|Tuvalu Special News Feature|
Tuvalu Mo Te Atua (Tuvalu for the
Copyright of associated pictures used with this story resides
exclusively with the respective owners of each of the pictures - Ms Jocelyn
Carlin, Dr Mark D. Hayes, Mrs Silafaga Lalua, and Mr Lomi Paeniu. Repurposing,
re-use, and publication anywhere else, in any form, for any purpose, is
On February 13, 2005, the Sydney Morning Herald's On Line 'blog' and discussion forum, Margo Kingston's Web Diary published a long feature, 'The Sinking of Tuvalu', by Brisbane-based journalist and journalism educator, Dr Mark Hayes.
During the following week, a spirited discussion followed that publication, traversing issues such as the future and fate of Tuvalu, the reality, or otherwise, of global warming and its effects, and what governments and citizens should, could, or should not, be doing about it.
The Kyoto Protocol came into force on Wednesday, February 16, 2005, but the United States and Australia remain the only two major developed world countries not to have ratified the Protocol.
Tuvaluislands.com publishes a longer version of Dr Hayes' feature, with permission from Ms Kingston, together with many exclusive pictures, many never published before, with permission from Dr Hayes, and the other owners of the copyrighted pictures. All other publication rights reserved.
[Click on images to display enlargements]
Tuesday, November 16, 2004, mid-afternoon, Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu,
Outside the Tuvalu Meteorological Office on Funafuti Atoll, an afternoon thunderstorm is pouring thick tropical rain down on the atoll. It's raining so hard conversation inside the small, white, bungalow is almost impossible
The noise of the storm has completely overwhelmed the permanent drone of the large diesel driven electricity generators in the Funafuti power station next door.
A professional photographer from New Zealand,
Jocelyn Carlin, and I take turns to hold
front door of the Met Office open for each other so we can take pictures of the
deluge. The wind is driving the rain so hard we each hold the door firmly and
lean against it, keeping it open just a little, otherwise the office would be
Jocelyn Carlin watching the storm deluge from the
We just arrived ahead of the storm, the black wall of cloud rising up from the west above the new Taiwanese-funded three storey Government Building which dominates the Funafuti sky on the Lagoon side of the atoll only 600 meters away. We saw the storm coming and ran across the air strip, arriving just ahead of it.
The storm hits Funafuti with a sudden,
The person Jocelyn and I had some to see, 46 year old Hilia Vavae, scurries into her office as I hold the door open for her. She's drenched, breathless, and apologises for being late, and for the rain.
She's a slight woman by Tuvaluan standards, which tend to the Polynesian's stocky build for men and women, her disarming bright eyes and ready smile flashing while she dries herself off.
Put arguments to her that global warming isn't happening, that the seas around
Tuvalu haven't steadily risen, and the smile turns to a glare, her jaw sets
hard, and she steels herself to, yet again, firmly demolish such ignorant talk
with rapid fire, hard data, her Tuvaluan accented English dripping with contempt
for global warming skeptics or naysayers.
Hilia Vavae explaining, yet again, that global
Hilia's been with the Met Office since 1981 and head of it since 1991, so she's been there and seen everything, many times.
The slow but steady creeping of sea water into Funafuti Atoll causing local flooding when the tides and winds are right, the slow but steady rise in water levels - just over 6 mm per year since 1993 - and temperatures - steady rises except for missing data from the southern most island in the group - the more severe storms coming more often, unexpected winds and ocean currents out of season. When it's really bad, even her meticulous office is in danger of flooding, and her instruments in little equipment huts outside in the yard risk damage.
On her wall, and on the Tuvalu Met Office's Web Site she's got pictures of herself and her staff in years gone past, outside the building, in seeping sea water up to their knees.
They've given up taking any more pictures like these because the novelty of such flooding's long since worn off, replaced with a usually well hidden dread every time the tides are really high, and fear for their, and especially their children's, future.
Hilia was going to take Jocelyn, myself, and two French journalists, to inspect sites around Funafuti where we might see water bubbling up from beneath the atoll when the tide peaked at just over two and a half meters.
Islander's fresh water tanks are full to overflowing, but the water table just beneath the atoll is saturated, the water brackish and unusable, contaminated by sea water seeping into the atoll from below.
Hilia takes a chart off the wall and shows us the tide projections for Tuvalu at Funafuti for the next few months.
These projections are compiled by the National Tidal Facility at Flinders University in South Australia, based on data from many sources, including weather data sent from this office on Funafuti several times a day.
Tide projections for Funafuti, Tuvalu,
early February, 2005,
Tide monitoring gauge attached to the Vaikau
We closely study the chart, and Hilia turns the page to February, 2005. She's worried, very worried, and she turns to March, and then April, 2005.
The peaks in the graphs leap off the page, some coinciding with a full moon, and some preceding or following it by a day or two.
When the highest point of land on Funafuti, which, much to Hilia's glee, I called Mt Funafuti when we went there later, is no more than 4 meters above mean high tide, the figures demand close attention.
The figures confirm the threat the graph peaks portend - 3.17 meters at 4.50pm on February 8, 3.22 meters at 5.33pm the next day with a full moon, and 3.18 meters at 6.15pm on Thursday, February 10.
Add a storm, or squalls, a stiff, solid wind from the west or the east, and widespread flooding on Funafuti is almost certain.
That's exactly what happened during the second week of February, 2005.
Hilia Vavae, meteorologist, surveys the coast
line and watches
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