Tuvalu Special News Feature

 

Tuvalu Mo Te Atua (Tuvalu for the Almighty) Part 2

The text of this story is (C) Copyright Dr Mark D. Hayes, 2005, All Rights Reserved. Repurposing, re-use, and publication anywhere else, in any form, for any purpose, is expressly forbidden.

Copyright of associated pictures used with this story resides exclusively with the respective owners of each of the pictures - Ms Jocelyn Carlin, Dr Mark D. Hayes, Mrs Silafaga Lalua, and Mr Lomi Paeniu. Repurposing, re-use, and publication anywhere else, in any form, for any purpose, is expressly forbidden


The official Tuvalu Government's position on global warming and its effects is that they constitute creeping terrorism being practised on their tiny, very vulnerable country which has done nothing to contribute to the fate that appears to await them.

Recent statements by the Tuvaluan Government are here:

The late Governor General, Sir Tomasi Puapua's, statement to the 57th Session of the UN General Assembly, Saturday, September 14, 2002:

The then Acting Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Hon Maatia Toafa addressed the 59th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, 24 September, 2004.

It is available in Real Video and text formats off this page:

Scroll down to Tuvalu, and click on the relevant Links.

After being elected Prime Minister in October, 2004, Prime Minister Toafa spoke at the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Small Islands Big Stakes Conference in Mauritius on January 24, 2005:

Scroll down to Tuvalu. Speech in .pdf and Real Media formats.


Late Sunday morning, November 21, 2004... Tepuka Islet, 18 kilometers west of Funafuti, Tuvalu, across the Te Namo Lagoon...

I'm walking with my friend, Semese Alefaio, along the eastern shore of Tepuka Islet, one of the larger northern islets which dot the outer edges of the large lagoon, called Te Namo.


Tuvalu Association of Non-Government Organisations  (TANGO)
conservation biologist, Semese Alefaio, ponders the probable
future for Tepuka Islet, and for Tuvalu.
 

Sam's a conservation biologist who works for the Tuvalu Association of Non-Governmental Organisations or TANGO, a job he's recently taken up after four years doing the same work for the Fongafale Falekaupule, or 'town council' of the main village on Funafuti Atoll.


Dense tropical undergrowth on Tepuka Islet is protected
from the worst of the sea by the outer area of coconut
and pandanus palms now being eroded and destroyed.


He's responsible for studying, guarding, and explaining to visitors like me, the large Conservation Zone which comprises most of the lagoon and its western fringes, dotted with small to medium sized islets like Tepuka.

For $140 a boat load, he'll take you out on the lagoon for a day's exploring, snorkelling, and swimming.


Semese's boat beached on Fualopa Islet,
Te Namo Lagoon Conservation Zone,
18 kilometers west of Funafuti Atoll,
visible in the extreme background.


If you know your way around Funafuti, you know that 'Sam's the Man' when it comes to explaining anything to do with the Lagoon, and the effects global warming and sea level rise are having on the country's environment.

Like the mostly reserved if polite and gentle Tuvaluans, Semese's not a demonstrative fellow, but we've been friends for several years, so I know how to 'read' him.

Today, Sam's depressed, and worried, more so than normal.

On Tepuka, an islet he knows and loves almost as well as he knows and loves his wife and their four children, the youngest of whom was born in early 2004, Sam can see Tuvalu's, and his kids', probable future, up close and personal.


Recent erosion of the coral sands beach on Tepuka Islet
eats into part of the islet's protective barrier.


Tepuka's coral sands make walking in thongs tricky, and it's hot on the beach with the dazzling sunshine belting down and barely a breeze, but I dare not walk in bare feet because my soft Palagi (Westerner, outsider) soles would be cut by hidden shells, allowing bacteria in the sand to infect me, tetanus and hepatitis jabs before I came notwithstanding.

Dr Steve Homasi, the Chief Medical Officer at the recently Japanese-funded refurbished Princess Margaret Hospital, and a broadcaster on Radio Tuvalu - he does a Saturday morning gig for fun and health education - has warned me about the bugs in Funafuti's gritty, sandy soil, probably made worse by sewage from septic tanks seeping onto the atoll and into the Lagoon when periodic and increasing, localised flooding events occur.


Medical Dr Steve Homasi groovin' in his 'other life' as a regular volunteer presenter
on Radio Tuvalu, combining health education with having fun On Air.


The hospital was rebuilt higher above the ground with flooding in mind.
 


Refurbished with substantial Japanese aid, Princess Margaret Hospital, central Funafuti,
was deliberately built high to avoid possible flooding due to extreme high tides and storm surges
.


When you see the almost new hospital, you're not surprised, though saddened, that Tuvalu's dangerously tilting towards supporting the Japanese position at the International Whaling Commission.

I later tell the new Prime Minister, Maatia Toafa, that Tuvalu supporting the Japanese on whaling will damage the global goodwill Tuvalu's attracted due to its vulnerable position with sea level rise, and break a lot of people's hearts.

Dr Mark Hayes with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu,
Hon. Maatia Toafa, elected to office in October, 2004.
Hon. Toafa is in traditional dress from his home atoll of Nanumea.


He replies that the information Tuvalu's received from the Japanese about their whaling plans says the practice is sustainable, but that Tuvalu would review their position if new data is produced.

Looking at Dr Steve's all but new hospital, the first track, 'Samulai', from the latest album, 'Tutuki', by my favourite Pacific band, the New Zealand-based, Te Vaka, plays in my head:

"Ofu mai te gali, Fakataia koe I toku fale, Se tino faimea-alofa mai fafo, Ke pulea se fasi fakai e te Samulai" ('You come dressed to impress, Invite yourself into my home, Another gift bearing foreigner, Controlling another's domains Watch out the Samurai').

It's low tide that Sunday morning out on the lagoon at Tepuka, and the beach, from gently lapping waves to the start of the thick tropical island forest which caps this, and most of the other islets out on the edge of the lagoon, is about 10 to 50 meters wide.

As Sam and I walk round the islet, we come across a scene which fills me with mixed anger and deep sadness.

Sam just trudges along resignedly, an abandoned fishing net float retrieved from the shore rattling on his shoulder, and pauses to explain what we're seeing.

 Semese walking on Tepuka Islet past fallen coconut
and pandanus palms brought down by severe erosion.


"I've noticed that throughout the last four years there's been a lot of erosion here on this side of the island. The beach used to be where the water is now, and I've seen a lot of trees taken away by the sea," he says.


Semese on Tepuka


In my head playing alternately are David Crosby's classic song, 'Déjà vu', and a song I sometimes use to introduce lectures at QUT Journalism in Brisbane, 'Ke Ke Kitea', from the second album by, Te Vaka, 'Ki Mua'.

"Ke ke kitea, ite matou laiolagi, ke ke kitea, I te gali tenei lalolagiolaga."
'So you can see,' pleads Te Vaka. 'Please come and see what's happening to our Island homes so you can understand.'

We turn to look across the lagoon at the barren brown rock that used to be Tepuka Vili Vili, a smaller cousin to Tepuka which used to have the same kind of dense palm and pandanus forest crown and dazzling coral sands beach all around it.



Tepuka Vili Vili islet was all but destroyed by
Cyclone Meli in late 1997, and the Pacific Ocean
ripped away what protective beach and vegetation remained.



Tepuka Vili Vili would have once looked like
this tiny, and currently, healthy and protected islet.

 

In 1997, Cyclone Meli ripped much of Tepuka Vili Vili's green cap and coral sands beach away, and the indefatigable Pacific Ocean battering against the defenseless remains finished the job.

Sam and I turn back to the depressing, distressing sight of as many as two dozen large skeletal-white coconut and pandanus palms lying on the beach where they've fallen over the last few years.


More fallen trees from Tepuka Islet's
protective outer vegetation barrier.

 

'And I feel like I've been here before,' Crosby wails in my head.

The trees were not on the beach when I last visited Tepuka with Sam almost exactly two years ago.

The trees were then alive and part of Tepuka's protective barrier against assaults from the insatiable open ocean about a kilometer to the west.

"Jesus wept!" I think loudly to myself as I pan the camera across the sight.


Tepuka, more fallen trees


No, Jesus doesn't weep, he judges the nations by how they have dealt with the smallest, the weakest, and the most defenseless when he, the smallest, the weakest, and the most defenseless, came to them seeking aid, comfort and justice (Matthew 25: 31 - 46).

 

The very religious, very Christian Tuvaluans know exactly whom the author of Matthew metaphorically had in mind with that section in his Gospel (which means 'good news'), as their Pastors in the Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu preach whenever that passage comes around in the Church lexionary.

 

Rev Fuiono Peifanga takes holy communion on the islet of Funafala,
a tiny inhabited islet to the south of the main Funafuti Atoll.


<...Part 1  |  Part 3...>

 

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