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South Pacific Island Nations
Samir S. Patel |
19 November 2014
nature Views

Between December 2005 and February 2006, Samir S. Patel traveled, with support from a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship from Columbia University, to five countries (Fiji, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Tuvalu) over two-and-a-half months to report on environment stories in the South Pacific Ocean. The following images from this reporting trip highlight some of the environmental challenges facing these island nations, including waste management, mining, and climate change.

Samir S. Patel is a science journalist, photographer, and editor. He is Deputy Editor of Archaeology Magazine. His work has appeared in Nature, The New York Times, Discover, Outside, Seed, Christian Science Monitor, Columbia Magazine, ArtAsiaPacific, among others. He has reported from around the world and has covered a wide range of topics, including climate change, art conservation, neuroscience, chemistry, wildlife biology, business, eco-terrorism, and archaeology. Patel lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and dog.

  • When the tides are high, they wash over the edges of the island. A defunct tidal gauge (right) stands a vigil.

  • Suva Harbor in Fiji receives a great deal of boat traffic, resulting in a combination of both revenue and pollution.

  • Environmental consciousness is in its infancy in Fiji and throughout the South Pacific. One of the most visible results is a wealth of trash.

  • Colo-i-Suva Forest Park, about two hours north of Fiji’s capital, Suva, attracts many young adults looking for secluded swimming holes. The rugby ball in the lower left corner represents Fiji’s national obsession with the sport.

  • Inch for inch, Nauru is the most environmentally-damaged country in the world. In this aerial view, the stripping of vegetation for phosphate mining is apparent.

  • Nauru’s one remaining forested area is Bauda Lagoon. In was rainy in December 2006, but at other times drought cripples the country.

  • Nauru’s fishermen, mostly foreign workers from Tuvalu and Kiribati, launch their small outriggers from the boat harbor every morning, and often struggle to bring them in hours later.

  • The open bed of a passing flatbed truck is often the only way to get to Nauru’s one significant grocery store. Transportation is rare in a place with a critical fuel shortage.

  • Before mining – lush vegetation; after mining – a dead moonscape. A narrow layer of topsoil shows the delicate Nauru environment.

  • Nauru’s phosphate works have fallen into severe disrepair through mismanagement and theft by the government. As a result, they cannot export what little phosphate remains.

  • Nauru’s rocky coast may hinder its development into a tourist destination, but it can be starkly beautiful.

  • The bride’s family dances at a Tuvaluan wedding feast held in a falekaupule, or an outdoor place that holds, among other events, meetings of Parliament.

  • Tuvalu’s most famous problem is salt water flooding, which may be contributed to by rising sea levels. January and February 2006 saw some of the highest tides to date.

  • Salt water flooding may jeopardize food security and undermine buildings. Estimates claim that Tuvalu may be uninhabitable in 50 to 100 years.

  • A generation of Tuvaluans will not know a world where their home is not under threat from climate change and growing problems with coastal erosion and trash.

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