There have been many claims that the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is drowning because of rising seas resulting from climate change.

Tuvalu is a group of nine small islands with a total area of 26 square kilometres and a population of about 12,000. Its average height above sea level is just 3 metres. Tuvalu has no fresh water streams, no known mineral resources, poor soil, declining vegetation because of excessive clearing and almost no exports.

Tuvalu - Funafuti - Approach (by mrlins ex Flickr)
Tuvalu – Funafuti – Approach (by mrlins ex Flickr)

In 2000, the University of Hawaii conducted a study which concluded that over the previous 20 years sea levels at Tuvalu had risen by a total on only 1.4 centimetres. A subsequent study by the University of Tasmania suggested that the tidal gauge may have sunk slightly during the period and that abnormal El Nino conditions may have affected the results – making it possible that the sea had risen by as much as 2.4 centimetres over the 20 years.

Obviously, such a small rise is not the cause of Tuvalu’s problems.

What has happened is the islanders have taken beach sand to build brick houses – resulting in erosion of the beaches, especially during cyclones. There has been excessive clearing of forest undergrowth for fuel, resulting in further erosion. And reef damage by the crown of thorns starfish has causes even more beach erosion.