Kiribati’s Tides Threaten the Link Between Land and Memory

Itaake Teuria's family shows me where their family land used to be. Earlier this year, this place was filled with the family's houses, breadfruit and coconut trees, and fertile soil, but now all that remains is the sandy beach.
Members of Itaake Teuria’s family show me where their house, breadfruit and coconut trees, and fertile soil used to be. After a severe high tide, all that remains is a sandy beach.

“When I look at that place, I remember my wife. Now the waves are washing it all away.” As Itiaake Teuria talks, his eyes well with tears. “It’s sad if you see where we used to live. Now you can only see the ocean and the beach.”

Teuria’s wife passed away this year of natural causes, but soon afterward, Teuria, 70, lost the land where they spent more than 40 years together to the rising seas. The king tide that struck Kiribati in February hit Raweai, Teuria’s village on Marakei Island, especially hard. The fertile soil on his property was washed out to sea, leaving only a sandy beach.

King tides are extremely high tides that strike twice a year. In recent years, they have been growing increasingly severe as the sea level rises. When the February king tide struck, Teuria’s home and all of his food-producing breadfruit and coconut trees were washed away into the sea.

For families like Teuria’s that live primarily subsistence lifestyles, the changes in the sea level are especially difficult. But the hardest part for Teuria wasn’t losing his trees or his home, but the loss of his only remaining connection to his late wife.

“For me, I feel a great loss,” Teuria said. “I built a house there with my wife, we started a life there. Everything that we built was from our own energy. We had children, we watched them grow up there.”

Itiaake Teuria’s property was washed out to sea this year, along with all of his food-producing breadfruit and coconut trees.

“Our kia-kias [local houses], our kitchen, everything washed away. The only —> Read More