How islanders are losing their beautiful home through no fault of their own

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Rachel Younger

It’s not easy to get to the Solomon Islands.

They’re tucked away in a stretch of the Pacific between Australia and Fiji. Travelling from the UK, it takes almost two days and two nights to reach Isabel, one of the larger islands.

But you arrive in a place that feels almost untouched by time. We flew over miles of rainforest with barely a glimpse of a village or track.

We spent hours at sea and passed only birds and the odd lone fisherman in a wooden canoe.

There is little plastic waste here, no pollution and the bath-warm ocean is clear as glass.

It is a beautiful, unspoilt corner of the planet and its disappearing beneath the waves.

We came to find out whether entire islands really are being swallowed up by rising sea levels as quickly as recent research suggests.

And they are. They’re vanishing right now, not over centuries, or even generations, but in the space of just a few decades.

A scientific study of 33 of the islands by the University of Queensland has found five of them completely gone and six more with over half of their landmass lost forever.

You’d imagine the people who live here would be raging. The water is rising because of ice-melt on the other side of the world to them, a consequence of global heating.

Heta Heta Island is disappearing.

It’s not their doing - the average carbon footprint here is almost invisible. To make a living in Isabel Province, you grow vegetables or you fish.

The men, women and children we met ask almost nothing of our planet.

But while their islands are vulnerable, they refuse to be. No one complains about what they don’t have, no one rails against the injustice of what the rest of the planet is sending their way.

Instead they get on with it. Isabel’s gardens would take gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show - tropical flowers interrupting rows of sweet potato and pumpkin, trees bright with bananas, ripe pawpaw and coconuts scattered beneath.

The average carbon footprint here is almost invisible.

They are tended behind modest, wooden houses or kept on uninhabited neighbouring islands, reached by boat.

You learn to fish almost before you can walk here. We saw children paddling across lagoons in tiny canoes, dangling lines from wooden jetties and hunting for mud crabs on the shore.

When we headed out for a long day’s filming, we were sent on our way with a few bananas, on the understanding our local boat drivers, James and Rolly, would catch us our lunch.

The ocean is clear as glass.

They probably would have, only it turns out there’s nothing so distracting as a soaked and sunburnt film crew struggling to launch a drone!

It was the drone that captivated the local kids, who chased it over beaches and into the sea. They can only go to school if their parents have the money and they spend the rest of their time jumping in and out of the water.

In the four villages we visited, I think I saw one mobile phone, with coverage all but non-existent.

That made things difficult for us - not least because our cameraman Andy was expecting a baby back in the UK.

To be honest, the Solomons are a nightmare for a news team used to working to tight deadlines.

The twin otter planes that service the outer islands are as ancient as they are unreliable. Timetables are entirely dependent on the weather - your ticket more a suggestion than a promise of travel, with no respect for international connections.

The drone captivated the local kids.

The only boats for hire are cabinless and a burning sun can turn to fierce rainstorms in seconds, drenching camera kit and making the sea uncrossable.

Electricity for charging batteries is hard to come by and despite being pretty much the smallest team possible and off-setting our flights, you carry the guilt of your carbon footprint just getting here.

But these disappearing islands stole our hearts. It was a privilege to work there. Many of the people we met were as lovely as the islands they live on.

They didn’t want our pity, but they did really want us to tell you their story. So I hope we have.

Andy’s baby girl arrived safely the very day we got back. For the sake of her generation and for all the people of the Solomons, I hope with all my heart that the world is listening.