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Warm Waters - Tokelau

Tokelau is one of the smallest and most remote nations in the world. Consisting of three coral atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 580 km north of American Samoa and covering a mere 10 square kilometres in combined surface area, it can only be accessed via a lengthy fortnightly boat ride from Samoa. Much of the territory's land is no more than a couple of meters above sea level making making it particularly susceptible to the greatest threat facing small island nations across the Pacific region: climate change and rising sea levels. Over the past decade, tropical storms have been bettering the tiny landmass, causing flooding and extensive damage to property. In February 2005 Cyclone Percy, a category 5 storm, inundated all three atolls which form rings around lagoons and were lashed by waters from both sides, submerging villages. Seawalls built to ward against the waters were simply washed away. As sea water levels rise, Tokelauans are seeing the limited ground beneath their feet disappear into the ocean.

The territory's 1,500 odd inhabitants, who hold New Zealand passports, rely heavily on aid from New Zealand which makes up a large part of the government's annual budget. According to the CIA's List of Countries by GDP, Tokelau has the smallest economy of any country in the world. Exports of copra, stamps and handicrafts bring in some revenue but large amounts of imported foodstuffs, building materials and fuel consume any import earnings. Fishing licenses are another form of revenue but these have been jeopardised by warming sea temperatures that are bleaching corral reefs and disrupting fish habitats.

Tokelau plans to become the first country in the world to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources, with over 90% coming from solar panels and the rest from locally produced coconut oil. Yet while the country leads the way in sustainable living its tiny territory is threatened by erosion and rising sea levels that have started to impact on subsistence agriculture which is increasing the amount of food the country needs to import from abroad. The main source of food, fishing, is managed through a unique distributive system called inati which requires all men to join in communal fishing, the proceeds of which are distributed evenly among the islanders.

Against all the odds, Tokelauans are not prepared to give up their fight against climate change and are invested in saving their tiny nation from the forces that threaten it. Different islets in the chain of atolls
have been assigned different roles with some serving as cemeteries, others housing pigs and some being used for agriculture.

By using the severely limited resources at their disposal, Tokelauans are fighting to save their homeland from oblivion in the face of overwhelming forces driven by climate change.
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