The people of the Micronesian islands are constantly witnessing the ocean waters rise, critically changing the image of their land. Many of these tropical islands across the Pacific depend on tourism, with water-based activities. However the underwater environment, apart from the land, is also threatened by climate change. Beautiful beaches are giving way to ocean waters, infrastructure and houses are occasionally covered by rising water and plants and crop are destroyed by salt water, creating food problems for the locals. Some small islands have already been lost, and the residents of several others will soon need to find other homelands.

Original article by Patricia Luce Chapman, Associated Press, posted on March 30, 2008.

Essay by Daisy Modiano
Master in Tourism Destination Management student 2008/2009

The sandy beach of Laura village of Majuro in Marshall islands is covered with a variety of impressive beautiful trees and rear flowers, stretching towards the Pacific Ocean. A place that attracts many locals and visitors with its beauty, but now becoming noticeably narrower, losing its sand and trees to the waters of the ocean. Amata Kabua International airport’s runway was constructed by building a bridge among several small islands, with the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other. Drains on either side collect and store fresh rainwater, a major source for drinking water as well as for Marshallese trade and tourism. Nowadays rising sea waters are flooding the runway, despite the sea walls that have been built. The runway is vital for the life of the Marshallese but is now vulnerable to the ocean, as are the several houses of many locals on the seafront. Salt water is also catastrophic for many plants, some of them being major sources of food for the local people.

Many of these islands in central Pacific are tourism dependent. Visitors are drawn, apart from the beautiful landscape, by the underwater scenery discovering it mainly through scuba-diving, fishing and snorkeling activities. These paradises are gradually being lost, or face the danger of extinction in the future, mainly because of the climate change and the rise of the ocean waters. The change in their landscape and the gradual destruction of their coral reefs could have severe negative impacts on their tourism industry. Tourism demand can move easily towards other places that offer a similar tourism product, leaving these areas vulnerable and economically unstable. However another question is born: Faced with the dangers born by climate change, can these islands continue depending on tourism and promoting it?

As also described in “Tourism Management Dynamics” by Buhalis and Costa(2006), in the chapter of Climate Change and its Implications for International Tourism, tourism activity is both impacted by and is itself a major contributor to the phenomenon of climate change in destinations. Apart from the general and global impacts of tourism activity on the planet’s climate change, tourism also has more direct impacts on each destination’s environment. These small Micronesian islands, for example, might depend on tourism, but at the same time this same contributor might have a severe impact on their already vulnerable situation. Their coral reefs and the lagoon have become a world famous attraction for divers and snorkelers and the small coral islets with beaches and palm trees are also attracting thousands of visitors. However, in the latest years, pollution and congestion in specific sites are noticeable, especially during peak seasons.
As an additional problem, the fact that these islands, along with many other areas in the world, might be regarded as endangered, leads more people wanting to visit those places before they are really gone for ever. Travel magazines and agencies promote these places as endangered urging more and more tourists to visit them before it is too late.

It seems like one way to protect those areas from the negative impacts of unrestrained visitation, is by controlling the numbers of visitors. But is it correct to allow some people to enter an area, and not some others? Is it an acceptable solution, maybe to raise the prices of entry tickets, or accommodation and services to prevent the mass from going there? Taking into consideration that tourism is a crucial contributor to these areas economy, I think that certain protection should be created around those destinations that are regarded as endangered by climate change. Strict laws can control development and land exploitation, while economic help can be raised and provided by international organizations and unions for their protection and conservation. I do not think that eliminating tourism activity is the proper solution but certainly controlling to some extent its development on such vulnerable areas is.