Look out the windows on either side of the plane when you fly into Majuro in the Marshall Islands, and you’ll see one thing – water.
It’s a little disconcerting. But Majuro, the capital and largest city in the chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls between Hawaii and the Philippines, straddles an elliptically shaped reef about 25 miles long. It’s so skinny there’s little room for anything alongside the runway.
I can’t believe I’m here.
I’m spending a week learning about an American company’s work to bring clean water to the islands, where residents rely on rooftop runoff for their water supply. E. coli is a problem because birds poop on rooftops, contaminating the water. E. coli is a problem and until now, rates of diarrhea have been high.
But in the last five years, Sawyer – which I know because they make the Sawyer Squeeze, a portable water filter I use when I go backpacking – has installed about 7,000 filters in households across the islands. Rates of diarrhea have dropped significantly since the filters were put in.
This week, I’ll watch as officials install the last filter, completing their project.
But I’m here for other reasons, too.
Some scientists consider the Marshall Islands ground zero for climate change. The average elevation here is 7 feet above sea level, and rising sea levels will certainly impact the 42,000 people who live here.
The Marshall Islands are also home to the world’s largest shark sanctuary. The sanctuary covers an area nearly four times the size of California, and commercial fishing of sharks is prohibited within its boundaries.
And, of course, I’m curious about the islands’ history as a testing site for nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958.
Since I arrived 24 hours ago, I’ve settled into my very modest digs at the Robert Reimers Hotel, one of just two hotels in all of Majuro. Tourism is not much of a thing here.
This weekend locals celebrated Fishermen’s Day, and our group of journalists watched boats come in to weigh their catch at the annual billfish tournament.
Today, we’re heading out to an island. Stay tuned…