Kili Island, Marshall Islands

Photo: Kili/Bikini/Ejit Local Government Marshall Islands

Your world feels small lately. Very small. You’ve been quarantined in your apartment, leaving only to pick up groceries, run into the pharmacy, and, just recently, grab some takeout food. For your sanity, things need to return to normal soon. Very soon. But what if normal wasn’t a very big spot with which to begin?

If Kili Island was your home, you’d always be confined to 200 acres. Yes, the entire island is around one-third of a square mile. About 500 other people are also on the coral island. They live in cinderblock houses, prepare their food in outdoor cook huts, and grow produce (coconuts, limes, breadfruit) on small plots of land. Fishing is difficult due to the lack of a protected lagoon. The seas are too rough four months of the year anyway. So they rarely venture beyond those 200 acres.

Kili Island is one of the islands—one of the smallest islands, actually—in the Marshall Islands. The country’s 29 atolls sit near the equator, just west of the International Date Line, and halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The 1,200 low-lying islands and islets are made of limestone and sand. They’re filled with palm trees, ringed with white-sand beaches, and surrounded by the bluest water you’ve ever seen.

This was a quiet, peaceful part of the world until the world wars began. Kili Island, in the Ralik Chain, was uninhabited until this point. Then the United States took over the Bikini Atoll for nuclear testing. Its residents were relocated to little Kili Island. They’ve been there ever since.

Now Kili Island is in trouble. Thanks to global warming, the island is flooding more and more frequently. There’s no high ground to which the islanders can escape. Plus its grass airstrip becomes muddy and unusable as the water rises. Flights are suspended. Supplies can’t be dropped off. The outside world feels very far away. While sooner rather than later, the already displaced residents will once again have to find a new home. Maybe your temporary quarantine isn’t so bad after all.

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