Our Story

A house by the sea

Imagine you live in house close by the beach. The noise of the breaking swell, seagulls in the air and the salty taste of the ocean breeze will accompany you every day. Sounds great? Off course it does, at least one reason why 80% of the human population lives close by the ocean. But the dream of a place by the sea is turning into a nightmare for a growing share of the population: a rising sea level is eating up the shore lines, causing soil salination and squeezing out the freshwater lenses of islands or low lying coasts.

Waves are flooding Ejit Island (Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands). The island is surrounded by the endless Pacific Ocean and only 2 m above sea level. If the water decides to wipe your home there is no way to hide. Photo by Alson Kelen out of his backyard.

I didn’t thought to much about all of this until I got a job at “Waan Aelon in Majel – Canoes of the Marshall Islands” as part of an assignment for the GIZ implemented Low Carbon Sea Transport Project (LCST) in Majuro, Marshall Islands back in 2017. The Marshall Islands are a small island nation in the central Pacific between Hawai’i and Papua New Guinea. The country consists of low lying coral atolls only, with the highest elevation just a few meters above sea level. Shortly after arriving in Majuro, the nations capitol, I found the most beautiful islands I could have dreamed of, settled by wonderful, gold-hearted people. But at the same time almost every single problem humanity yet caused is present on these islands on a micro-scale: cultural damage by colonization and imperialization, high radiation level by nuclear weapons, forced migration, overpopulation, urbanization, drug abuse, plastic trash, deforestation, overfishing, coral bleach, (water) pollution and so on. But the most devastating problem for these low-lying island is just emerging: sea level rise, caused by climate change. The Marshallese people did not primarily cause any of those problems, but suffer every day. The scientists predictions doesn’t sound very promising either: a couple of decades, or half a century until the islands will be uninhabitable due to inundation and frequent floods! After the nuclear tests the population will be forced to leave their ancestors homeland for a second time – a cultural genocide.

So all hope is lost?

Not yet. The small NGO “Waan Aelon in Majel” (WAM) fights all challenges since 30 years by preserving native culture (especially boat building and sailing), offers a perspective for young people to make a living and by creating international awareness for the climate crisis.

Workshop of WAM in Majuro, photo by Esther Kokmeijer

As a child of the East-Frisian island Norderney I know the oppressive feeling of being surrounded by roaring waters during the storm season in winter since I can remember. But still it was the work of and for WAM which was an eye opener for me. Norderney and her 6 sister islands consist of fine white sand only and elevate just a couple of meters above the north sea. Without any protection around them they are as vulnerable for erosion as a sandcastle. Yet nobody at home seems to be too concerned.

Back in Germany the daily routine and all projects I previously had felt pointless compared to the real challenges of our future. Step by step the idea of combining what I’m good at (building boats and sailing) and the desire to be a part of the solution instead of the problem shaped out of the fog. Christian came back to Germany a couple of months later (he worked for WAM in Majuro, too) and was immediately hooked by the idea: the Proasis Project was born.

Our fight

Every island and every shore in the world shares the same ocean with each other and is already affected by the rising sea level. Its a fight for the island I call home, for the land of our Marshallese friends and for the far majority of the human population. We can only fight (and maybe still win) it together!

The Proasis project will carry the spirit of WAM from the Pacific Ocean to new, somewhat colder waters around northern Europe. To create awareness and demonstrate an alternative way, we will design, construct and sail Proasis, a pacific based proa (outrigger sailboat, see “What is a proa“). Proasis will be powered fossil free, simple and low cost. By using mainly recycled or degradable materials she will be eco friendly with a small footprint. At the same time, Proasis serves as the prototype for a fleet of emission-free fishing and transport craft, build by WAM as part of the GIZ implemented project “Transitioning to Low Carbon Sea Transport” in the Marshall Islands.

Our goal is to be visible on the water as an eye opener for as many people as possible, in the same way WAM has been an eye opener to us.

We will try to post an update at least once each month, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or drop a message at mail (at) proas.is