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Rising seas, immobilities, and translocality in small island states: case studies from Fiji and Tuvalu

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Abstract

As increasing global temperatures lead to sea level rise and associated impacts (e.g. flooding, erosion, saltwater intrusion), the relocation of people and assets away from sites of coastal risk has been viewed by some as a certainty. However, many people affected by emerging coastal changes remain in sites of residence. Here we examine the experiences of residents in three low-lying villages across two small island states: Dreketi and Karoko in Fiji, and Funafala in Tuvalu. Analysis of qualitative data from interviews shows that residents are concerned about local coastal changes, and largely attribute them to climate change. While some anticipate future relocation and retreat, and a few households have retreated short distances away from the coast, for now residents remain in and move to these sites to maintain livelihoods, practices, well-being, and sense of belonging. These are places that people value and plan to live in as long as possible. The contribution of this paper is to highlight the vernacular explanations of overlapping drivers of immobility and translocality in sites of coastal risk. It indicates the need to move away from the binaries of immobility/mobility and of trapped/voluntarily immobile populations and to examine the multiplicities of human (im)mobility.

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(source: Celia McMichael)

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Notes

  1. While there is lack of definitional clarity in these terms, broadly, migration refers to movement of people within or across borders and has an element of choice, displacement refers to contexts of forced movement of people within or across borders, and planned relocation refers to organised movement of people, typically with the support of the state.

  2. The Cuban Meteorological Institute and the Urban Planning Institute predicts that half the village territory will be underwater by 2050 and it will be fully submerged by 2100.

  3. For reference, between 2006 and 2015, the rate of global mean sea level rise was 3.6 mm/year (IPCC 2019).

  4. RCP 4.5 is an intermediate greenhouse gas scenario in which emissions peak around 2040, and then decline.

  5. In the study by Kulp and Strauss (2019), future population growth and migration are not considered; 2010 population density data are used (from LandScan) to indicate threats relative to current population patterns. The reference 2010 Fiji population is 860,000.

  6. In Fiji, a yavusa refers to a ‘tribe’ of one or more clans (mataqali) that descend from a common ancestor.

  7. In Fiji, a mataqali refers to a clan.

  8. In Fiji, a tokatoka refers to a sub-clan.

  9. For reference, between 2006 and 2015, the rate of global mean sea level rise was 3.6 mm/year (IPCC, 2019).

  10. Tapa is a bark-cloth made in the Pacific Islands, including Fiji.

  11. Qoliqoli is the iTaukei (Indigenous) Fijian term for a customary fishing area.

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Acknowledgements

The research reported in this article is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP190100604) and a National Geographic Society Research Grant (HJ2-194R-18). The authors thank the residents of Funafala, Dreketi and Karoko for their time and contribution to the research. The research complies with the current laws of the countries in which it was conducted.

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McMichael, C., Farbotko, C., Piggott-McKellar, A. et al. Rising seas, immobilities, and translocality in small island states: case studies from Fiji and Tuvalu. Popul Environ 43, 82–107 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-021-00378-6

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