April 18, 2008
Carteret Islands: That sinking feeling
Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

A week on a tropical island in the South Pacific? It sounded like the job of a lifetime.

But in reality my crew and I were about to experience first hand what life was actually like for the Carteret Islanders.

The Carteret Islands are sinking into the ocean. The locals blame global warming for the rising sea that has swallowed their food crops. Soon they’ll be forced to leave their idyllic home and live in Bougainville, an island still troubled by a civil war that claimed more than 10,000 lives.

Like most assignments the plan was to visit the location for five days, gather elements for the story and bid farewell.

We left Bougainville Island on the 100km trip east onboard the MVSancamup, a rusting freight and passenger ship that limped across the ocean on one engine.

The ship was making an emergency rice drop to the Carteret Islanders who had once again run out of food.

Stepping foot on the Carteret Islands was like stepping onto the front page of a travel magazine. Pristine white sands, topped with coconut trees amid an aqua blue lagoon.

However a different picture soon emerged as the locals showed us their home.

They had built sea walls with giant clam shells in a futile attempt to beat back the rising ocean. Coconut trees lay fallen at the water's edge.

If the sea wasn't breaking over the clam barriers then it was rising up through the sand and swamping gardens. It was a haven for malaria carrying mosquitos.

After five days, the MV Sancamup arrived at the outer reef. But word soon reached us that the ship was not returning to Bougainville and instead was heading east for a medical emergency.

We decided to stay on the Carterets and wait for the ship to return.

One day turned into two, two into three and it soon emerged the ship was not coming back.

We too were living off the relief rice shipment supplemented by the odd fish and drinking from coconuts.

After six days things hit rock bottom when the island ran out of drinking water. Coconuts used to be a treat, now it was the only source of re-hydration. This was life on the Carteret Islands.

We had no option but to use local banana boats or 20 foot dinghies to make the 100km journey across open seas to Bougainville.

After a four hour bone-jarring journey we arrived in the Bougainville capital, Buka.

In coming years the Carteret Islanders will also be forced to make the same journey as their home disappears into the ocean.

-- From Steve Marshall, PNG ABC Correspondent
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World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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