Kiribati may be the first country to disappear

Tebunginako villagers stand in the sea where their village used to be. They had to relocate their village because of rising sea levels, erosion and saltwater inundation. Photo: Justin McManus/The Age

Tebunginako villagers stand in the sea where their village used to be. They had to relocate their village because of rising sea levels, erosion and saltwater inundation. Photo: Justin McManus/The Age

The Pacific Island nation of Kiribati may be the first country to disappear under the rising sea levels of climate change.

Its people fear their homeland may become the world’s next Atlantis.

As our boat nears the shore, the dark shadows beneath the sea sharpen into focus. Chiselled coral stones, organized neatly into rows, glisten from the reef of this shallow cove.

We are drifting over the foundation of the surrendered neighbourhoods of Tebunginako. The village was once home to more than 200 households, but today it lies beneath several metres of turquoise water.

“We used to swim out there to see the ships when we were boys. They’d tie them up to the coconut trees just over here,” explains the Mayor, pointing enthusiastically as we coast over the remains of his town. Locals say Tebunginako was once the island’s main harbor – before the rising sea swallowed its coast.

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