Rising seas wash Japanese war dead from Marshall Islands graves
“There are coffins and dead people being washed away from graves. It’s that serious,” Tony de Brum told reporters on the sidelines of United Nations climate change talks in Germany.
Putting the blame on climate change, which threatens the existence of the islands, which are only 2 metres (6ft) above sea level at their highest, De Brum said: “Even the dead are affected”.
Twenty-six skeletons had been found on Santo Island after high tides battered the archipelago from February to April, he said, adding that more may be found.
“We think they are Japanese soldiers. We had the exhumed skeletons sampled by the US Navy in Pearl Harbour [in Hawaii] and they helped identify where they are from, to assist in the repatriation efforts.”
Unexploded bombs and other military equipment had also washed up in recent months.
Climate scientists say global warming has raised average World sea levels by about 19cm (8in) in the past century, aggravating the impact of storm surges and tides. Glaciers and ice caps are melting and water also expands as it warms.
A UN report said on Thursday that changes in Pacific winds and currents meant sea levels in the region had risen faster than the World average since the 1990s.
De Brum said many of the 170 nations meeting in Bonn were slowly understanding the extent of threats faced by island states. Rising tides washed salt water on to the land, often ruining vegetation and crops, such as breadfruit and coconuts.
“We think they are [getting the message], but not quickly enough to climate-proof some of our more vulnerable communities,” he said. Climate-proofing measures included raising homes on stilts, rebuilding roads and docks, and even the abandonment of some atolls.