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Fighting for Paradise

Sarah Fretwell | Western Pacific - Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Chuuk

These two children live with their family on the island's ocean side amidst
storm debris and palm trees that have fallen over from erosion. Their generation will be
the last generation of Tuvaluan youngsters to play here. There is currently no status for those who must leave their home due to climate change other than "refugee."

Witnessing the human toll of climate change for 4,000 nautical miles across the Pacific shook me to my core. Prime ministers to scientists shared one lingering sentiment, “I hope someone [else] figures this out.”

In the low-lying atolls of Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Chuuk most live on limited resources. As land and freshwater disappear with each storm, governments and locals are struggling to adapt. Islanders are on an accelerated timetable to stay and fight for their homes - or leave.

The question that no one wants to ask is, who are you if you have no land? People here want to stay at all costs.

In true Polynesian tradition, many trust the world will act for the greater good. As conditions worsen, the stark realization is that the world has to care enough to act.  If the global community does not mitigate climate change people here pay the true price.

In uncharted waters, many families are debating the best path forward for their nation and children. This project documents the beauty of their changing life and culture, the fight for adaptation, losses, and hopes for the future.


The moment the human cost of global warming hit me was amidst a handstand contest with two young cousins in Tuvalu.  Bathed in the crystal blue water tears streamed down my face as it dawned on me that my young friends’ future children will not be able to play on this beach. It won’t be here. Their beautiful community will be extinct. Everyone and everything -except a few palm trees - lost to the ocean forever.

Surrounded by the idyllic beauty of this South Pacific atoll, they did not understand how a silent war being waged worldwide has already stolen their future. These islanders are among the first to taste the aftermath of climate change, even though most are still not willing to admit defeat. The outcome of climate change is no longer a future abstraction for them.

Growing cultural staples such as taro and bananas are no longer possible, many of the fish in the lagoon are toxic, and people are now living on imported processed food, which has led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

In the face of the inevitable, some islanders are leaving remote outer islands to overcrowded capital islands, straining limited resources and causing tensions over disappearing land. Governments have started programs to "migrate with dignity," a euphemism for moving overseas and struggling to establish themselves in new cultures on their own terms.

Losing Home is a microcosm the rest of the world can learn from as we collectively fight for the future of life on the planet.

Sarah Fretwell


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