Global sea levels are rising and the world’s land ice is disappearing. Sea levels have risen 6 to 8 inches in the past 100 years, and Antarctica has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometers of ice per year since 2002, according to NASA satellite data.
By the year 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that sea levels will rise as much as 20 inches.
While rising sea levels ultimately influence the entire planet, they pose the greatest threat to the islands currently residing at sea level.
Here are some of the islands — many of them small nations — likely to face this crisis first.
One thousand or so islands spread over 29 coral atolls make up the Marshall Islands. Most of them are less than six feet above sea level and few are more than a mile wide. A single meter increase in sea levels could result in 80 percent of Majuro atoll, home to half the country’s 53,000 people, being underwater.
Like other island nations, the Marshall Islands struggle with keeping the islands from disappearing while also keeping their population on those islands. “We are trying to look at all opportunities and technologies to make sure our country can remain viable for our people to continue to live there,” Marshallese president Hilda Heine said to the Canberra Times. “Our country’s survival is based on people living in the Marshall Islands, not elsewhere.”
Efforts to combat rising seas ranges from reducing their own emissions, a mostly symbolic gesture, to working with the World Bank to safeguard infrastructure and agriculture and to provide clean water to residents.
However, keeping a population from leaving can difficult when it’s somewhat easy for a them to relocate, as it is with the Marshallese. They can live and work legally, without a visa, in the United States thanks to the Compact of Free Association. For those worried about rising sea levels, this can make the logistics of leaving a little bit easier.
In October 2011, the government declared that an area covering nearly 2,000,000 square kilometers (772,000 sq mi) of ocean shall be reserved as a shark sanctuary. This is the world’s largest shark sanctuary, extending the worldwide ocean area in which sharks are protected from 2,700,000 to 4,600,000 square kilometers (1,042,000 to 1,776,000 sq mi). In protected waters, all shark fishing is banned and all by-catch must be released. However, some have questioned the ability of the Marshall Islands to enforce this zone.