Watching Worlds Sink -- Witnessing Climate Change In The Pacific

'That's the goal, to show the scale of this.'

29/05/2016 11:45 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Over the past three years photographer Vlad Sokhin has seen graves sink into the sea and cultures endangered as villages and islands become flooded by high tides.

It's what happens when you document the end of someone's world.

For the past three years Sokhin has been travelling the pacific, photographing Pacific Ocean communities facing the reality of climate change.

Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures
Children of Etas village on Efate Island watch a water truck delivering drinking water to their village. After Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu on 13 March 2015, many local communities were left without fresh water supplies. International charity Oxfam organised an airport water tank truck to come to the villages around Port Vila and help locals to fill their barrels with drinking water. Over 15 people died in the storm and winds up to 165 mph (270 km/h) caused widespread damage to houses and infrastructure. Cyclone Pam is considered one of the worst natural disasters to affect the country.

These pictures are part of a piece called Warm Waters -- a long-term, ongoing photography project documenting how man made global warming is an immediate problem for some of the world's smallest nations and countries.

Sokhin first started to think about the effects of climate change while on assignment in Papua New Guinea, where he visited a region known as Manus Island.

He had worked on several assignments about deforestation and climate change, but it was a small island off Manus -- half eroded by the rising tide -- that prompted him to have a closer look at other pacific communities.

Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures
Peia Kararaua, 16, swims in the flooded area of Aberao village. Kiribati is one of the countries most affected by sea level rise. During high tides many villages become inundated making large parts of them uninhabitable.

From there he went to the Marhshall Islands and Kiribati, where wading your way from A to B has become the norm.

While in Kiribati, he met a man who made a point of parking his car on an elevated spot as the tide began to rise.

"And then like an hour later this car is already parked on an Island," Sokhin said.

"You see kids swimming to school, people using flotation devices to get through their houses to get to the main road.

"Or in the Marshall Islands -- it's already famous amongst photographers who go there -- this cemetery near Majuro that's slowly, slowly going underwater. When I was there in 2014 I saw the first row of the graves already destroyed."

Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures
Jorlang Jorlang, 70, lies on his bed while his wife Tita finishes hanging laundry. In April 2014 a King Tide hit their house in Jenrok village and the seawater came inside. The family evacuated the house, but Jorlang couldn't move, due to his disability. His wife had to stay with him for two days and wait until the water was gone.

His freelance work with NGOs, including UNICEF and the UN, allows him to travel and his work is not exclusive to global warming.

But climate change has many facets, and Sokhin documents as much as he can -- from deforestation to cyclones, as well as the creation physical and cultural refugees.

"It's not only sea-level rise -- a lot of photographers work on sea-level rise around the world -- it's different things. It's the increase in cyclones, in the past couple of years we have had category five cyclones in Fiji and Vanuatu, and then category four like we have had this year," he said.

The effect on cultures as people are forced to migrate is also something he documents.

"People leaving their islands -- it's not a big thing yet, but it's going to be," he said.

"When we talk about these people who move from one place to the other in the pacific -- the people of Kiribati buying land in Fiji... how will they be accepted?

"We don't know whats going to happen."

Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures
Roxanna Miller, monitoring technician of the University of Guam Marine Lab, inspecting species of staghorn corals severely impacted by coral bleaching event in 2013-2014. The bleaching resulted in loss of about half of all Guam's staghorn corals. Although the remaining corals are slowly recovering, because of the global warming they can be hit again by rising water temperatures and extreme low tide events. Loss of the coral reefs would directly impact on local fishermen, as the habitats corals provide to reef flat fish communities, would be gone.

Sokhin is planning to travel to Alaska to photograph how other island communities are coping.

"I am not trying to change anything. It's too late," he said.

"I don't see any role, I don't have any role -- I just wanted to document it and show it to people. It's something that I am personally interested in. I guess that's it, I don't play like 'oh, I'm a messenger' or anything.

"Photography is what I do and I think this issue is important and its already happening in these fragile communities of the pacific, or in Bangladesh, Greenland, Alaska. But we still underestimate the scale of this. And that's the goal, to show the scale of this in the pacific."

Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures
A small islet in the Unity Atoll of the Federated States of Micronesia. With only a few palm trees remaining, the islet is almost submerge underwater during high tides.

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