Nyangai, the Shrinking Island

Sometimes, I imagine what I would do if I were to be shipwrecked on an island in the middle of the ocean. What steps do I take to ensure my survival? How long will it be before I get rescued? These questions are all hypothetical, for the most part.

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At the very least, I think that being stranded on an island isn’t as bad as simply floating on the ocean with no salvation in sight. I can swim for days on end without seeing land on the horizon. I could die of dehydration, or fall prey to the carnivores of the ocean.

So, the island is probably better. There’s bound to be a source of food and water. And I can build a makeshift shelter. I can pass my days in that way until I spot an aircraft flying above, giving me hope that I might be rescued. Now, what would complicate this already scary hypothetical scenario is if the island were to be swallowed up by the ocean, a la city of Atlantis.

In fact, there is a small island off the coast of Sierra Leone that’s gradually being submerged under water, bit by bit. That’s the tropical island of Nyangai, where, back in 2013, about 500 homes had stood, but a decade later, fewer than 100 are left.

The photo above shows a comparison between an aerial shot taken by Google Earth of the island in 2011, and in 2023. Back then, it stretched to about 700 meters in length, but it has now shrunk to just 170. Where once there was a sprawling community who have been living on the island for generations, now they have slowly been forced out to start a new line on the mainland.

Climate change may have something to do with it. With more erratic weather and more storms, the sea level has been rising thus leaving less room for the people of Nyangai. Not to mention, the island itself is only about one or two meters above sea level, so a small shift in the ocean currents or the amount of precipitation each year can erode the island’s land mass.

Why the people of Nyangai chose to stay on the island for so long, is mostly because of the tranquility of life on the island. Despite the lack of modern infrastructure, the islanders can live secure in the fact that there are no snakes or malaria on the island.

More than this, they were shielded from the problems that the mainlanders faced. The Ebola pandemic in 2014 barely touched the island, and they were relatively insulated from the effects of Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s. There’s also the factor of familiarity of life on the island. It’s the only home that they have ever known. And the sea is taking that away from them.

At the moment, there have been a few initiatives from the government to stem the tide. However, due to a lack of data and resources, it would take a much longer time to develop a plan to salvage the remaining patch of land left on the island than to simply evacuate the area, since the waters will most likely sink the island soon.

Other efforts done by the islanders themselves include planting mangroves, which failed since the seedlings died out before ever maturing, and bolstering their homes with sand, timber, and other sturdy objects.

Now, it’s only a matter of time before Nyangai becomes completely submerged, and so the remaining islanders have all begun to prepare for the worst and are planning on moving to neighboring islands or the mainland.

(Image credit: Google Earth)

Source: neatorama

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