In recent years, rising sea levels have posed a threat to small islands, resting on the idea that they will eventually sink. This potential has worried residents on the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu, which the media began covering in the early 2000’s, posing headlines like Tuvalu Sinks Today — the Rest of Us Tomorrow? Framing the concern as dire, the prime minister of the tiny country has now laid blame on industrialized nations such as our own, who he feels aren’t held accountable for the massive climate change that has occurred as a result, and aren’t confronted with the detrimental effects of their actions.
The idea that islands such as Tuvalu are sinking has recently been challenged by coastal geomorphologist Paul Kench, who has been involved in a long term study examining how reef islands in the Pacific are responding to rising sea levels. Their research has shown that these islands have the ability to change shape and move around in response to shifts, meaning that these islands aren’t necessarily sinking, they’re simply shifting. Moreover, many of these islands have actually increased in area over the past century.
Kench’s findings have reframed the argument completely, as islands are shifting, proving the environments innate ability to adapt. The threat is therefore posed in land transformed by human development, which does risk being destroyed, mainly because of their lack of mobility.
These findings also point out that rising ocean acidity causes far more detriment than rising sea levels, as it kills off coral reefs entirely, including the calcium carbonate central to the rebuilding of reef islands, as the compound dissolves in acid. Conversely, rising temperatures that result in rising sea levels also have the potential to kill reefs, but without destroying the calcium carbonate necessary to rebuild existing islands — framing the existing threat as the lesser of two evils.