Hawaii’s East Island has vanished —
After coming into contact with Hurricane Walaka, an intense storm that hit Hawaii last month — East Island was just wiped off the map. A shocking outcome for federal managers who discovered that East Island “appears to be under water”, while the neighboring Tern island had its shape fundamentally altered by the hurricane.
East Island was, at around half a mile long and 400ft wide, the second largest island in the the French Frigate Shoals, an atoll in the far western reaches of the Hawaiian archipelago. Until 1952, it hosted a US Coast Guard radar station.
Despite its size, the island played an important role for wildlife, including the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, a species that numbers just 1,400 individuals, with many of the seals raising their young on East Island. Green sea turtles, which are also threatened, and seabirds such as albatrosses, which often had their young preyed upon by circling tiger sharks, also depended on the island.
Scientists have confirmed the disappearance of the 11-acre island after comparing satellite images of the surrounding French Frigate Shoals, part of an enormous protected marine area in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. “The island was probably one to two thousand years old and we were only there in July…” said Chip Fletcher, a professor of earth sciences at UH.
If conditions align, an atoll would always be at a small risk of being erased by a powerful hurricane. But climate change is causing the ocean and atmosphere to warm, making storms fiercer, while there’s evidence that hurricanes are moving further north into the latitudes where East Island once lay.
Rising sea levels are also eroding away low-lying islands, with several fragments of land in the Pacific vanishing in recent years.
“The take-home message is climate change is real and it’s happening now,” Randy Kosaki, a senior official for the Hawaii monument at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
IPCC Climate Report and Sea Level Rise
Eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are located near a coast. Hawaii, an island state, is surrounded by coastlines and as sea levels rise, Hawaii’s residents and economy along with millions of people around the world are affected by increased coastal flooding and coastal erosion, as well as higher storm surges which are moving further inland.
We’re not talking about something happening in 10 – 20 years. We’re talking about something happening right now – and unless we act, the danger will only grow.