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includes the following information ABC/Reuters considered unimportant:
However, despite extensive damage to parts of the Marshall Islands' coast, researchers have begun to cast doubt on claims that the Pacific islands have already begun to disappear or that the damage is due to rises in sea levels that have occurred in recent decades. Indeed, while experts say the nation does face a long-term threat, new findings show that many of the islands are largely either remaining stable or growing.
Dr Murray Ford, from the University of Auckland, has been comparing aerial photographs of the islands taken by the United States military during World War II with photographs taken in the 1970s and in recent years. He found that many islands are getting larger and that the shrinking shoreline along coastal villages has largely been caused by commercial development, building of seawalls and land reclamation.
“It is a much more complicated story than the island being washed away,” he said.
“What the people are seeing is real – there are graves and houses falling into the water – but often it is a result of engineering and sea walls being built inappropriately. Some parts of some islands are eroding as sand has moved around but some islands are growing in size.”
A newly-published study showed a southern atoll which was devastated by a 1905 typhoon has grown back to a stable state, with its vegetated area expanding by about a quarter since 1945; other smaller islands joined together to form a single landmass.
Dr Ford said climate change is causing sea levels to rise at an increasing rate and the phenomenon poses a serious threat to the islands. But, he said, the damage that has occurred so far has been due to “inappropriate” construction, while some islands have grown due to natural accretion and endlessly shifting shorelines.
“The sea level is rising and will accelerate and on the ground the response will not be pretty,” Dr Ford said.
“But the islands have shown a wide range of change and not all of that is erosion… The story in Majuro is very much a human-driven impact on the island. In the outer islands, it is driven much more by waves, currents and movements of the sands.”
The scientists are still trying to understand the changes in the islands, which can shift shape over time periods ranging from hours to centuries and can sometimes erode during winter and grow back in the summer.
An expert on coastal changes, Professor Colin Woodroffe, from the University of Wollongong, said population increases and inhabitation of low-lying lands are probably playing a part in the increasing signs of damage.
“To say the little bit of rise has led to the erosion is too simple,” he said. “The islands are already quite vulnerable to erosion - human settlement is the most important factor.”