From the perspective of open-ocean sailors—called grand master navigators—who know how to chart their courses at sea without modern tools, who rely on a deep knowledge of the seas, the waves, the stars, and the winds when crossing the vast Pacific Ocean, they know that climate change is taking place, that it is real.
For grand master navigator Ali Haleyalur of Yap, that climate change reality is as harsh as the fact that not doing anything about it now will have tragic consequences for humanity’s future.
Which is why he is calling on everyone, especially the leaders and people who have knowledge about climate change to take up the fight or the islands will be underwater.
“We have to do something, especially us on Pacific islands, [who are] from low- lying islands. We need to do something, and this is the time to stand up and do something,” Haleyalur said
What that something may not be defined yet but he believes that not doing anything is not an option. When ocean navigators like himself talk about climate change, “it seems like nobody listens but it really is here with us.”
He attests that, in sailing the open seas, storms and typhoons are becoming more frequent and more intense, and he believes it is because of climate change.
On top of that, island nations such as the CNMI also have to think about sea level rise. King tides now regularly inundate the Republic of the Marshall Islands and other atoll nations. Scientists have predicted that, depending on the energy policies that would be put in place, global mean sea level would rise at least eight inches by 2100.
“When I go back home, I really see the impact of climate change there because I know exactly where the land is, and the last line of trees,” Haleyalur said. “The coconut trees that used to be near the shore are not there anymore. It is being eroded out.”
Haleyalur blames carbon policies of large countries and the pollution that they create for the creeping rise in sea levels. “Everything is now totally changed, and I blame them. I blame the big countries for this climate change. I think they are the cause of them because they don’t care about us. They just look at [us]; we are small, so [to them,] ‘Never mind these people; they are nothing.’”
Aside from pollution, Haleyalur also expressed concerns about the sustainability of the islands’ marine resources, given the big vessels that are coming to the islands to take its fish.
“When we go out into our ocean, we know how many fish we should get to feed the communities. We always reserve [some fish as] we do not want to deplete all our resources. We have a limit to it, meaning we can control it by ourselves,” he said.
Haleyalur advocates going back to traditional skills, and ensuring that the islands hold tightly to the knowledge of building canoes and learning navigation. That way, if push comes to shove and the islands become submerged under the sea, there will be voyaging canoes that the CNMI could use to transport its people to higher grounds, he said.
“We were born as ocean people, and we know how to take care of our resources in the water, how to protect it. I wish the community is thinking the same as we all think about how important this climate change is, for us to do something. If we do not do anything now, it will be too late.”