The fisheries surrounding their island have shrunken precipitously, while rising sea levels and erosion have made farming on Manus more difficult than ever.
In December 2008, a storm of unprecedented size devastated the island, destroying homes and natural habitats.
“King tide comes, and the salt water destroys all the crops and the vegetation and nothing can grow anymore,” said Nicolas Villaume, a photographer who covered this story. “The king tide also destroyed lots of the coral barrier reef, and if you destroy that, then you destroy the nesting places for fish.”
Community leaders are now discussing a mass emigration to the mainland, but despite the slowly rising tide, many elders simply refuse to leave.
The Manus islanders are illustrations of a troubling trend: indigenous groups detrimentally affected by global climate change, a phenomenon they’ve played little part in creating.
A new “Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change” exhibition at the Museum of the American Indian powerfully documents the impacts of climate change on 15 of these communities from 13 countries around the world.
During 2009, Villaume travelled the world–visiting communities in many countries including Papua New Guinea–to capture these stories. As a co-founder of Conversations with the Earth, an international organisation that empowers indigenous communities through the use of multimedia, he sought to use photography to help members of scattered communities connect with the world at large.
“The most important thing is to understand is that climate change is touching people today, right now,” he says. “And the first people being affected are indigenous populations, in many places of the planet, because they are 100% dependent on their ecosystem.”
Photo: Posakei Pongap, a Manus islander, in front of a field ruined by salinisation [Nicolas Villaume]
Source: Smithsonian Magazine