Some three weeks ago, V106, a three-year-old Laysan albatross, returned to nest at her ‘fledgling home’ in Oahu’s James Campbell Refuge. She had spent the first years of her life exploring the vast northern Pacific Ocean. Her return signaled the first milestone in a project to resettle 46 sea-birds, accustomed to nesting in low lying climate ravaged northwestern Hawaiian Islands, to the higher grounds of the refuge.
Over 99 percent of an estimated one million long-living Laysan albatrosses worldwide reside in low (seven to 10 feet) coastal regions. The sea-birds instinctively return to give birth at the place of their fledgling after three to five years at sea.
“Albatross are threatened by sea level rise associated with global climate change. Recent storm surges have wiped out thousands of albatross nests with eggs or young chicks in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands,” said Eric VanderWerf of Pacific Rim Conservation. ““By thinking proactively and working together to establish more secure colonies on high islands within the historical nesting range of the Laysan albatross, we can ensure a future for these birds.
“The islands that most of the birds nest on may not be here that much longer.”
The success of rehoming the albatross foreshadows the inevitable relocation of human residents of Hawaiian atoll islands as a result of global warming and rising sea levels. An April 25 Science Advance report predicts that by 2050 many low-lying atolls like those in Northwestern Hawaii, will be uninhabitable as the influx of sea water brought about by global warming pollutes fresh water resources.
“The tipping point when potable groundwater on the majority of atoll islands will be unavailable is projected to be reached no later than the middle of the 21st century,” said Curt Storlazzi, USGS geologist and lead author of the new report.
These findings have relevance not only to populated atoll islands in the Marshall Islands, but also to those in the Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Society Islands, Spratly Islands, Maldives, Seychelles, and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Many Low-Lying Atoll Islands Will Be Uninhabitable by Mid-21st Century
USGS hydrologist Stephen Gingerich, who co-authored the report, said intruding salt water seeps into and contaminates freshwater resources. “Rainfall later in the year is not enough to flush out the saltwater and refresh the island’s water supply before the next year’s storms arrive repeating the overwash events,” he said.
The role of climate change in human displacement and migration is being cited by experts as the number one global security threat of the 21st century. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, annually 21.5 million people are, in their words, “forcibly displaced by weather-related sudden onset hazards – such as floods, storms, wildfires, [and] extreme temperatures.” KCET: Earth Focus