RISING TIDE: Zane Sikulu will be among a contingent of Pacific islanders joining an anti-coal protest on Newcastle harbour on Sunday, in response to climate change’s impact on his home country of Tonga. Picture: Marina NeilCoal showdown loomsCruise diverts due to protestZero tolerance for dangerous protesters: policeIN Tonga, where Zane Sikulu grew up, he saysno onejokes aboutrising sea levels.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s overheard quip last year about Papua New Guinea–“time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”– confirmedfor many Pacific islandersCanberra’slevel of concernabout the impactof climate change on them.
“There’s a lot of anger and a lot of frustration in the islands,” Mr Sikulu said.
“Australia has always been seen as a big brother in thisregion, and it’s disappointing to feel like the leadership isn’t serious about what’s happening.”
Mr Sikulu, 30, will join ananti-fossil fuelflotilla inNewcastleon Sunday,one of“more than 500” peoplethe conservationistcoalition “Break Free from Fossil Fuels”says have registered for the protest.
Among anarmada of kayaks blockadingcoal ships onNewcastle harbourwill be five wooden canoes from the Pacific nations of Tonga, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.
A resortwish-listfor many Novocastrians, the islands and their neighbourswere identified at last December’s Paris climate talks asthe“ground zero”of climate change.
Mr Sikulu, a campaigner with conservation group 350.orgwhoseis fromlow-lyingHaʻapai inTonga, saidhisinspirationto oppose the use offossil fuels came froma tree.
“My family comes from a tiny island, and there wasa mango tree about 15 metres infrom the sea,” he said.
“Over the years wewatched the sea creep in slowly and poison the land. Now that tree is gone.”
Many in the islands put the changing climate down to the will of God, Mr Sikulu said, but that is changing.
Fiji and Tonga are “still reeling” from 2014’s tropical Cyclone Ian, and the notion of a cyclone season has warped with more frequent and more severe storms.
“There always is a cyclone season,” Mr Sikulu said.
“But you know, the cyclones have just become more frequent and more destructive, and that’s something our elders are all seeing and telling us.”
At last year’s UN Climate ChangeSummit in Paris, the most comprehensive study to dateonPacific island migration found a human exodus is happening in the wake of increasingly frequentfloods,cyclones and droughts.
Researchers said15 per cent of the inhabitantsof Tuvaluhadleft in the past decade,leaving itspopulation at about 10,800.
A similar number of people hadleftNauruover the same period, and most had sought refuge inFiji, New Zealand and Australia.
Sunday’s protest shapes as the biggest anti-coal demonstration ever held offthe Port of Newcastle.