A Changing Climate
Due to rising sea levels caused by climate change, several paradisiacal islands across our planet have already been claimed by the ocean, including five of the Solomon Islands and a handful in Micronesia. According to various scientific reports, both archipelagos could soon lose more islands — but they're not the only ones at risk.
These 12 island groups have scientists particularly worried, which means now may be your only chance to enjoy their one-of-a-kind natural beauty and cultural wonders before they’re lost forever.
So, what are you waiting for? We suggest planning a trip before they disappear.
Republic of Fiji
Fiji is an idyllic holiday destination — the very name conjures up images of a tropical paradise, replete with soft sugar-sand beaches and gin-clear waters. Made up of 333 islands in the heart of the South Pacific, it lies 1,300 miles off the north coast of New Zealand and features not only the aforementioned stunning beauty, but locals famous for their hospitality.
Yet Fiji has its own problems with climate change. Over the last few years, severe tropical storms have caused flash flooding across the islands and devastation to both homes and farmland. Since 1993, Fiji has recorded a six millimeter increase in its sea level each year, much more than the global average. Already, many villagers have had to flee, including some from Fiji’s second-largest island of Vanua Levu.
The Seychelles are a group of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, 250 miles off the coast of Madagascar. Like the Maldives, they have become a popular honeymoon destination with a touch of barefoot luxury and ecotourism thrown in. They are famed for their haven-like beaches — soft and flour-white, fringed by swaying palms and lapped by turquoise waters. But the interiors are worth exploring too, particularly the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Vallee de Mai nature park on the island of Praslin.
As with the other spots on this list, climate change is one of the Seychelles’ most significant challenges, as rising sea levels threaten to erode these oh-so-beautiful beaches and bleach their coral reefs.
Republic of Kiribati
You’ll have a hard time trying to get to the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas), not only because it might soon disappear, but also because it’s one of the most remote countries on Earth. Still, it does receive many intrepid travelers, most of whom come here for the birdlife, fishing opportunities and beaches. (There are international flights to its three main islands from Fiji and Honolulu in Hawaii.)
Made up of 33 atolls, the stunning archipelago sits bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,500 miles from Hawaii. The nation is one of the most affected by climate change in the world, with most of its islands sitting no more than six meters (for reference, one meter is equal to 3.28 feet) above sea level, and some just a couple meters.
Already, villages on some of the islands have had to move on due to flooding, damage to crop-growing land and contamination of fresh water. The government has even started putting plans in place for the eventual destruction of the islands by buying a 2,000-hectare plot of land in Fiji for crop growth and the potential relocation of Kiribati’s people.
The Solomon Islands are comprised of six main islands and an impressive 992 smaller islands. They lie east of Papua New Guinea, just a three-hour flight from parts of Australia. Most of them remain relatively undiscovered by tourism and offer a laidback, tranquil slice of paradise, dotted with huge sapphire lagoons, emerald forests, volcanic peaks and dense mangrove swamps. Forget plush beach resorts: Here it’s about simple thatched huts and back-to-basics ecotourism.
A study by the University of Queensland in Australia found that five of the Solomon Islands have already been lost to the ocean since the middle of the 20th century, and with global sea levels expected to continue rising, there could be a lot more to lose.
Republic of Maldives
Around 600,000 tourists — particularly honeymooners and those looking to live luxuriously in lavish overwater resorts — flock to the Maldives each year. But for how long? These 1,192 serene islands are also in danger of disappearing.
The islands lie in the Indian Ocean, around 267 miles from the tip of India, and are spread over 35,000 square miles. Collectively comprising the lowest country on Earth, they sit no more than 1.8 meters above sea level. According to The Climate Hot Map, if current conditions continue, sea levels are set to rise by 50 centimeters, and 77 percent of the land here will be lost to the ocean by the year 2100.
Republic of Palau
The island nation of Palau is situated in the western Pacific Ocean, 625 miles east of the Philippines’ most southern island of Mindanao. It’s made up of more than 200 bottle-green volcanic and limestone islands, surrounded by turquoise seas and coral reefs. It comes as no surprise that Palau is one of the world’s top dive sites and has even been nicknamed the “Underwater Serengeti” due to the amount of marine life that live in the waters there.
Palau has already been experiencing the effects of climate change; in the last 10 years or so, the sea has begun to encroach on properties close to the coast. Many of the outer-lying or low-lying islands here are expected to be swallowed by the sea over the next century. But there could be a silver lining — some of Palau’s islands are 200 meters above sea level, meaning that if fertile soil can be found in the interiors of the islands, and food can grow there, there is a possibility for life to continue on the islands.
Torres Strait Islands
Owned by Australia, the Torres Strait Islands lie off the tip of Cape York, between the Australian coastline and Papua New Guinea. They’re made up of 274 islands, surrounded by Australia’s greatest natural wonder — the Great Barrier Reef. Diving and snorkeling are of course major reasons to visit these islands, but another draw is their unique indigenous culture, which is totally distinct to that of the Aborigines.
Scientists say that sea levels are expected to rise here between 75 centimeters and 1.5 meters by the end of this century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions, but the effects are already being felt by the locals. On Boigu Island, roads are being washed into the sea and on Masig (also known as Yorke Island), the coastline is slowly being eroded away.
Tangier Island, Virginia
One of the islands of the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier is known for its idyllic vistas and laid-back way of life. Tourists come here to unplug and enjoy leisure activities, which range from a crab shanty tour to biking to boating at sunset.
Made of sand and silt, the island has been particularly vulnerable to climate change, losing 67 percent of its landmass since 1850. An engineering plan is in place to preserve the island, but if it fails, it's estimated that inhabitants will have to leave within 50 years.
Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia lie in the western Pacific Ocean, northwest of Papua New Guinea, and are made up of 607 islands split into four states. Each of these states has its own culture, and there are 17 different indigenous languages spread throughout the area. Home to some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs, these states are a prime destination for dive and snorkeling enthusiasts.
The country includes both low-lying islands that are one to five meters above sea level, and mountainous islands soaring hundreds of meters above sea level — so not all are at risk. But those low-liers are: According to climate change scientists, the sea level around Micronesia is set to rise by at least three meters in the next 90 years, meaning many of them could vanish.
Cape Verde is a cluster of 10 islands and a handful of islets sitting in the Atlantic Ocean, around 350 miles west of Senegal in West Africa. A patchwork quilt of mountainous peaks, powdery white beaches, green valleys and lunar-like landscapes, this archipelago of volcanic islands has become an increasingly popular holiday hotspot.
Many of the islands here have already been subject to soil erosion from high winds and could face further threat from temperature increases and rising sea levels. Three of the main islands — Sal, Boa Vista and Maio — are low-lying and lack natural water supplies, meaning these would be the first at risk to go.
Tuamotus, French Polynesia
The Tuamotus are a string of around 80 white-sand islands and atolls in the South Pacific region of French Polynesia, encircled by bright aquamarine lagoons and coral reefs. The main draw for visitors here are of course the reefs — offering spectacular viewing for both divers and snorkelers, and fringed by a handful of luxury resorts.
Life is hard for the locals, as nothing but palms grow on the islands, so all the food must come from the sea or be imported from neighboring Tahiti. Rising sea levels pose a particular threat to these islands, given their low elevation, narrow width and lack of mountains. As the Tuamotus are slowly swallowed by the tides, inhabitants may be forced to relocate.
Charles Darwin’s natural paradise of the Galápagos Islands, the inspiration for his book “On the Origin of Species,” belong to the country of Ecuador and lie 563 miles off its coast. An archipelago of volcanic islands, they have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and attract 200,000 visitors each year. One of the world’s premiere wildlife viewing destinations, the Galapagos are home to everything from sea lions and turtles to penguins, iguanas and the iconic blue footed booby.
If current conditions continue, however, these islands too could be in danger. Air temperatures could increase by between 2°c and 4°c and sea levels have the potential to rise by around one meter by the year 2100. This could have devastating effects on the local animal populations, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth.