Dec 11, 2016

Despite Climate Exodus, Marshall Islanders Head Home

Marshall Islands
Jon Letman
Climate Central
The Marshall Islands from above. Photo: Bermuda Mike/flickr
The Marshall Islands from above. Photo: Bermuda Mike/flickr

Surrounded by 750,000 square miles of ocean, the low-lying Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is emblematic of the threat climate change poses to small island nations. This Micronesian country of coral atolls faces worsening droughts, tropical storms, coral bleaching, coastal inundation and flooding – all exacerbated by rising temperatures and sea levels.

In the face of such an existential threat, the country has also seen a mass exodus of its inhabitants: exact numbers are unclear, but anything between one-fifth and one-third of the population has migrated visa-free to places such as Hawaii, the Pacific north-west and other parts of the U.S. under an agreement called the Compact of Free Association. North-west Arkansas alone saw an increase of nearly 300 percent in its Marshallese population between 2000 and 2010.

Some young Marshallese, however, are choosing to return after years living abroad, drawn back by the desire to help their homeland confront its challenges.