Why don't more islanders swim

Where potatoes used to grow, today sharks swim at high tide

Nothing is as it used to be in the Carteret Islands. Only from a distance do the atolls look like a South Seas paradise. Where there were blooming fruit trees until a few years ago, there are only stinking puddles of water. The wells are filled with salt water. Huts now lie as ruins in the water.

"Last June's flood was the worst anyone has ever experienced," says Paul Tobasi, a former Carteret resident and now responsible for the atolls for the provincial government on the main island of Bougainville, which belongs to Papua New Guinea.

The island paradise, a two-hour flight from the capital of Papua New Guinea, sinks into the sea. The 2500 people planted mangroves to consolidate the ground near the beach. Huge breakwaters made of mussel shells also serve this purpose. But the fight was lost.

A fate that the Pacific island kingdom of Tuvalu also fears. And the Cook Islands. And Fiji. The water level of the Pacific rises and rises. The islanders live in fear. "They have to be relocated this year," says Tobasi. "The islands will be gone in 15 to 20 years." After 400 years of settlement, he adds.

Further warnings are expected tomorrow when the more than 2500 scientists of the UN Climate Change Council (IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) present their new climate predictions after six years of work. The seven million islanders of the 22 Pacific nations suspect nothing good: as early as 2001, the council warned that sea levels would rise by up to 88 centimeters by the end of this century, largely caused by the human-produced greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere, the icebergs and melt glaciers.

The residents of Carteret, where the highest point is just 1.70 meters high, should find a new home on Bougainville. If possible this year, because food is scarce on the islands. Where sweet potatoes were once planted, today sharks swim when the tides are larger. (dpa)

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