Skip to main content

Changes in coastal communities and loss of cultural identity

Key drivers
Sea-level rise
What has happened

Each of the SAOTs is dependent to a certain extent on the waters surrounding it, be it for food security, maritime shipping, tourism or local recreational/cultural activities. Many islanders feel a deep connection and sense of identification with the marine environment, and the species that inhabit it.

Studies have shown that rising sea levels have been experienced in both the Falklands and Ascension Island, with evidence that this rise is accelerating. To date this has had little known impact on the islands and their ecosystems, though there is the potential for this to impact local communities and their cultural identify. A continued accelerating rise could also begin to pose issues for species that are seen as synonymous with each of the SAOT’s, such as the green turtle on Ascension and the rock lobster on Tristan da Cunha. 

Storm and weather events may be changing with warming, Tristan da Cunha has recently been impacted by a series extreme weather events which have caused significant damage to the islands’ buildings and infrastructure. The remoteness of the island makes repairs extremely long and costly, placing further pressure on an already developing economy.

There has been recent work to designate marine protected areas and zones which could increase climate resilience for the protected species. However, these designations are not without cultural and economic impacts on local communities as they can at times be at odds with traditional local practices. Competing local priorities can often make the implementation of these protected areas a challenge and as a result rely on external support to implement.


Low evidence, medium agreement

To date, there is little evidence for impacts on island communities, designation of protected areas is relatively recent and potential effects on island communities have not yet been documented.

What could happen

Climate change has the potential to impact on key species in the SAOT’s, many of which are a deeply rooted part of the islands’ cultural identity. For example, increasing temperatures could result in reduced catch of the Tristan Rock Lobster, which are synonymous with island life.

Ascension is home to the second largest green turtle breeding colony in the Atlantic (with over 20,000 nests annually), with the turtle a mainstay of the islands’ cultural identity, even featuring on the national flag. A loss of suitable nesting habitat due to sea level rise poses a significant threat to the Ascension turtle population.

Each of the SAOT’s also rely on their coastal ports as links to the outside world, bringing in valuable goods and supplies. Due to the isolated and often exposed nature of the islands extreme weather events can have major impacts on these activities as well as causing significant damage to infrastructure.

There is the potential for the impacts to affect the SAOT’s environments, economies, and communities in a way that they are not able address without outside assistance. 

Many of the SAOTs are regularly visited by cruise ships and yachts, helping to generate income to the economy, which could become more difficult/impossible if adverse conditions were to be experienced more regularly or in extremity.


Low evidence, medium agreement

There are few monitoring records from ocean islands, and even fewer available for the southern hemisphere which makes it difficult to predict future changes and their effect on island communities.