“No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine . . .“, wrote John Donne in Meditations. Nothing could be more true today, as low lying islands worldwide that support unique peoples and cultures are imperiled by climate change.
The U.N. published a report in October 2018 that synthesized the best science available on climate change and its potential global and regional effects. It concluded with high confidence that: “Increasing warming amplifies the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas to the risks associated with sea level rise for many human and ecological systems, including increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure.”
Pacific and Indian Ocean small island republics like the Marshalls, Maldives, and Kiribati are particularly vulnerable since their highest elevations are typically less than six meters. Salt water intrusion into fresh water lenses that lie beneath these islands and make agriculture possible are likely to become contaminated in the shorter term, forcing local farmers to move to crowded urban centers or to emigrate. More frequent droughts will create additional stresses on outer island communities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. East Coast is protected by a long chain of low lying barrier islands that lie just off the mainland, stretching from New Hampshire to Florida. Some are highly developed, like Hilton Head, South Carolina. Others have been conserved as wildlife refuges, like Assateague, Virginia and Maryland. All are being battered by hurricanes and extreme storms like nor'easters and eroded by sea level rise.