The Next Wave: Climate Refugees in the South Pacific

They call themselves the forgotten people. The Carteret Islanders inhabit some of the most remote and beautiful islands in the South Pacific, a low-lying atoll 60 miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The islanders, a matrilineal society of 2,500 people, are known for their rich tradition of music, dance, and storytelling. For centuries, they have lived on a diet of fresh fish, bananas and breadfruit, and without modern conveniences, including electricity and running water. However, their idyllic life is changing dramatically.

Rising sea levels, storm surges, and changes in the underwater environment are destroying this far-flung island chain, eroding the shoreline at a rate of 8.2 mm per year. As the seawater surges beyond the shore, increased soil salinity contaminates the roots of plants. Once pristine beaches are now littered with fallen coconut trees, their roots gnawed away by the salt and inland gardens have turned to swamps, creating a fresh breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The islands will not vanish without a fight. For twenty years, the islanders have fought to contain the ocean.

They built clamshell and rock dams, similar in size to stone walls that define property boundaries around wealthy American estates, and planted trees along the shoreline to obstruct the encroaching sea's path. Despite these efforts, the islanders expect the atoll to be underwater by 2015. The Carteret Islands may be the first island chain to disappear in our lifetime, but other nations face a similar fate. One-tenth of the global population—634 million people—live in low-lying coastal areas; 75 percent of these people live in Asia, in the poorest pockets of the globe with limited resources. Christian Aid, the British-based aid agency, predicts climate change will displace 250 million people by 2050.

Carteret Islands: Every Drop Counts

The first person we met this morning on the Carteret Islands was Nicholas, a 32-year-old fisherman with an easy smile who will lead the youth tour (climate change awareness tour) to Tinputz in the northeast corner of Bougainville. Tall with short spiky hair, Nicholas speaks three languages occasionally spicing up conversation with archaisms like "drunkard fellow."

The Crisis: Civil War in Papua New Guinea

Last night I was on edge.

It wasn't just the "ambassador." Much of what I'd read about Bougainville before arriving painted a picture of a troubled and unstable country. Ten years of fighting for autonomy from Papua New Guinea and a brutal civil war ravaged the country in the 80s and 90s.

The "crisis" as the locals call it started in 1989 when villagers in the south protested against Rio Tinto, an international mining company that destroyed a mountainside of pristine rainforest to build one of the largest copper mines in the world.

Carteret Islands: Five Flights and Three Days Later

The Carteret Islands are some of the most remote islands in the South Pacific. Three days after leaving New York City and five flights later, we arrived in Buka at the tip of Bougainville, where we plan to catch a boat to the Carterets to document how climate change is impacting this low-lying atoll.

Heat of the Moment: Global Gateway in St. Louis

In January 2010, Pulitzer-sponsored journalists Jennifer Redfearn, William Wheeler and Anna-Katarina Gravgaard visited more than fifteen middle and high schools and three universities in the St. Louis area. They spoke about their experiences reporting on the issues surrounding climate change in the Carteret Islands and South Asia, respectively. Their discussions with the students ranged from the environmental, social, and political implications of climate change, to the technical and educational sides of a career in journalism, to news literacy and the changing media landscape.

Climate Change in Bangladesh: Rising sea levels threaten low-lying lands

A key feature of the Pulitzer Center's upcoming web portal on climate change is Daniel Grossman's reporting from Bangladesh on how rising sea levels threaten this South Asian country.

Yesterday Grossman had a piece run on PRI's The World, looking at the ways in which Bangladesh is experimenting with protecting itself. Among the experiments -- using floods to prevent floods.

See the piece as it ran at

Pulitzer Films Win Awards at Media That Matters Festival

Two Pulitzer Center-supported films won honors at the 9th Annual Media That Matters Film Festival June 3. Jennifer Redfearn's "The Next Wave," a short version of "Sun Come Up," her film on the effects of climate change on the native inhabitants of the Carteret Islands, won the Jury Award. Gabrielle Weiss' "La Hoja," on coca leaf farmers and the coca industry in Bolivia, won the Unspoken Truth Award. Congratulations, Jennifer and Gabrielle!