The remains of at least 26 Japanese soldiers from World War II have been washed away on the Marshall Islands due to rising sea levels in the Pacific Ocean, official have said.
The soldiers were swept from their graves on the low-lying Pacific archipelago, giving rise to concerns over the fate of the low-lying island country located in the northern Pacific Ocean, which is now reportedly one of the most vulnerable locations to changes in sea level caused by global warming.
"There are coffins and dead people being washed away from graves. It's that serious," the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands said, speaking on the sidelines of UN climate change talks in Germany.
Putting the blame on climate change, which threatens the existence of the islands that are only 2 meters (6 ft) above sea level at their highest, Tony de Brum said: "Even the dead are affected."
Twenty-six skeletons have been found on Santo Island after high tides battered the archipelago from February to April, he said, adding that more may be found. Unexploded bombs and other military equipment have also washed up in recent months, Reuters reported.
"We think they are Japanese soldiers, no broken bones, no indication of war, we think maybe suicide," he said.
The Islands were occupied by the Japanese during World War Two, until they were driven out by US forces.
"We had the exhumed skeletons sampled by the US Navy in Pearl Harbor (in Hawaii) and they helped identify where they are from, to assist in the repatriation efforts," de Brum said.
Climate scientists say global warming has raised average world sea levels by about 19 cms (8 inches) in the past century, aggravating the impact of storm surges and tides. Glaciers and ice caps are melting and water also expands as it warms.
The 29 atolls that make up the Marshall Islands are home to around 70,000 people. The corals that have formed the island chain are highly vulnerable to the surrounding seas.
The waters are not just threatening to overwhelm their defences, they are eroding roads while the salt makes the land infertile, the BBC reported.
According to a recent report from the UN Environment Programme, changes in Pacific winds and currents mean sea levels in the region have risen faster than the world average since the 1990s.
De Brum said that many of the 170 nations meeting in Bonn were slowly understanding the extent of threats faced by island states. Rising tides wash salt water onto the land, often ruining vegetation and crops such as breadfruit and coconuts.
"We think they are (getting the message) but not quickly enough to climate-poof some of our more vulnerable communities," de Brum said. Measures include raising homes on stilts, rebuilding roads and docks, and even abandoning some atolls.