French Polynesia

A Pacific Nation Vulnerable to Rising Seas

Language French
September 14, 2011 7 p.m. local time

© 2008 Flickr/Norman Allen cc by 2.0

If you’ve ever daydreamed about a beautiful tropical beach, you might be picturing Tahiti or Bora Bora — two islands in French Polynesia.

French Polynesia is also home to Reao — a ring-shaped coral island encircling a wide lagoon on the eastern side of French Polynesia. Approximately 350 people call Reao home. Reao is just one of the 118 volcanic and coral islands and atolls that make up the vast expanse of French Polynesia, which stretches across an area as large as Western Europe.

© 2009 Flickr/Steve Berardi cc by sa 2.0

Sadly, the people of French Polynesia are no strangers to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather. In 2004, natural disasters including flooding and tropical cyclones cost the Polynesian region over $1.7 billion. Tropical cyclone intensities are projected to increase by 5-10% by about 2020.

With much of its land surface often only 10 feet or so above sea level, Reao and its sister atolls are particularly susceptible to sea level rise. In the last two decades, sea levels in the region containing French Polynesia increased up to 10 millimeters per year — about three times the global average. Warming temperatures are also having a devastating effect on the local economy as coral bleaching becomes a more frequent occurrence, with seven episodes in just the last 20 years. To make matters worse, coral bleaching decimates habitat used by local marine life, including the oysters that make black pearls. Black pearl exports are responsible for 62 percent of the country’s GDP.


Karel Mayrand is General Director of the David Suzuki Foundation in the Canadian province of Quebec. He has worked to promote sustainability throughout his career, and became determined to contribute to solving the climate crisis when he met with Inuit leaders during a 2006 visit to the Arctic. Karel was a co-founder of Unisfera International Center, a think tank dedicated to advancing knowledge on sustainable development. During his time at Unisfera, Karel created Planetair, a Canadian provider of carbon offsets and climate solutions. He has also served as an adviser on sustainability to various United Nations agencies, as well as Pierre Marc Johnson, the former Premier of Quebec.