The Tuvalu Buoy Project: Desperation and Defiance
Funafuti, Tuvalu, October 29, 2006 -- Residents of the tiny nation of Tuvalu have embarked on a remarkable effort to save their homeland from the rising sea levels that are threatening to swamp the string of small islands Tuvalu's inhabitants call home.
Dubbed the Tuvalu Buoy Project, the initiative is a last-ditch stand mounted by residents whose only alternative is to flee their homes and join the growing worldwide environmental diaspora. Environmentalists and international aid groups are following the project and providing technical and logistical support, but share limited hope for the project's success.
"It's really the last, desperate act of a doomed nation," said Janice Rutledge, a representative of Friends of the Earth who has been working with the Tuvaluans on the buoy initiative.
Tuvalu's dwindling population of around 11,000 live scattered across a string of small, low atolls, none of which is more than 14 feet above sea level – and that level is sinking every day. The Tuvalu Buoy Project is an attempt to mitigate the relentless march of the rising sea.
"What we are trying to do is to prop up the entire nation, to lift it out of the sea, with large buoys," said Filoimea Telito, Tuvalu's Governor General. "It may seem like a foolish exercise, like hammering nails into the earth to prevent earthquakes like the Aztecs. But we are only 11,000 people, poor people, fishermen. We cannot force the United States to ratify Kyoto, force China and India to stop building coal plants. And we cannot leave – we have lived here for thousands of years, and we have no place to go. So we are working with our buoys. It gives us hope."
Nearly the entire population of Tuvalu – men, women and children of all ages – are directly or indirectly involved in the buoy project. Some are involved in collecting, repairing and welding together used oil barrels – the irony of the raw material choice is not lost on the residents – others in sewing the vast blue cloths used to encase the barrels; other in making the huge ropes that attach the large buoys to the shore.
The theory is that if enough buoys can be made and attached to the atolls, the entire string of islands may be lifted from the sea floor and become a floating nation, anchored in place by thousands of huge chains.
"The whole area of our nation was less than 30 square kilometers a few years ago, smaller than a small town in America," said Mr. Telito. "With rising waters, it is now only 26 kilometers. In another few years, it may be less than twenty."
So far, the Tuvaluans have built nearly two thousand buoys which are scattered throughout the atolls like a giant Christo installation. The effort has had no measurable effect on the islands' capacity to resist the rising sea levels, but the Tuvaluans press on nonetheless.
"We will build a thousand more, and then we will build a thousand more," said Mr. Telito. "What else can we do? This is our home."
By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor
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