CAPTION: The island of Walande in 2016 with just one house left. It has now completely disappeared.

Priests become scientists on disappearing islands affected by climate change

Posted: 7th October, 2019

Priests in the Pacific Solomon islands are being enlisted to help measure the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the islands where they serve.

Rt Rev’d Mark Rylands, who has just returned from the islands and chairs the Melanesian Mission UK, said: “What we’re doing is using priests as scientists.

“We’ll use the strength of the Anglican church in Melanesia to do the observations and get concrete measurements on how the islands are disappearing and the sea levels are rising.

“It’s the Anglican church at the forefront, really pioneering what is of great concern to the whole world.”

It’s hoped the islands’ priests, who are being dubbed Green Apostles, will take daily readings of the tides and temperatures at the same time as they say their daily Morning Prayer.

They are geographically spread throughout the islands and will take measurements from posts in the ground going into the sea.

The plan is for this daily or weekly recording to continue for a decade.

“The nine bishops of Melanesia have signed-up to this project. They want it to happen,” Bishop Mark said.

“It’s the Anglican church at the forefront, really pioneering what is of great concern to the whole world.”

The Solomon Islands are in the Anglican Diocese of Melanesia, which has a formal link with the Diocese of Exeter in the UK.

Bishop Mark with Rev’d Cate Edmonds from Exeter Diocese at the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Melanesia

Bishop Mark, who is based in Ashburton, Devon, was in the Solomon Islands to celebrate the enthronement of the new archbishop, the Very Reverend Leonard Dawea.

The data being collected by priests is one of a number of environmental research projects being undertaken by the Melanesian Mission with UK researchers and institutions, to enable to Anglican Church in Melanesia to support communities affected.

“The salt has got into the ground, they can’t grow crops anymore and the children have nowhere to play when they come home from school.”

Working with a team led by Dr Ivan Haigh, an associate professor at Southampton University, the project will document the changing patterns of coastal margins in the Solomon Islands.

Bishop Mark said: “This is one place where the Anglican church can help the rest of the world. We have evidence of the islands disappearing, we’ve got [comparitive] video footage from 2001 and 2016.

“We have Anglican church members who have lived on islands which have disappeared in their lifetime.

“When I was there in 2016, I saw the islanders of Fanalei, South Malaita. I spent some time with the elders and they were discussing how, for four months of the year, the island is under water.

“The salt has got into the ground, they can’t grow crops anymore and the children have nowhere to play when they come home from school.”

Dr Marie Schlenker is currently in South Malaita as part of the University of Southampton team. She has been writing a blog about her experience.

The research results will be shared with local communities and presented to the Solomon Islands government. They will also be used internationally to lobby on behalf of those affected.

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