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Annales de géographie

2012/3 (No 685)

  • Pages : 112
  • ISBN : 9782200927561
  • DOI : 10.3917/ag.685.0219
  • Publisher : Armand Colin

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Pages 219 - 241 Next



Since the late 1990s, rising sea levels in the Torres Islands, which are situated at the northern end of the Vanuatu archipelago, has been a concern for local and international communities. In 2004, the village of Lateu on the island of Tegua was moved several hundred meters with the assistance of the Vanuatu Government and Canadian aid. On the international stage, these villagers became history’s “first climate refugees,” and were presented as victims of global warming. Our study focuses on two villages on two different islands in the group, where coastal morphology has undergone changes over the last 12 years, a phenomenon attributed to global warming and its corollary, rising sea levels. This paper presents an analysis of the geophysical and eustatic data explaining the relative variation in the sea level. While global warming is a factor in rising sea levels, it does not play the dominant role attributed to it in the Torres Islands floods. In fact, tectonic movements, both sudden (earthquakes) or slower interseismic (between earthquakes) ones, plus temporary changes in sea level in the Pacific basin, connected for example to the El Niño/La Niña Southern Oscillation, are the main reasons for the rapidly rising waters observed over the 1997–2009 period. The Torres Islands are a sparsely populated group of islands whose demographic vicissitudes have greatly influenced the current distribution of inhabitants. Although most Torres Islanders now live near the coast, this was not always the case, and they are more sensitive to environmental changes in the coastlines than when they lived further inland. Furthermore, their beliefs, in certain supernatural powers able to control the natural elements, remain in the background of their acquired Christian values, which themselves are not particularly oriented toward modernizing the islanders’ perception of environmental threats.


  • environmental changes
  • traditional societies
  • vertical tectonic motion
  • sea level rise
  • climatic refugees
  • El Niño
  • Torres Islands
  • Vanuatu


  1. Introduction
  2. 1 Population and presentation of the sites
    1. 1.1 The Population of the Torres Islands
      1. 1.1.1 A Turbulent Demographic History
      2. 1.1.2 Contemporary Upheavals in the Distribution of the Population
    2. 1.2 Presentation of the Two Inhabited Sites on the Coast
      1. 1.2.1 The Site of Lateu on the Island of Tegua
      2. 1.2.2 Lungharigi Lagoon in the Extension of Ngerein Bay between Loh and Linua
    3. 1.3 Natural Events Affecting the Torres Island Group and the Environmental Changes Connected to Them
    4. 1.4 The Vertical Motions of the Islands
      1. 1.4.1 The Geodynamic Context and Long-term Vertical Motion
      2. 1.4.2 Short-term vertical motions: the role of the seismic cycle
    5. 1.5 Changes in Sea-surface Height: Global Warming and Decadal Variations
    6. 1.6 Combined Vertical Motions of the Islands and Sea Level Changes during the Period Studied
  3. 2 The Islanders’ Perception of Environmental Changes: A Mixture of Traditional Beliefs and Media Reportage
    1. 2.1 The Loss of Traditional Historical and Geographical Points of Reference
    2. 2.2 The Role of International Organizations and the Media in Constructing the Myth of the “First Climate Refugees”
    3. 2.3 A Solution for the Torres Islanders: Bringing Their Past and Present Geographical and Historical Knowledge into Alignment
  4. Conclusion

To cite this article

Patricia Siméoni, Valérie Ballu, “ Le mythe des premiers réfugiés climatiques : mouvements de populations et changements environnementaux aux îles Torrès (Vanouatou, Mélanésie) ”, Annales de géographie 3/2012 (n° 685) , p. 219-241
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-annales-de-geographie-2012-3-page-219.htm.
DOI : 10.3917/ag.685.0219.

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