Journey to the Sinking Lands

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

Archive for Carteret Islands


This will, I think, be my last post. I left the Carterets over a year ago now and have been privileged to have that journey, and those people, dominate my life since. I’ve lost track of the number of places I have been to talk about what is happening, as well as the number of articles  written and interviews I’ve done. On Wednesday, I gave my last in the series of regional lectures organised by the Royal Geographical Society (and IBG), at the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton, Somerset, and I couldn’t have wished for a nicer audience with which to finish. I had to draw the questions at the end to a close, but could easily have gone on talking for hours. The night before, in London, we didn’t win the One World Media Award for radio documentary of the year (though the doco that did is well worth a listen), but I genuinely don’t mind. The whole thing has been a pleasure from start to finish. I still keep in touch every now and then with Ruth from the islands, who calls when she is on the Bougainville mainland and lets me know what is happening, but it feels like this chapter of my life is drawing to a close. I have a standing invitiation to go back to the islands, Ruth says, though I don’t know if I should take it. I think it is more important that other people – academics, scientists, aid workers, governments – visit the islands now, and try to learn some of the lessons from this, first, evacuation of a people before we face many more like it in the years to come. So, to all of you who have shared the journey, thanks. It’s been a pleasure.


Sounds of the islands

I’ve gone through the recordings I made while living on the Carterets islands and picked out a few to listen to here. They say the pictures are better on radio, and I agree:

In church, on Sunday morning

Walking through the food gardens with John Sailik and Ruth Marcella

A school assembly

Talking to Selina Bill

A procession to celebrate the Virgin Mary

Walking into the sea

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An argument

I’m pulling together a talk I’m due to give to the Royal Geographical Society about the Carterets journey. I’m speaking twice, firstly to the Society’s City branch on October 6 and secondly at the RGS itself, on December 14.
It’s proven to be a good opportunity to finally tie together some of the loose ideas I’ve been thinking about since before I left for the islands in April. At the time, I remember thinking there was something there, but couldn’t quite form it as a finished idea in my mind.
My basic thinking goes link this (I hope to come back with more scientific data to back all this up):

This year is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. He was born in Shrewsbury, where I live. I even went to the birthday party held for him in town, where lots of people got dressed up in old-fashioned clothes and ate cake.

It is also the 300th anniversary of the first use of coke (a form of coal) to smelt iron. The site of this discovery, now called Ironbridge is described as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. I grew up in Ironbridge.

Ironbridge and Shrewsbury are just 12 miles apart. I cycle or drive that road constantly. Before I left for the Carterets, I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something that linked Darwin, Ironbridge and the islands, but I couldn’t work out what it was.

Now, I think it is this:

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Journey of a Lifetime

PNG mapEast, Dan, east. The Carteret Islands are in the east of Papua New Guinea. Not, as you said three times in the course of the programme, the west. Idiot boy.

That apart, I really enjoyed listening to the programme (which can be downloaded here), maybe more than anyone else who did. I could remember every moment; the heat, the music, the taste of the fish eyes…

Simon Elmes at the BBC did a great job stitching it all together and I’m really proud to have worked with him on it. The programme has also been made the Radio 4 ‘podcast of the week’. My Aunty Sue says they should give me a badge.

Latest news: This just in from the Carteret Islands…

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On air – tomorrow

I had no idea when I started this journey just how long it would take, nor how much of my life it would fill, nor how much I would get from it.

For those who want to hear me take some of those steps, the broadcast of the radio programme about the journey to ad life on the islands will be broadcast tomorrow, Friday September 4, at 11am on Radio 4. I haven’t heard it yet, so will be one of those listening – along with my mum.

But there’s more…

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Talcum? powder

Another letter, and a second shell money, arrives from Buka, with this instruction on the first page:

“Please don’t read the letter or not first do put this powder inside onto your face.

then you can read.

Just a sign of happiness to you.”


dan with powder

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A distinct and unusual honour

I’ve just got back from the BBC studios in Birmingham, where I was recording a last few bits of speech for Simon to edit in to the recordings in PNG to hold the programme together. I like working with Simon, he has the happy habit of telling you that everything you do is wonderful, so you end up walking home feeling ten foot tall (he’s also very good at his job as these programmes, evidence of which can be heard here).

But in among the mutual backslapping he said something that really stuck in my mind – he was dead pleased with the recordings I made in PNG, so pleased in fact that he plans on sending them all to the BBC Sound Effects library where they will be preserved – and available to access –  for the future. It’s a great testament to the moment in time that I was fortunate enough to record, and to the people I met. I feel very pleased.

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