Understanding the Effect of Climate Change on the Migration of Marshallese Islanders

Project Summary

Affiliation(s): Pacific Islands CSC

Principal Investigator(s):
  • Maxine Burkett (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)

As one of the lowest-lying island nation-states in the world, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is acutely vulnerable to sea-level rise and the associated intrusion of saltwater into crucial freshwater supplies. Persistent drought is also destroying important agricultural lands in the RMI. Many Marshallese communities are already experiencing these changes and are migrating to larger islands within the RMI and to other countries, like the U.S., to seek alternative means of making a living. The number of Marshallese residing in the U.S. has rapidly risen over the past two decades, from 7,000 in 2000 to 22,000 in 2010.

The factors triggering human migration are complex and often intertwined, making it difficult to pinpoint and address specific causes from a public policy perspective. For example, changes in ecosystems due to climate change can cause health problems or food insecurity which may have greater consequences in communities with political, social, or economic tension.

Decision makers at local and state levels – in both the RMI and outside countries – who may be considering policies related to immigrant access to services and population change, need information to better understand the factors contributing to current migration, and to anticipate possible future impacts of climate on human migration.

This project will examine the extent to which we can identify direct and indirect links between patterns of human migration and climate events. The researchers will examine migration trends and motivations, characterize changes that have taken place to local lands and ecosystems in the RMI, and use projections of climate change to understand which islands and communities may be at highest risk in the future. The project will also explore the impact of human migration on lands and ecosystems in the receiving communities. 

High tides on October 9, 2014 cause flooding in Majuro - Credit: Kathy Kijiner

Affiliation(s): Pacific Islands CSC

Principal Investigator(s):
  • Maxine Burkett (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)
  • Melissa Finucane (East-West Center)
  • Victoria Keener (East-West Center)
  • Kirsten Oleson (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)

Start Date: October 2016

End Date: September 2018

Project Status: In Progress

Tags: CSC, Pacific Islands CSC, 2016, Native Communities, Pacific Islander Indigenous Communities

Fiscal Year: FY 2016 Projects