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Climate Change at Sapwuafik Atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia

By Santiago Joab Jr. 

Below is a condensed version of Santiago’s report, for the full version in .pdf format click here.

Introduction

This earth catching project has two parts to it, the first part was to seek evidence of climate change to the physical attributes of the island of Sapwuafik and interview people to see what they expect from the government. The other part is to find out what help have been given to the people of Sapwuafik by the government of the state of Pohnpei or the Federated States of Micronesia. This project was done in form of interviews, survey, GPS and pictures to show the impact of climate change to the island of Sapwuafik.

Study Area

Sapwuafik Atolls are part of the Federated States of Micronesia in the eastern Caroline Islands. Sapwuafik is one of many atolls under Pohnpei States Administrations. Sapwuafik consist of 10 atolls and people only occupy Ngatik which is the biggest among the atolls and is located at the western end. The atolls are vegetated primarily by coconut trees and other typical atoll forest species.   Sapwuafik has a population of approximately 700 people with about half under 16 so lots and lots of kids, aside from mostly kids half the population is either in Pohnpei or in other places. The people of Sapwuafik like most of the outer Islands live a very simple, peaceful life based on the sea and local foods such as giant swamp taro, bananas, and breadfruit.

Despite the fact that people of Sapwuafik contribute less to the climate change, they and all other atolls are seeing the impact of climate change through sea level rise to the land deformation and ways in which they live their daily lives.  The effect of climate change can be seen all over the ten atolls, however effort is directed to Ngatik because it is where people occupied. On the atoll of Ngatik land deformations are apparent on the western side of the island, where the air strip is situated.


View Santigo's Map in a larger map

Land Deformation and Effects of Rising Sea Levels

Erosion on the island of Sapwuafik can be seen at all 10 atolls, however the island where people live on is where the impact of climate change or sea level rise is severe.  Impacts of the sea level rise can be seen and felt at the air field of Sapwuafik, the air field was constructed right next to the island and after a high surge and a tropical storm in 2006 the air field today is isolated in the ocean (figure 1). The isolation of the air field makes things harder for travellers and those who work for the domestic airline called Caroline Island Air (CIA). Sapwuafik before the high surge in 2006 travelers usually walk from the air field on the beach, however today it is not the case. Today passengers are hauled by boat from and to the air field (figure2).

The affect of sea level rise to this atoll is creating more hazards to the people because trees are falling left and right. On the island of Sapwuafik where the trees are falling and erosion is high, is where people come together to wait for the arrival of the domestic flight. It is also a practice with the islanders that they enjoy their times under trees while having any kind of conversation.  At this atoll there are a lot of coconut trees standing on the beaches and will fall any time in the later years to come (figure 3).

Fig. 1 People who have brought to shore from the airstrip by boat.
Fig. 2 The airstrip at Sapwuafik Atoll.
Fig. 3. Palm trees uprooted along the coast (these were previously some distance from water's edge)

Governmental Assistance

Today the governments of the State of Pohnpei , National government and other Non governmental agencies picked food security to be the first priority. In terms of food security – there has been some initiatives done to adapt to the rising sea level and these include the construction of artificial taro beds in the outer islands; provision of agricultural crops (seedlings), farming/gardening tools/equipment and training in the outer islands.

The government places infrastructure as the second priority. In terms of Infrastructure – awareness on development activities to take into account rising sea level – for example, coastal restoration through planting of trees instead of building sea walls, raised buildings, or building inland for coastal communities, etc.

There is a FSM Nationwide Climate Change Policy that was adopted in December 2009.  This is the guiding document under climate change and the National Government is calling for all sectors to mainstream climate change in their development plans and strategies.

View of the People of Sapwuafik

People of Sapwuafik are aware of the fact that climate change which is contributing to the sea level rise affects shores and also taro patches. People experience many trees especially coconut trees are now being eroded (wash away). In the taro patches it is hard for people to plant taro due to the salt water caused by high tide and things will get worst. According to Sehpin a school teacher on Sapwuafik, he stated that from what he can remember the biggest one was about 6 years ago. We do have some every year but not like the previous one that is 6 years ago. High surge here in Sapwuafik is usually in winter (November to February). People of this island like everywhere are migrating and climate change is also contributing to their migration (Sehpin, 2011).

Conclusion

Climate change is an issue that is for everyone to consider regardless of size, color and power because the effect will be hard on the human race. It is unfortunate that those who contribute less to the climate change are seeing the effect first. Sapwuafik no exception like all atolls in the Pacific are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change through sea level rise and other disastrous means. Climate change was, is and will be affecting Sapwuafik’s physical geography and the people through erosion and flooding of the taro patches.  However, it is in fact a positive outcome to know that people out there are aware and care of a small island like Sapwuafik. With the collective efforts from the government of the Federated States of Micronesia, the State of Pohnpei, Non Governmental Organization’s in the state of Pohnpei , all donating governments and every one helping in any way and size are making sure that people of Sapwuafik will have a place to call home in many years to come.

Bibliography

Environmental Protection Agency. (2006). Disaster Assesments. Pohnpei: EPA.

Ehmes, C. (2011, January). Project Manager. (S. J. Jr., Interviewer)

Honorable, C. E. (2011, January). Leiutenant Governor. (S. J. Jr., Interviewer)

Sameul, S. (2011, January). Airline Agent. (S. J. Jr., Interviewer)

Santos, L. (2010, January). Acting Mayor. (S. J. Jr., Interviewer)

Sehpin, T. (2011, January). Classroom Teacher. (S. J. Jr., Interviewer)


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