Islands are disappearing. Already. While politicians argue about the possible effects of global warming—or whether it’s even real—the South Pacific is already feeling the undeniable results. Sea levels have been rising by about seven millimeters each year for the past two decades. That may not sound like a lot, but islands are losing valuable surface area. Others have disappeared altogether. That’s right, five islands in the Solomon Islands are now covered with water.
So if you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the Santa Cruz Islands, now is the time to go. The islands are remote—they’re actually closer to Vanuatu than to the majority of the Solomon Islands—and have therefore retained many of their traditions. They’re made of limestone and covered with volcanic ash. Heavily wooded slopes tumble down to white sand and brilliantly blue water. The blond, Melanesian people who live here harvest copra, which is used to extract coconut oil, and fish. They’re also under the constant threat of earthquakes, cyclones, and, therefore, tsunamis.
The Santa Cruz Islands were created less than five million years ago—practically yesterday to geologists—as the Indo-Australian plate shifted under the Pacific Plate. The three islands were one of the last areas to fall under European political and religious control. A Spanish explorer didn’t arrive until 1595. He attempted to set up a colony, though it was abandoned soon after his death. The isolated islands then remained mostly quiet until the Pacific War arrived in 1942. The Allies and the Japanese fought a quick but deadly sea battle, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, just offshore.
You arrive on Nendö, the largest island, to find friendly, curious people who speak Natügu. Their island is breathtaking. Lata, the provincial capital, sits on the northwestern coast. It’s home to a small airstrip, a post office, and a telecommunications office. There are a few stores and a handful of rest houses, though tourism clearly isn’t their focus. The beaches—bordered by palms with droopy fronds—are empty and gorgeous. While two smaller islands, Malo and Nibanga, sit just off the coast.
This is the South Pacific you never thought you’d have a chance to see. Unfortunately, few after you will have the same opportunity.