The Role of Traditional Knowledge to Frame Understanding of Migration as Adaptation to the “Slow Disaster” of Sea Level Rise in the South Pacific

  • Keith MorrisonEmail author


Political rhetoric from small islands in the South Pacific is loudly proclaiming a disaster in the making through sea-level rise. Appealing as the rhetoric may be, it masks very complex processes, such as poor governance leading to unsustainable land use and environmental degradation. It thus interferes with more long term planning strategies which aim to avoid the creation of disasters from sea-level rise. There are nevertheless very good reasons for this rhetoric, including a lack of understanding of underlying complex processes and a lack of proactive governance. More deeply, this lack of understanding can be linked to underlining presumptions driving modernization and globalization, including views about risk, identity, and land tenure. This chapter attempts to frame and unpack the complex issue of climate change, disasters, and “environmental migration” to create greater awareness in order to address these multiple problems and enable strategic planning. Based on empirical work from communities at-risk from slow-onset sea-level rise hazards in Kiribati and Tuvalu, a synthesis of scientific and traditional perspectives is combined to develop a conceptual model, which indicates how cultural traditions can contribute to enabling migrants to successfully adapt to their new social-ecological environment. A case study of successful adaptations by migrant communities in Fiji is used to illustrate the principles.


Traditional knowledge Migration Sea level rise South Pacific 



The author wishes to thank Kalabu and the USP 2014 classes of EV414 and EV425 for the adventure of working with them, and the taxpayers of the European Union for funding the work.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentThe University of the South PacificSuvaFiji

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