Faya is a surfer, diver, tour guide, husband, and father, who was born and lives on a small island in the Maldives. I had the privilege of meeting him when I was visiting there recently with an environmental group called Parley for the Oceans.

We were there doing ocean plastic pollution work, but the scourge of plastic on their beaches turned out to be the least of Faya’s concerns. He took me snorkeling and showed me the barren carnage that only a few months previously had been their magnificent coral reefs, killed by warming ocean temperatures. Scientists who study coral have learned that it is extremely sensitive to heat; a coral colony that has been alive for thousands of years will bleach and die in just a few hours above a threshold temperature of 84 degrees. When I was there, the water temperature in the entire Maldives region had risen to 86 degrees for several weeks. As far as anyone there knew, there wasn’t a single coral reef left alive in the entire archipelago of more than 2000 islands.

The tiny islands are also eroding, not so much from sea level rise (yet), but from the increased ferocity and frequency of storms in that part of the world. For thousands of years, these islands have been shaped by currents, winds, tides, and storms; but the new storms are too much for the plant life that holds the sand in place. Meter by meter, root by root, tree by tree, the islands are being swept into the sea.

Faya told me he and his people are at the mercy of the so-called first world. “We can clean your plastic off our beaches,” he said. “But we have nowhere else to go, and we don’t want to go anywhere else. This is where we were born. It is our home, our playground, our paradise.”

~cj, Seattle, 2017