Soon, the rising oceans will swallow island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati, and Micronesia. Miami will go, of course, and will be two feet underwater, and everyone is talking about the American cities that will be underwater, but we forget that there are whole kingdoms of men and women that will dissipate into the ocean completely, becoming little more than a refuge for jellyfish. The people on these islands are already preparing for the total and inevitable transformation of their way of life. Parts of India are being bought up. Neighboring islands with higher ground are reaching out to their neighbors. The people will find refuge. Curious at how we so often forget are neighbors of the fur, feather, exoskeleton, and leaf, I poked around to find what native species will be lost forever when the islands go. It seems it’s already too late for them.
You see, the Age of Encounters on these islands, when all ships from all over started traveling all over, with people and chickens and goats and rats, new plants, new vegetables, new poisons, new population floods, all together crowded out whatever native species were prominent enough to merit the name. Dead as a dodo could be said about a great many species beyond the dodo. The endangered species of the island kingdoms are all in the sea: the coral reefs will be lost with the acidification of the ocean. Will there even be coral reefs someday?
I feel great sadness for the people whose homes are going to be underwater for a thousand years, and for the societies and communities that are going to be flipped upside down forever. I feel for them. But, I see in the loss of the trees, the replanting of new trees, new plants, the invasion of the creatures that exploited the niches we created a greater sadness. People will be fine. We don’t even know what we’ve lost. There will be whole genetic lines that disappear forever. Whole communities rose and fell on those islands, independent of man, for centuries where the coconut seeds landed on the sandy shore, and debris carried tough black-winged petrels from one island to another, hunting fish.
There is one bird, native only to Kiribati that will probably be gone, soon, when the waters rise, because even if it is protected in a zoo or refuge, it will have no wild grasslands to call its home, free of competition it had no ability to outfly. The Bokikokiko is a bird that is as unknown as the name of the youngest son of the president of Kiribati. It is endangered now, and it will have no home soon. When the waters rise, it may continue on as a museum display for a time, in some sad replication of a native habitat in an enclosed zoo somewhere, but it has no future at land or sea with the loss of Kiribati. I am willing to believe that most people did not even know this bird existed at all until a few minutes ago, with its ridiculously beautiful name.
We don’t even know what we are losing, most of the time. We don’t even notice the absence of the birdsong, this year, or the reduction of song. I stood in my front yard, yesterday, where our desert willow and agave and native flowering plants and shrubs stand out in a community of property-value-raising oak trees. I looked up int he branches, and watched the hummingbirds flit from one flower to another, stopping to rest in the branches of my trees. All around me, I saw nothing else for them to eat as far as my eyes could make out among the hunched houses and huge, endless oaks. I plant things that make tiny berries for birds. I leave one of the blackberries uncovered in fruiting season, for the birds. I do not argue over figs with birds. I plant things that flower and seed that birds like to eat, and butterflies like to eat. I don’t know what else to do. I feel powerless to stop the tide, the death of beauty in this world, the end of birdsongs and the end of butterfly wings.