Journey to the Sinking Lands

A witness to the world's first evacuation of an entire people due to climate change

Archive for January, 2009

A rising tide (of panic)

People often ask me “When are you leaving?”

Good question.

Ursula Rakova

Ursula Rakova

Over the past six months, I’ve been in regular email and phone contact with the woman who is leading the evacuation of the Carteret, Ursula Rakova.

Considering she’s living in a pretty wild and wooly part of the world, Ursula has always been really good at staying in touch. And then, as soon as news came through that I would be getting funding from the Royal Geographical Society to travel to the islands, nothing.

Hopefully, she is just out of contact on one of the islands. Or has dropped her mobile into the sea. And her computer. Hmmm. I need to find a way to get in touch with her soon, so I can sort out tickets, and a visa, and so on and so on. Ursula, if you are reading this…

Joking aside, I have had one email, a week ago today, which gives you a pretty good idea that Ursula may have a lot on her mind at the moment:

Hello Dan,
I was away on holiday for 4 weeks and only returned a few days ago.  We have great difficulties with finance but we have some land secured in 2 locations.  Money is very hard in coming though, for purchase of land, survey and building homes for the families.  Most crucial aspects that not too many donors wish to support, I am afraid.  Our work on the relocation site is on going but we’re not getting enough financial support as expected.
Yes, we will be moving only 5 families in March and hopefully 20 by October if the funds come in.  thank you so much.

Where am I going?

Alright, the Carteret Islands are actually too small to show up on Google Maps, but click on ‘Sat’ in the top corner and zoom in to see what the islands look like from space (using a very, very good camera).

Journey of a Lifetime…

…or, what am I doing?

In March 2009 (about four weeks and counting, no pressure) I will be traveling to the Carteret Islands, a tiny coral atoll off the coast of Papua New Guinea.


I know, it does looks nice. But, as climate change causes the sea level to rise, these islands are being flooded – already the Islanders’ drinking water and crops have been poisoned by salt, and one entire island has been cut in half by the tides. The population of about 1000 will now become the first entire people to officially be evacuated because of climate change. The first five families will leave in March, to Bouganville, a larger island about 50 miles away across the open sea. I’m hoping to get there in time to see the first boat leave, and to record what I think will be a watershed in our human history.

Funding for the expedition has come from the 2009 Journey of a Lifetime Award, supported by the Royal Geographical Society and the BBC. As part of the award, I will be taking a Nagra recording device with me and sticking my microphone in the face of everyone I find in order to make a Radio 4 documentary on my return.