A recent study has revealed that several coral islands in Australia, which hold significant strategic value, are in danger of disappearing.
A recent study revealed that over twelve coral islands in Australia, which contribute to the country’s maritime jurisdiction, are in danger of disappearing due to the effects of climate change.
According to the study’s lead scientist, the future of the low-lying islands is uncertain due to a combination of factors such as rising sea levels, marine heatwaves, severe weather patterns, and ocean acidification. The islands are at a critical point where their survival is at stake.
One expert stated that the issue of how international law will address islands that currently fall under the jurisdiction of countries but may soon disappear is a contentious one.
Dr. Tommy Fellowes from the University of Sydney conducted research on 56 low-lying coral islands in Australia and developed a technique for determining their level of vulnerability.
The islands were evaluated using criteria such as their vulnerability to flooding, severe weather events, rising sea levels, and heatwaves in the ocean that can harm the coral reefs, which provide sediment to maintain the stability of the islands.
Out of the numerous coral islands, a selection of 56 was made based on their strategic significance and the availability of sufficient data for evaluation purposes. These islands were classified into five categories ranging from low to very high risk.
Three islands located on the North West Shelf of Western Australia, including Scott, Clerke, and Imperieuse reefs, were deemed to be at a significant risk and highly susceptible.
The study reported that an additional 11 islands, located in the Coral Sea near the coast of Queensland, were deemed to be at a heightened risk.
Fellowes stated that these islands vary in shapes and styles and are all susceptible to various environmental factors such as storms, rising sea levels, and heat stress.
The sea levels on our planet are increasing due to the melting of ice and its movement into the ocean from glaciers and ice sheets connected to land. This is also caused by thermal expansion as the ocean absorbs more heat.
Fellowes expressed that the increase in sea level is likely the most significant danger for numerous islands, as they are located in areas where sea levels are increasing at a higher rate than the worldwide average.
The risk assessments were based on current conditions, but Fellowes said it was clear that factors such as marine heatwaves, rising oceans and storms were likely to worsen due to climate change.
There is no set timeline for the disappearance of areas, but this is a key focus for future efforts.
Island territories grant rights to the countries that own them, including fisheries and resources exploration, and Fellowes said the resilience of these coral islands was “a matter of strategic importance for Australia’s and the region’s coastal management”.
In a maritime area, Australia enforces its own laws and rules regarding the rights to search for resources like oil and gas, as well as implementing measures for protecting the environment, such as establishing marine parks.
Dr. Frances Anggadi, an expert from the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong, specializes in studying the potential impact of rising sea levels on the maritime boundaries of countries worldwide.
There are two ways in which Australia determines its maritime boundaries. One method involves extending the zone 200 nautical miles from the low tide mark, while anything beyond that is considered to be international waters.
In cases where the area overlaps with another country’s waters, such as in the Torres Strait, North West Shelf, and Coral Sea, a compromise is typically made by Anggadi to divide the area evenly.
Australia may need to change its laws if it loses islands in order to use a specific coordinate for determining its maritime zone, rather than basing it on a low-tide mark.
She stated that approximately 50 countries are backing a modification within UN procedures that typically determine exclusive economic zones according to the location of the land.
According to her, countries, including Australia, are in favor of implementing a plan to delineate zones using coordinates. This would ensure that economic rights are preserved even if the land is submerged in water.
She stated that there is no certain way to ensure a plan of action that would not be accompanied by disagreements.
“Conflicts over borders are influenced by national interests, and there are still underlying political motives and sensitivities involved. Therefore, it is inevitable that there will be varying viewpoints among parties involved.”
The research was published in the scientific journal, Science of the Total Environment.