Tuvalu is a tiny nation in the South Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Its three islands and six atolls are home to fewer than twelve thousand people, making it one of the smallest countries in the world. It’s also one of the least visited. Few planes land at the lone airport, constructed by the U.S. military during World War II. Because the airport takes up 30 percent of the country’s arable land, people often gather on the runway for pig roasts and other social activities. During spring high tides, salt water seeps up from the ground and pools on the tarmac.
Tuvalu is in danger of disappearing due to sea-level rise. The ocean around it is rising about one inch every five years, twice the global average. It’s estimated that an eight- to sixteen-inch increase will be enough to make the country uninhabitable. Decreasing rainfall, also due to climate change, has devastated agriculture on the islands. But Tuvalu’s government insists the people there do not want to be seen as victims; they are determined to fight for their survival. Tuvalu has set itself a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2025 and has been active in United Nations climate-change negotiations, calling global inaction on the issue “an infringement of our fundamental rights to nationality and statehood.”
When photographer Forest Woodward traveled to Tuvalu in 2016 with his brother, Canyon, he found a place that was experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand. He also found a place where sunscreen and ATMs are unknown, “where the most curious and wide-eyed children you have ever met run free, dive for fish, climb for coconuts, and ask, ‘What is the United States?’ ”
This is Tuvalu.