Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo December 6, 2019

Prince Charles Tours Turtle Islands on Path to Extinction

Authors:
A lush rainforest on a remote island in the Solomon Islands overhangs coastal water. Image by Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock. Solomon Islands, 2019. 
English

Solomon Islands is currently one of the world's most heavily forested nations, with some 80 percent...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors
Children playing in Malaita, where sea levels are rising. Image by Monique Jaques. Papua New Guinea, 2019.
Children playing in Malaita, where sea levels are rising. Image by Monique Jaques. Papua New Guinea, 2019.

As night fell on the southwestern edge of Malaita, in the Solomon Islands, rangers set out in search of leatherback turtles, patrolling a strip of sand between the surf and the tree line. Crabs scuttled across the rangers’ torch beams but they kept their eyes fixed ahead in the hope of spotting a female leatherback crawling ashore to lay her eggs.

For these critically endangered animals this is one of the few remaining nesting sites in the south Pacific. But each year rising sea levels swamp more and more of the beach; soon there may be no place for them to come ashore.

It is this kind of threat that brings the Prince of Wales to these islands, more than 9,000 miles from Britain.

After a six-day tour of New Zealand — with the Duchess of Cornwall, who then flew home — the prince will today make his first visit to the islands, where he will discuss climate change and lend his support to sustainable fishing schemes.

Charles gave a speech in Christchurch on Friday, in which he warned that humanity was running out of time to tackle climate change. “We face an urgent global crisis, in fact a climate and biodiversity emergency,” he said at Lincoln University.

Charles and Camilla visited several environmental groups in New Zealand, including a project in Auckland where volunteers help to clear plastic from coastal waters.

Prince Charles enjoying a traditional welcome to Kaikoura, New Zealand, during a six-day trip with the Duchess of Cornwall. He will visit the Solomon Islands today. Image by Kai Schwoerer. New Zealand, 2019.
Prince Charles enjoying a traditional welcome to Kaikoura, New Zealand, during a six-day trip with the Duchess of Cornwall. He will visit the Solomon Islands today. Image by Kai Schwoerer. New Zealand, 2019.

In the Solomon Islands, Charles will see first-hand the devastating effects of rising sea levels on a low-lying country. Several communities have had to move inland as their traditional stilted houses are washed away when the tide reaches their doorsteps, ruining agricultural land and polluting the drinking water. Villagers point out grey, skeletal tree trunks to show where the coast once lay.

Many of the rangers live within 200 yards of the beach and worry that they, like the turtles they tend, may lose their homes. “Each year we see the sea coming closer and closer to the village,” said Nicho Raroi, 25, who works for the Wai-Hau Conservation Foundation.

As well as the advancing ocean, the islands also face cyclones growing in ferocity, while foreign-owned logging businesses plunder forests.

“Sometimes the sea makes it hard to work now,” said Raymond Hoahania, 58, one of the senior rangers. “The waves will come all the way up the beach so the leatherbacks can’t land.”

Locals in the former British protectorate with a population of just over 600,000 hope the prince’s interest will encourage the world to take action. The Pacific leatherbacks are vulnerable, with only 2,300 adult females left.

Deforestation brings more problems. “When the young people grow up, they won’t even have trees to make their houses,” Raroi said.

RELATED ISSUES

Environment and Climate Change

Issue

Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
Land and Property Rights

Issue

Land and Property Rights

Land and Property Rights
Rainforests

Issue

Rainforests

Rainforests

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues