“Every time the stream was high, above-my- head-high, my grandfather used to bring me here because it was so novel. He’d say: “Lets’ go and look at the stream,” if it rained hard,” explains Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a Hawaiian community advocate on Oahu island as she stands beside a stream near her home.
“It’s just so different now. With the rainfall we’ve seen, the stream has regularly overflowed. So we’re talking not just above my head but maybe double above my head. And we’d never seen that.
“What we’re seeing in valleys throughout Hawaii is 50-year, 100-year floods coming every couple of years.
“And now another really devastating thing is you can’t go in the water any more because of leptospirosis. And that’s from the temperature rising. The scientists tell us that leptospirosis is in stagnant or warmer water. And we just didn’t have it.
“I can trace my genealogy back probably about 40 generations to this island in particular. Native Hawaiian belief is that we came from the land. We don’t understand numbers, percentages and data. All we understand is the land is hurt.
“It sounds so crazy to say ‘something feels wrong with the land’. But every indigenous person I’ve ever met.. that’s how we describe it. Something feels wrong, just as if a family member was sick. You sort of have that innate feeling in your gut that something is out of balance — something is wrong here. That’s how we feel.”
Rising sea levels are engulfing beaches on the island.
“There was actually a beach here. It went out, I would say, at least a good 20 or 30 metres. This is what sea-level rise looks like in a very, very real way. There are major efforts to reinforce shorelines with things like this concrete wall. It was not this way when I was growing up. None of these structures were here. We never heard of anything where we had to climb down concrete to get to a beach.
“There’s a huge project that has just been approved, where they’re going to be piping-in sand to try to reinforce the beaches. You can pipe-in all the sand you want, it doesn’t stop the water from coming in. You can’t decrease the volume of water that is growing in the ocean, and the impact it is having on coasts.
“I love this place. It hurts. It hurts to see your home in pain. I think that’s often what a lot of the scientists – who are often not from here – don’t get. It’s happening to us – that’s a perfect way to put it – it’s not happening to this place, it’s happening to us.
“It is the land, it is us, it is our families, it is our community, it is our lifestyle, it’s our culture. I hate the idea that my son cannot swim in the streams that I swam in as a child. That’s horrifying to me because it denies him that opportunity to build that relationship with our valley, the one I had.”