Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports from the Carteret Islands, a remote island chain that is slowly being swallowed by the ocean.
CARTERET ISLANDS -- When I started working at CNN in the summer of 2001, I really had no idea that the job would regularly take me to some of the most remote places on earth. Yet, here I am again, writing a blog from one of those places. Along with producer Heather O'Neill and photographer Neil Hallsworth, I am in the South Pacific for a story on the Carteret Islands -- a chain of islands about 1 square kilometer in size with a population of about 1,600. We are here because these islands are slowly sinking back into the sea, and no one is exactly sure why. One thing is clear though -- people are being evacuated as their homes disappear.
To get to the Carteret Islands requires five separate airplane flights and a helicopter ride that ended on a very small strip of beach. Our origin was Guangzhou, China, in the southern part of the country in the Guangdong province. From there we had a layover in Hong Kong. We then stopped for a few hours in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. After that, we flew to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Then we flew to Rabaul and finally Buka, Papua New Guinea. For most of the helicopter ride, we were flying over nothing but water -- no land for at least an hour in any direction. It was treacherous.
Here we are surrounded by the Solomon Sea, and it is arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Still, we are here as part of CNN's Planet in Peril coverage because the people of the Carteret are being called the world's first environmental refugees. While it will most likely be a few years before the islands are actually completely submerged, the effects of all that water are already being felt. At high tide, the sea washes right over the islands, its salt water ruining the few crops they are trying to grow. The people here are starving and the government of Papua New Guinea thinks it's time for them to leave.
Now if you ask just about anyone living on the islands why this is happening, they will immediately shout "global warming." I was surprised they even knew this term, but they will point north and describe the melting of the ice in Greenland to make their case for climate change. Other people we interviewed described the tumultuous history of the islands, where at one time they used dynamite to fish with resulting damage to the protective coral. They also remind us that the islands are actually part of an old volcano that has a natural history of sinking back into the sea.
To be sure, this remote population of people has hardly any impact on anyone else in the world. Yet, they believe the "rest of the world" is having a huge impact on them. What do you think? Are the Carteret Islands disappearing because of global influences and climate change or is it more of a local phenomenon?
-- By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent