Kiribati is one of the most threatened nations due to climate change, with some of its atolls predicted to be completely underwater in 30 to 50 years if climate change keeps its current course.
On a remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the gravity of climate change is palpable. Here, on Fanning Island, a dangerous blend of human impact has converged in a way that may result in this world’s next climate change refugees. Our decisions are transforming and falling on the shoulders of a small island nation that the rest of the world does not see. Kiribati is a symbol for the state of our warming planet, and is an emerging example of what is to come. For these reasons, and by virtue of our shared love for the sea, Sea Shepherd is working with local communities to determine how to best alleviate the pressures currently weighing on Fanning’s ecosystem and people.
Based on this foundational voyage, our long-term intention is to return with integrated solutions to show Kiribati that they will not be left to confront these challenges by themselves. With your support, we can continue to be there for the ecosystems and people most impacted by climate change.
Operation Clean Waves has three main objectives:
1. Plastic Management System
Fanning Island faces many challenges as a remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After our initial assessment, it became clear that plastic management is one challenge that Sea Shepherd can help alleviate. The roadsides are dotted with an assortment of single-use materials from tin cans and water bottles to noodle wrappers and styrofoam, with no way off the island. Pigs and chickens wander these same roads, pecking at the waste and swallowing the plastic. Similar to the plastic found in our oceans ending up in the stomachs of fish and shorebirds, locals have found bits of plastic in the bellies of the chickens and pigs they cook for their families. The present waste management model in effect by locals is to burn their waste or bury them in scattered small-scale landfills.
Sea Shepherd has collaborated with the local community to pilot a plastic management program on Fanning Island in order to keep plastics out of their food sources and away from the reef system that the island depends on for food, livelihood, and protection. The program will collect, sort, and ship plastics away from Fanning Island on the Kwai, a cargo ship that arrives every 2 months, where it will be properly recycled in Honolulu. During our transit to Fanning Atoll Sea Shepherd towed a device, known as the manta trawl to collect samples of micro-plastics, completing a transect from Hawaii all the way to the equator.
2. Reef Assessment
Ocean acidification, shark finning, and overfishing have all impacted the coral ecosystem that once thrived in the waters surrounding Fanning Island. Our crew surveyed the region to assess the health of the reef. The reef has been a protective barrier for Fanning in the past, but as its strength fades, the coral can no longer protect the island’s groundwater and soil from high salinity levels, making it difficult to grow food and have access to clean drinking water.
As an atoll formed by its foundation of coral skeleton, this ocean landscape was once celebrated as an ecosystem full of life. During our recent assessments, we descended into a somber scene of grey where 99% of the reef at the outer rim of Fanning is dead. We also discovered a silver lining: coral fragments on the seafloor that can be used to regrow the reef. These findings are being built into a proposal where Sea Shepherd aims to work in partnership with the local community to create a coral nursery and give this reef a chance to once again burst with color. Our crew investigated the reef conditions, to work on a reef propagation project in the future. The health of coral reefs is very important for marine ecosystems. They protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms, and provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms.
3. Clean Water Solutions
The intertropical convergence zone used to pass over Fanning but due to warming seas, has moved north leaving the island in a drought. In partnership with Waves For Water, 60 water filtration systems were installed across the seven villages on Fanning Atoll. We also conducted an assessment of the island’s access to clean water, while making improvements to water catchment systems and monitoring the condition of well water along the way.