Citizens of a disappearing South-Pacific nation consider relocating to a man-made island

The science is indisputable; the small low-lying South-Pacific nation of Kiribati will eventually disappear as sea levels continue to rise due to climate change. With predictions from the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, this could happen as soon as the end of this century.

In the documentary Anote’s Ark, we see former Kiribati President Anote Tong grappling with a massive humanitarian challenge: “The issue of climate change remains the most pressing challenge for us in Kiribati”.

During his three-term mandate from 2003 to 2016, President Tong explored a range of options to relocate his people — some more far-fetched than others. He arranged the purchase of 6,000 acres of land in neighbouring Fiji as a relocation option. He also collaborated with New Zealand to ensure 75 visas for citizens of Kiribati to work and live there every year. But perhaps his most controversial plan was to build a man-made floating island that could house as many as 50,000 people.

The Japanese engineering firm Shimizu first presented the idea to Tong in 2008 as a creative solution to relocating Kiribati’s 100,000 citizens, claiming that technological innovations could make such a move possible in approximately 2030.

Tong was skeptical at first, but eventually came around to their optimistic outlook: “Technology is improving all the time and what would have been science fiction some 10, 20 years ago is a reality today.” It’s a multibillion-dollar project that highlights not only the humanitarian cost of climate change but the very real financial burden that it places on small South Pacific nations such as Kiribati, who could never afford such a large sum on their own.

Even with unlimited budgets and goodwill, it’s hard to see how Shimizu and Kiribati could pull this off. One proposal includes a thousand-metre funnel-shaped tower rising above the sea, while another would house people a structure thousands of feet under-water, supposedly sheltered from turbulent waters and weather above.

A Shimizu engineer likens the project to space exploration, describing the deep seas as a new frontier to develop and explore. Kiribati’s new President, Taneti Mamau, in power since 2016, is much less keen on climate change relocation, so this sci-fi style proposal may remain fiction.

Watch Anote's Ark.

Produced with additional funding from: