Islands on the Move: Understanding the Physical Dynamics of Coral Reef Islands in the Context of Environmental Change
Mid-ocean atoll nations are considered among the most vulnerable coastal systems. Projected sea-level rise and climatic change are expected to inundate and physically destabilise coral reef islands rendering them uninhabitable over the next century. These assertions are re-evaluated based on an analysis of the controls on the formation and ongoing dynamical change of reef islands. Field-based experiments from the Indian and Pacific ocean are used to explore island evolution in the context of Holocene sea level change and island morphological adjustment in response to variations in the process regime at millennial to event timescales. Results suggest, that contrary to popular opinion, reef islands are robust geological entities that have persisted on reef surfaces for several thousand years and are able to adjust their morphology and configuration on reef platforms in response to changing environmental boundary conditions. Such findings have significant implications for rethinking adaptation pathways for small island nations.