The Rising Sea Level: Small Island States

As global temperatures begin to rise, small island developing states are the first to truly feel the impacts of climate change as the sea level rises further.

These nations are now facing serious impacts on their resources, water, infrastructure and tourism that will require adaption strategies to avoid future natural disasters.

Some of the issues I intend to explore here are how the effects of sea level rise will impact these small island states and also what kinds of adaption options they may have.

Some of the more key issues include inundation, flooding, storm surges, as well as saltwater intrusion, land submergence and beach erosion.

Out migration can also be problematic especially if people feel the need to all leave at once, as main cities can become quite overwhelmed.

Infrastructure can also be affected, not only buildings but roads especially those that are quite close to the water line. They can begin to start eroding quite quickly. A lot of buildings, homes and even schools are built right along the coastline. This is also problematic as people are forced to abandon their homes along the coast.

Issues will continue to arise around infrastructure and public safety as many schools and cities are right on the coast and will need to protect against the surging sea as well as erosion.

Tourism is affected by the sea level rise as well, as the sea level rises there is less beach and a lot of tourism surrounds beaches. For the economy it’s quite a huge hit for most of these small island states. These are finances they need not only for their economy but to put towards future plans for adaption against sea level rise.

As global temperatures rise, the issue of increased hurricanes and cyclones becomes more frequent. With these storms not only comes mass destruction of infrastructure along the coast, but also increased storm surges that can be highly destructive to the coastline.

This increased sea level will also cause more saltwater intruding into their water supplies, this in turn will affect freshwater supplies. Threatening islanders drinking water and thus affecting their agriculture and ability to grow crops as well.

Some of the ideas that have been used towards helping against sea level rise are beach nourishment as seawalls, both have issues and are not the best long term solution to sea level rise.

Beach nourishment involves adding sand to the beaches, however islands are much more limited to how much sand they have and thus this can be very expensive to import in.

Seawalls are a wall built along the shoreline to help against beach erosion. But have become problematic as well because they encourage infrastructure to be built along the shoreline that is eroding and destroy beaches as well in the process again affecting tourism.

Potential Impacts of Sea Level Rise

Small Island developing states are located in several regions including; Caribbean Sea Islands, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean Islands and lastly theMediterranean Sea Islands.

These SIDS are usually very high in population in small areas and are very vulnerable to any kind of changes in the climate, as they are very sensitive to any type of natural disasters and do not usually have the finances to adequately deal with those changes.

As the sea level rises, the risks for low lying islands are especially great and every aspect of life on those islands will be affected socially and economically.The rates of sea level rise however have not been the same across the earth and in some parts of the Indian ocean and the tropical Pacific, sea level rise has risen much more rapidly.

Water pollution is one major issue that SIDS will be facing, as the sea level rises, water resources are highly vulnerable.

Water shortages will be another Issue to deal with, as many SIDS rely entirely on either one or two sources of water, rainfall sources included.

Changes caused by global warming that then change patterns of weather, affect water resources and the rising sea level impacts these countries the most when it comes to their water sources.

Most cities and infrastructure also lay within 1.5 km of the shore and are also highly vulnerable to the rising sea level and are at high risk for coastal erosion.



Most cities and infrastructure also lay within 1.5 km of the shore and are also highly vulnerable to the rising sea level and are at high risk for coastal erosion.

So infrastructure is at high risk, many that are very essential and valuable to SIDS as numerous buildings such as public buildings and airports.

They are located in a very dense population all along the coastlines and are at very high risk of being damaged or destroyed by rising sea levels and other climate related changes.

Infrastructures such as roads and bridges are also at high risk for damage, especially those along the coast as flooding occurs. When natural disasters do occur, these infrastructures are much needed to help those in times of need during such disasters.

The biodiversity of these islands are also at risk, because of their unique locations, a lot of rare types of biodiversity live there. All of which is at risk of being destroyed by even just a meter rise in the sea level.

Another issue is agriculture, which is so important to survival and subsistence. With the rising sea level there is less land and with less land there comes less crops and thus affecting the amount of food those citizens have to survive off of.

There also arises the issue of outmigration where many citizens are forced to leave their island behind and relocate as the island they lived on disappears. Or they are unable to adapt to the changes caused by a rising sea level and other climate changes.

The economy of these states can also be affected by rising sea levels, as it reduces the land size and the amount of land to use for crops as well as affecting tourism and livable land.

For these countries tourism is a big part of their economy and to be losing infrastructure and beaches that tourists flock to is quite serious. It is also a problem in the sense that most of these countries are developing and are not in the best position to battle financially the rising sea level.

Impacts will also be seen on the actual geography of these islands. Such as landslides being triggered and further coastal erosion destroys beaches and changes hillsides and rivers/deltas that can get also get flooded.

Impacts will also be seen on the ecosystems and natural settings, as effects are felt by the marine life as well as plants and damages arising to important coral reefs .

There will also be issues arising from inundation, causing saline to enter freshwater sources on these islands and affecting the sources of water to drink.

Adaption Strategies

Adaption strategies are very important in combating those issues that are emerging over sea level rise.

Sea level rise is predicted to be around 5 millimeters per year, with storm surges many coast lines are very vulnerable to flooding.

Some ideas include moving those citizens who are living much too close to the coast to higher ground, this has actually been implemented in Vanuatu. This involved help from the Canadian government to move 100 villagers from the Lateu settlement, as they had constant issues with erosion and flooding that made it hard to live there. They made the move to 15 m above the sea level.

However, we must also consider the fact that some islands already have very little land as it is and not all adaptive strategies can apply, especially those attempting to relocate to higher ground. If there is no higher ground where will these citizens go? It’s a serious issue that has to be given much thought to adequately tackle climate change issues.


Seawalls are a great way to prevent coastal erosion!

To adapt several approaches can be taken such as protective measures that protect the coastlines through beach nourishment, dune building, putting in seawalls, dikes, groins, breakwaters or barriers, in order to protect the coast in a nature friendly way.

Measures such as beach nourishment, afforestation, reforestation, dune restorations, or constructing artificial reefs or seaweeds, has the added benefit of being much more cost efficient and it is also much more environmentally friendly. As it imitates the natural settings the most.

Beach nourishment dredges sand and materials from other places such as channels or other places on the land and place that material onto beaches. It is the most ecologically sound way to replenish lost land due to erosion and economically as well as financially it is affordable and beaches are also good for tourism and citizens alike. However, this option is not perfect either as having to replenish the sand is more so a short term solution than a long term one. Again financially for short term it’s not so bad, however long term, money becomes an issue and especially importing sand and materials after they run out.

Economically it is not sustainable for most developing islands, as sand replenishment must be done every 5 to 10 years. It can also in some cases disturb natural habitats and destroy areas of land, depending on where they are dredging the sand from.

Restoring dunes that have been eliminated or destroyed is another way of adapting, through rebuilding those dunes, improving their land mass and allowing them to become a part of the natural landscape again.

Building seawalls is also another option for SIDS to protect their coastline as they protect against storms surges and flooding. However the issue then arises of more resorts and buildings being built along the coastline because people think it’s safe to build where seawalls are in place.

Dunes are highly important when it comes to rising sea levels because they protect the land from erosion and are key during storm surges as well as protecting land from flooding. They are a benefit because of how long they can keep their natural form over a long period of time as well. However there are disadvantages, such as if they aren’t rebuilt the right way things such as increasing wave activity during a storm can destabilize or destroy a dune. They can also be hazardous to natural biodiversity, especially if they do destabilize they could affect a lot of natural processes in its path.

Another adaption strategy is afforestation and reforestation which involves adapting to sea level rise through protecting its coast by planting trees and other plants.

Through this process the vulnerable coastline and other vulnerable infrastructure would essentially have a natural barrier and protection from sea level rise and other climate related changes.

The benefits of afforestation and reforestation are towards the economy, as they create new jobs thus more income, providing for those families in need.

Artificial seaweed, mangrove roots or seagrass systems are another good way to combat against sea level rise. They are a natural way to protect against storm surges and the shoreline.

Artificial reefs through a process called wave rotation, also allow for protecting the coast from erosion by breaking the impacts of waves.

One of the main issues with adapting to sea level rise and other types of climate change that will affect SIDS is the lack of funding and the fact that most of these countries are poverty stricken and do not have the funds to adequately adapt.

Most of these countries have other more pressing issues to deal with then adapting to climate change. Such as poverty, unemployment, improving housing for its citizens and providing education. These issues take priority over implementing adaptive procedures towards the rising sea level.

These countries will need financial assistance from more developed countries, to not only research practical and efficient ways to adapt to sea level rise but also the finances needed to implement them as well.

Some other issues with adaption include; lack of data to be able to implement any kind of strategy towards sea level rise and data surrounding timelines of when sea level rise will occur and by how much. So SIDS must bring about a national response to adapting to climate change and make assessments in order to truly bring about implementing any kind of strategies against sea level rise.

Small island developing states are at high risk from sea level rise, as their land area is already limited as it is and the fact that most of these states have very high population density.

These states will see the impacts of sea level rise on their coastlines before most other places in the world and thus must act now to implement plans to protect their coast from things like stormsurges, erosion, destruction of important infrastructure, and loss of key agriculture and tourism.

They will also feel impacts on one of their most Important resources and that of course is water.

Water resources will become more limited, as more saltwater intrusion occurs and protective measures must be put into place to protect this precious resource.

These small island developing states will feel the impact on their economy harder than most states would as well because of how much they rely on tourism to their beaches. Ensuring those beaches do not disappear is of utmost importance.

There are several ways these states can adapt including, moving away from coastlines to higher ground, or protective measures such as afforestation, reforestation, seawalls, beach nourishment’s, dunes and artificial reefs or seaweed.

Adaption strategies must be put in place as soon as possible! Beach nourishment may be the best short term solution until they find other cheaper and more nature friendly ways to protect their coast. Cost effectiveness and being nature friendly are two very important aspects to being able to adapt. Especially since most of these states have more pressing issues to address such as education and unemployment.

These states need help from more developed countries in order to fund research into future impacts on their coast and which ways to adapt. That will not only be affordable but will impact its natural surroundings the least and not disturb the natural habitats and biodiversity that already exist.

Overall, sea level rise is happening and these small island developing states will be unfortunately the first to feel the wrath of global climate changes caused by greenhouse gases. They

must act now to protect their coast, but a global response must also be put into place to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help negate the effects of global warming we are already feeling.

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