Tidal damage cuts swathe across wide area of Pacific

High tide floodwaters in the Carterets 06-12-2021
A child playing in high tide floodwaters in food gardens in the Carterets, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, yesterday. Video: Bougainville Today

SPECIAL REPORT: By Michael Field, co-editor of The Pacific Newsroom

Extensive damage to food crops across South Pacific atolls has followed three days of high spring tides in the region.

Reports into The Pacific Newsroom show the tides have afflicted Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and the archipelago islands of Papua New Guinea.

Videos show extensive damage in villages as the tides sweep in.

Tide charts predict there will be another night of it tonight.

The phenomena is not directly related to global warming and sea level rise, but is an ominous pointer to what could happen.

Known as a perigean spring tide, it is influenced by the new Moon. The one underway now is the 11th and last for this year.

Why this one has proven so damaging in the Pacific is likely to be a result of the developing La Niña. Sea level rise could also be a factor. In places like the Marshall Islands winds were also helping create big swells.

Impact on Carteret Islands
One place dramatically affected this week are the Carteret Islands, part of PNG’s autonomous Bougainville region. Home to 2600 people, and already sinking due to a combination of seismic and global warming effects, it appears to have suffered extensive sea water contamination of its gardens.

Low lying areas around Malaita’s main town of Auki, in the Solomon Islands, suggest serious problems there.

Flooding in Auki, Malaita, Solomon Islands. Image: Tim Saki Misimake

Video shows extensive damage occurring on the islands in Chuuk State, Federated States of Micronesia.

The Pacific Island Times quotes FSM President David W. Panuelo saying they are aware of what is happening.

“We are watching what’s happening,” he said in a statement. “I would ask our citizens to feel assured that their government is aware of what’s happening, and is ready to take action.”

Giff Johnson in the Marshall Islands said there was not so much damage but a big clean up was needed. They were expecting more tonight.

Majuro airport road flooded
Writing for the Mariana Variety he said at Majuro roads by Amata Kabua International Airport in Majuro were down to single lane traffic Monday afternoon as heavy equipment operators moved up and down the long roadway clearing rocks and debris that blocked the road from inrushing tidal water.

Waves washing over boulder barriers caused flooding on the roads half a meter deep before receding.

Aotearoa climate researcher Dr Murray Ford of Auckland University told Johnson he believed sea level rise was a major factor in this week’s events.

“An event like this would have been relatively innocuous in the 1990s, but sea level is notably higher today then back then. Sea level rise is increasing the frequency and magnitude of these sorts of events.”

Dr Ford said Monday’s inundation came during “the highest tide of the month at 2.14 metres.”

From Nauru, Formosa Emiu, wrote of being spooked by the ocean creeping up the backyard: “No sand or reef or rocky pinnacles seen, no noise or crashing waves, very calm, but very high sea level”.

Asia Pacific Report is a partner of The Pacific Newsroom. Republished with permission.

Climate change and the Carterets yesterday. Video: Bougainville Today

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