In 1946, a tsunami killed more than 150 people living in the Hawaiian Islands. At the time, I was a Coast Guardsman stationed on Augustine, a small atoll in the Marshall Islands. The tsunami was headed our direction and since Augustine was only a few inches above sea level, most higher life there would have been wiped out. Lucky for us, the storm changed course.

A recent article in Sierra Magazine tells of a Marshall Islander who, in 1986, moved to Springdale, a small town in Arkansas. Today, there are 15,000 Marshallese living in Springdale together with 30 Marshallese churches.

It's difficult to say how much climate change contributes to inundation, but at least it shows what happens when a few inches of elevated sea level coincides with high tides and big swells. Homes with people in them have been swept away. With rising sea levels, there are no high spots on the islands to retreat to, and in time many of these atolls will eventually disappear under the sea.

In addition to inundation problems, the 67 nuclear and thermonuclear bombs we detonated between 1946 and 1958 not only radiated Polynesians but also their fish and food supply. Now, instead of cultivating taro and breadfruit, the Marshallese depend more on canned goods to keep them alive. They will have lost everything if the islands become submerged.

Fred W. Rabe


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