I walked right around the island today. Bear in mind that this is the largest of the Carteret Islands, and the one with the most people crammed on to it, but the walk took me less than an hour. It’s tiny. And I know it used to be bigger – partly because you can see the remains of trees that were once part of the forest but are now out in the sea, partly because people here tell me how where the shore line was when they were children and partly because I read a book written by an American airman, Delmar Wiley, who was shot down and lived here for six months during World War II. Then, he says, it took over twice as long to walk around the island.
Whether you believe what is happening here is caused by a natural geological process, or by climate change, or by a combination of both, doesn’t really matter. It is happening, right now, to these people. I have shared their houses, their canoes and their food and they are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It is how we respond to it that counts.
Ps. Tried to climb a coconut again today. Still can’t do it. My feet are too soft, so I tried throwing lumps of coral picked up off the beach to knock the nuts down. After half an hour of sweat and wild misses, I got one nut, which split when it hit the ground with the milk draining into the sand. Four young boys walked up, saw what I was doing and climbed up to get me some coconuts (a fair trade, I reckon I’d given them a good bit of entertainment). On the way home I swapped one for some rice and smoked fish. It’s that kind of place.