Opinions

Life on the Marshall Islands

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Published 10:20 PM ET, Sun June 28, 2015
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Kids on the street in Majuro, Marshall Islands, in the remote Pacific, can tell you anything you want to know about climate change. They know the seas are rising. This basketball court is next to the foundation of a house destroyed in a recent flood. John D. Sutter/CNN
Marshallese people are known as master canoe builders and navigators. Including the ocean, the nation is three times the size of Texas. But it only has as much land as Washington, D.C. "We are not a small island country," said Tony de Brum, the foreign minister. "We are a big ocean country." John D. Sutter/CNN
Rositha Anwel, 22, said she woke up to find herself floating during a March 2014 flood. Some neighbors moved away, but Anwel can't imagine leaving her family's home on the water. "This is where I grew up," she said. John D. Sutter/CNN
The kemem, or first birthday party, is an important rite of passage in the Marshall Islands. These celebrations often are larger than weddings, and hundreds can attend. John D. Sutter/CNN
Waves crashed over this home in Majuro during a recent flood, according to residents. Some say they want to leave this precarious spot but don't have the money to do so. John D. Sutter/CNN
The Marshall Islands lives in a delicate conversation with the sea. The Pacific Ocean brings life and food, but lately some residents have started to fear the rising tides. John D. Sutter/CNN
Angie Hepisus recently buried her brother, one of 17 siblings, behind her home on the coast in Majuro. Other nearby grave sites on the island have washed away during floods. John D. Sutter/CNN
Wina Anmontha says her daughter, Roselinta, moved from Majuro to the United States in part because of fears that floods are becoming more common here. John D. Sutter/CNN
The Marshall Islands is an independent country but uses U.S. currency and has a contractual relationship with the United States. Marshallese people can live and work in the United States without a visa. John D. Sutter/CNN
Reef fish, breadfruit, rice and pandanus fruit are the staples of a traditional Marshallese diet. Junk food and soda have become common, too, and obesity rates are high in the islands. John D. Sutter/CNN
Angie Hepisus and her family said they decided not to repair this house after it was damaged in floods. Land in the Marshall Islands is managed communally by chiefs, so families often live in clusters together. John D. Sutter/CNN
When floodwaters rush in, residents say they tie their animals to trees to try to keep them from disappearing into the Pacific Ocean. John D. Sutter/CNN
Emi Anwel, 20, woke up to find water in her home during a recent flood. She licked her arm to be sure that, yes, the water tasted salty. That's how she knew the ocean was coming for her. John D. Sutter/CNN
Flooding is only the most obvious impact of sea level rise. Trees and crops along the coast die when they're saturated with saltwater. Supplies of freshwater also become contaminated. Some researchers say the islands likely will become uninhabitable long before they're submerged by rising sea levels. John D. Sutter/CNN