Pictures: Rising Seas Are Already Damaging These Pacific Islands

It took months for Kiribati to repair battered roads and seawalls after a king tide earlier this year.

“Garlands of the gods” is how Kiribati poet Teweiariki Teaero describes the atolls of his homeland. And from the air, that is how they look, with a smoke ring of clouds above lush green slivers of land. How fragile they seem!

Built by the sea, they are increasingly being reclaimed by the sea. In February 2015, high spring tides coincided with storm-generated swells to flood homes and damage roads and seawalls in Kiribati’s capital, Tarawa. (Read more about the threats to the island nation.)

When I arrived in April, repair work was still continuing, but I knew it was only a matter of time before the ocean challenged the islands’ defenses once more. (Read our special issue on climate change.)

Despite the threat from the sea—which will only increase as climate change drives sea levels higher—the people possess depths of resilience and self-confidence. “I see adaptation as not just about seawalls but about revisiting our traditional knowledge systems,” Teaero told me. “We need the collaboration of our international partners, but an active collaboration as people who are empowered to tackle our own problems.”

A combination of science and traditional wisdom gives hope that, as Teaero writes in one of his poems, these islands will “rise over troubled seas.”