Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Disappearing Islands
Dr. Sanjay Gupta visits the disappearing 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 located 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?
"What do you think? Are the Carteret Islands disappearing because of global influences and climate change or is it more of a local phenomenon?"

The question is silly. It doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks. What matters is, what do the facts and data show?

You might as well ask, "Do you think the sun goes around the earth?"

A medical doctor really should place a higher value on facts and data.
Wouldn't this be very easy to figure out? Satellites should be able to pinpoint whether the island is sinking or if the water is rising. Although if the water is rising enough to actually rising enough to swallow this island, wouldn't other islands also be getting flooded?
I don't think it matters what I think, since it either is, or is not being caused by global warming, the facts being independent of my relatively uninformed opinion.
With all the examples you could pick from, why would you pick one which is potentially debatable? Global warming, due to the effects that humans have on this earth, is beyond dispute, if facts matter to you. If they don't, in other words, if you're a true conservative, then you already "know" the truth, regardless of available facts
I'm going to have to say its a combination of both, maybe cyclic events happen normally with the sinking and rise of the islands, but I think global warming has a tendency to exaggerate these cyclic events.
I think most people agree that some places are experiencing the effects of global warming. What is disconcerting is the just the fact that we spend so much time arguing about whether the effects of global warming are severe enough to warrant any action. This planet we call home is our responsibility to maintain just as we maintain our homes. The problem is one of philosophy and a capitalistic approach will not help us along the right direction. It is essential to understand that without the seemingly infinite resources bestowed upon us by Mother Earth, we will not have much of anything. Once we abandon a purely capitalistic approach and try to see goodness in maintaining our planet, we will be on the right track and most of us hope that that day will come soon !
Dr Gupta

The easy answer is global warming ... but land masses rise and they sink ... rivers wax and wane ... ice ages come and go. It would be nice to have one source of information that could gather all the facts and present an unbiased view ... even if the view is "don't know".
Without further evidence, why jump straight to the conclusion that global warming is causing this unfortunate incident? We know that as volcanic platforms cool, they also naturally subside. This is a common natural process that is fully sufficient to explain the event. The effects of subsidence would be made more severe by the destruction of the reef. I understand that some activists would automatically jump on this incident in order to use it to press a political agenda. However, that just doesn't make any sense given the fact that subsidence is a common natural process.
Unfortunately we don't know the exact cause of this problem. But just the mere possibility that Global Warming could be the culprit should send a message to the world that we need to change our behaviors.
Hi Dr Sanjay Gupta,
I didn't know that you headed for the Carteret islands directly from China. Five flights and a helicopter ride! I cannot imagine how remote they are.

It is a little embarrassing to write this, but I have never heard of the Carteret islands. I often hear the island of Tuvalu near Fiji, which is also sinking into the sea. Why the sea level is rising, I think it is because global warming has been accelerated by big industry on Earth. These small islands are the farthest from industry, and yet they have been most affected by it. That was true in the Lake Chad, as you reported before. This is really sad.
Global warming is causing water levels to rise and forcing people out of their traditional lands. Hey, great idea CNN - lets take 5 flights and a helicoptor ride to check it out. Such use of resources contributes to the problem.
As other's have said: it's the facts that matter not what my opinion is. As a reporter why don't you get the reliable scientific facts and tell your audience? The internet seems to be fostering this idea that opinion matters more than facts.
I would love for Mr Robert Balille to enlighten us with all the facts, since he apparently knows so much. This is a blog for crying out loud! It is meant to foster discussion. Since Robert obviously knows the answers, please grace us with your knowledge. David, feel free to chime in.
Dr. Gupta, I see you quite regularly on TV, I am in Belize, (Central America) and I think that you have an excellent show, but you are not on very often.

What other stations are you on? There is a big Indian population here in Belize and people want to see their own people on TV.

With kind regards.


Athar Chatani
I absolutely agree with the "anonymous" blogger who wrote the piece about subsidence being a natural process. Just last week I watched a program, I think it was on the National Geographic channel, about this very issue. From what I remembered about the show, it was explaining how all of the continents are constantly moving toward and away from each other and how some land masses will sink back into the ocean eventually and basically be recycled back into the earth, melted and spit back out again. Something about the "ring of fire" and all.
Since the chemical compound Dihydrogen Monoxide (aka water) has the very unusual property of occupying more volume in its solid phase (ice) than its liquid phase (water), the logical assumption would be that melting the polar ice caps would result in drop in water elevation... Weird.
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