conduct awareness on sea level rise, however, former public servants who have returned to the island have done a bit to teach the people on the dangers of sea level rise. Villages on the northern part of the island have built natural barriers along their coastlines to prevent further erosion that has taken away six to 10 meters during the last five years. The DOY islands make up one local constituency with a total of 21 wards. Amotor boat ride from Kokopo takes over 40-minutes and the isles provides some of the best sandy beaches and potential tourism attractions. Kokopo District which Duke of York local level government comes under has identified potential tourist attractions on the island and has built numerous infrastructural and developmental projects costing thousands of kina for the people of DOY. The population on the islands is over 10,000 and already the pinch of population pressure is a concern among the people who realise that socio-economic activities must be encouraged and sustained. Recently I was part of a team that visited DOY and spoke to people about how they felt about climate change and rising sea levels. Elders on the islands warned that the livelihood of their future generations would be affected if the issue is not addressed and proper measures taken to combat it. Local authorities have no planned programs to tackle the issue and even though they know a little about the problem there is no awareness on the islands about sea level rises. The most noticeable changes elders on the islands confirmed are their fishing grounds. All the wards of Duke of York are located along the coastlines and they depend on marine resources for consumption and cash income. Those living inland cultivate cocoa and copra as cash crops and exchange garden crops for sea food with the coastal people. Now fishing grounds are farther to reach and they travel longer distances to find fish. Some years ago after a major earthquake that hit parts of Rabaul, the islanders noticed a sudden rise in the sea level that washed meters away from the shoreline. It was frightening and the Islanders now wonder whether authorities have short and long term plans to cater for the worst.