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A Gunrun Project


Topic Topics Environment Pollution

This post is part of a forthcoming multimedia series produced by The GroundTruth Project focusing on the Marshall Islands, a US legacy of nuclear contamination and a looming threat posed by climate change. Coleen Jose, Kim Wall and Jan Hendrik Hinzel reported from the Marshall Islands to Northwest Arkansas

Waves from a seasonal king tide flooded a gas station and battered the low-lying atoll of the Marshall Islands where the highest elevation is 10 meters above sea level. Scientists project that the low-lying atolls will become uninhabitable before a significant rise in sea level submerges the land. Water and its manifestations as floods and storms is a constant reminder that wherever you stand, a strip of land separates you from the vast ocean.

Waves from a seasonal king tide flooded a gas station and battered the low-lying atoll of the Marshall Islands where the highest elevation is 10 meters above sea level. Scientists project that the low-lying atolls will become uninhabitable before a significant rise in sea level submerges the land. Water and its manifestations as floods and storms is a constant reminder that wherever you stand, a strip of land separates you from the vast ocean.

The Marshall Islands in the North Pacific is one of the most remote places on the planet. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear and thermonuclear bombs over the atolls. The population was exposed to radiation, displaced then subjected to decades of medical testing as part of classified military projects.

On Enewetak atoll, it was difficult to imagine that the 29 necklace-shaped thin strips of land and a striking blue lagoon where our reporting team journeyed to was witness to nuclear tests and a bomb 1,000 times as powerful as the one that decimated Hiroshima. The ‘forgotten atoll’, as some have described Enewetak, is home to hundreds of Marshallese living in the only repatriated nuclear ground zero.

Children stand on a seawall in the remote atoll of Enewetak in the Marshall Islands. Hours later, the government issued a tropical storm warning of strong winds and storm surge from Typhoon Bavi. Because of climate change, the low-lying nation could become uninhabitable before a significant rise in sea level submerges the land—intensifying and more frequent typhoons, drought and salinization of plants is putting pressure on the growing population to migrate outside of the country.

Children stand on a seawall in the remote atoll of Enewetak in the Marshall Islands. Hours later, the government issued a tropical storm warning of strong winds and storm surge from Typhoon Bavi. Because of climate change, the low-lying nation could become uninhabitable before a significant rise in sea level submerges the land—intensifying and more frequent typhoons, drought and salinization of plants is putting pressure on the growing population to migrate outside of the country.

A continuing contamination from a US nuclear legacy, still under-reported, is beginning to emerge in international discussion as the low-lying atolls grapple with the impacts of climate change. Increasingly frequent and unpredictable storms, inundation and severe drought are becoming more common in the Marshall Islands. Waves are destroying homes while breadfruit trees wither from salt spray.

Our forthcoming multimedia series is a deep dive into the stories existing alongside the vast Pacific Ocean. We’re examining the country’s experience with a nuclear legacy, climate change and migration to the United States where we follow a growing Marshallese community in Northwest Arkansas.

A gas mask from the era of US nuclear testing resurfaced on the beach of remote Enewetak atoll after Typhoon Bavi’s storm surge and winds battered the atoll. The atoll still faces contamination from radionuclides and is now at risk from unpredictable, intensifying typhoons. drought and inundation.

A gas mask from the era of US nuclear testing resurfaced on the beach of remote Enewetak atoll after Typhoon Bavi’s storm surge and winds battered the atoll. The atoll still faces contamination from radionuclides and is now at risk from unpredictable, intensifying typhoons. drought and inundation.

There is a word in Marshallese, lamoran, which means heritage, land and identity. The loss of land to the rising sea or intense tide is inseparable with loss to one’s identity. For thousands of years, the Marshallese survived on the atolls—generations of master sailors navigated the rough seas to subsist. It wasn’t until the Pacific battles of World War II and Cold War era nuclear testing that these plentiful resources in land and sea were decimated and for thousands of years contaminated from radioactive fallout.

Milner Oakney stand inside his aunt’s damaged home in Majuro. Many of the homes in a densely populated area called Demon Town are vulnerable to increasing intensity and frequency of high tides. "When is the next wave coming?" Okney said. "That’s what I think about. My cousin next door also thinks about when the next wave will come and break down his house. It has the same structure as this one. He doesn’t have a seawall because he can’t afford gravel and sand."

Milner Oakney stand inside his aunt’s damaged home in Majuro. Many of the homes in a densely populated area called Demon Town are vulnerable to increasing intensity and frequency of high tides. “When is the next wave coming?” Okney said. “That’s what I think about. My cousin next door also thinks about when the next wave will come and break down his house. It has the same structure as this one. He doesn’t have a seawall because he can’t afford gravel and sand.”

A tradition of resilience continue despite the threat of climate change, one soundly described by a Marshallese poet: “no one’s going to become a climate change refugee, no one’s losing their homeland,” Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner recited in front of world leaders at the UN Climate Summit in 2014.

In the striking blue lagoon of remote Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands, a relic of US nuclear testing still stands. This bunker was used as a base camp and like the surrounding waters, it is contaminated with radioactive material resulting from the detonation of 43 nuclear weapons including the world's first hydrogen bomb. Marshallese live the consequences of contamination every day. The nation also faces another emerging threat to identity, health and land: climate change. Sea level rise, intensifying floods and typhoons threaten nuclear era structures and homes in this low-lying atoll nation.

In the striking blue lagoon of remote Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands, a relic of US nuclear testing still stands. This bunker was used as a base camp and like the surrounding waters, it is contaminated with radioactive material resulting from the detonation of 43 nuclear weapons including the world’s first hydrogen bomb.
Marshallese live the consequences of contamination every day. The nation also faces another emerging threat to identity, health and land: climate change. Sea level rise, intensifying floods and typhoons threaten nuclear era structures and homes in this low-lying atoll nation.

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