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James Balog documents the world’s vanishing glaciers through his long-term time-lapse photography. The investigative journalist discusses his charge to give a voice to the voiceless, exposing the wildlife trafficking problem that is funding terrorism. A giant wave tosses cars like toys, a yacht teeters atop a building, and a refinery burns in unforgettable pictures chosen by our editors.
In 1 of 20 unforgettable pictures of Japan's tsunami aftermath chosen by National Geographic photo editors, rescue team members carry the body of a man through splintered remains of the village of Saito on Monday.
A survivor walks his bicycle through the remains of the devastated Japanese town of Otsuchi on March 14. A tsunami-tossed boat rests on top of a building amid a sea of debris in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on March 14.
A mother tries to talk to her daughter, who has been isolated due to signs of radiation at a makeshift facility in Nihonmatsu, Japan, on March 14.
A tsunami wave crashes over a street in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan on March 11. Tsunami survivors embrace to celebrate being alive in the destroyed city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 11. On March 13 rescue workers approachA Hiromitsu Shinkawa, a 60-year-old man from Japan's Minamisoma City who washed out to sea during the recent tsunami and spent days clinging to a piece of roofing. People search through debris at the Sendai airportA on March 14, days after an earthquake-triggered tsunami left the Japanese city in ruins. Swaddled in blankets, evacuated tsunami survivors try to keep warm in a Japanese Red Cross hospital on March 13. A lone vehicle passes a train overpass mangled by the recent earthquake in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on March 12. A survivor of the recent Japan earthquake reads a list of other survivors in a shelter in Iwate Prefecture on March 13. An emergency worker throws disinfectant powder on the ground around earthquake-damaged buildingsA in Iwate Prefecture, Japan, on March 14. Coated with mud, a photo album lies amid debris in the earthquake-ravaged town of Natori, Japan, on March 14. A rescue worker surveys the devastation on March 14 in the Japanese village of Saito, which was leveled by the earthquake-triggered tsunami.
A woman mourns the devastation of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan on March 13.
Flames and smoke billow from a petroleum-refining plant damaged by the Japan earthquake in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 13.
A boy walks past vehicles damaged by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 13. Rescue workers search for Japan earthquake victims amid shattered houses in Nodamura, Iwate Prefecture, on March 14. The hand of a man killed by the Japan earthquake juts out of jumbled concrete sea barriers on March 14 in Toyoma, Japan.
No submarine crew had been confronted with this kind of deadly emergency before, and given the series of technical breakdowns they have already faced, the crew can’t be certain of the result of the thermal explosion that could likely mark the end of the meltdown. A thermal explosion would, however, seriously damage or even sink K-19 and scatter a significant amount of radioactive contamination to the surrounding sea and air. At 0600 hours, about two hours into the crisis, the captain gives orders to surface and radio for help.
Rising Seas Threaten These Pacific Islands but Not Their CultureKiribati islanders draw on centuries of voyaging tradition and the power of cultural pride to confront the challenges coming their way. It was the time called itingaaro, the dawn twilight, when the island was just waking up and the roosters were vying to out-crow each other and the angel terns were twittering their love talk in the breadfruit trees. How can they not feel afraid when the world keeps telling them that low-lying island countries like theirs will soon be underwater? But many I-Kiribati refuse to think of their homeland as a “disappearing island nation,” its fate already out of their hands. Aquaculture ponds fill a reclaimed area beside the airport on Tarawa, Kiribati’s capital and its most densely populated atoll.
An early casualty of creeping salinity has been bwabwai, the prestige food of Kiribati culture, the food of feasts, a giant swamp taro that can take more than five years to mature.
Bride Teiti Kiroon and groom Iannang Komi are making their home on Tarawa, despite concerns about how climate change is affecting Kiribati.
The tide drained from the vast sand flats of Tarawa lagoon, exposing myriad miniature sand volcanoes built by ghost crabs. If they found enough cockles, they might prepare them in coconut cream, cooking them inside a coconut shell over a smoky coconut-husk fire.
Rain clouds darkened and moved across the lagoon, blotting out the islets of North Tarawa, the other side of wishbone-shaped Tarawa atoll.
It is a mercy that rainfall is predicted to increase over the coming decades, although downpours are likely to be more extreme, causing flooding. The tide turned and slid shoreward like a sheet of green glass, pushing the harvesters ahead of it. Fishermen knew the bait each fish preferred, whether to catch it in the day or night, and the best tactic for taking it: hook, noose, or net. Families from Kiribati’s outer atolls are flocking to South Tarawa for jobs, education, and health care, swelling the population to more than 50,000. To many I-Kiribati it seems deeply unfair that their country’s climate troubles are not of its own making. There is an aspect to the rich world’s disregard that is especially hard for I-Kiribati to stomach. When you travel to another island for the first time, before you do anything else, you announce yourself to the place by visiting a sacred site.
The feeling of injustice is widespread on the atolls most at risk from rising seas: Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and Tuvalu. Even so, some I-Kiribati reject the rhetoric of victimhood and the implication that Pacific nations are powerless. A FRAGILE PARADISE Tarawa’s two slender chains of islets amount to a scant 12 square miles of land area. But can you blame politicians, including Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, for playing the global underdog? Their visits tend to peak at the time of the king tides, the highest tides of the year, when the drama of waves overtopping seawalls is greatest. Sandbags do little to hold back the ocean at Temwaiku, a vulnerable village on South Tarawa. Stories of the Pacific’s climate woes have brought a flow of sympathy and aid money to Kiribati and her island neighbors, but if you hear that message of environmental doom often enough, you might think you had no option but to leave. Yet, conversely, Pacific people are renowned for their migrations—after all, their ancestors made the entire ocean their home. There is sometimes an expectation that the young will leave Kiribati and the old will stay.
She was responding to tangiran abam, she said, the love and longing I-Kiribati feel for their homeland.
Mangroves can’t stop the encroaching ocean, but the trunks and roots of mature trees reduce erosion and suppress storm surges. To protect that home from the hungry ocean, some islanders have taken to planting mangroves, whose matrix of roots and trunks traps sediment and quells scouring waves. Mangroves might make a good national symbol, I thought: resilient trees resisting storms, binding the land.
One of the mangrove planters, Claire Anterea, who works in the Kiribati government’s climate adaptation program, said her people must acknowledge their role in climate change, small as it may be, and try to offset it.
On my last night in Tarawa I wanted to do something to show solidarity with my Kiribati neighbors.
The electricity was off, not an uncommon problem, so two of my mangrove-planting friends—Vasiti Tebamare and Tinaai Teaua, who run a health spa in the village of Temwaiku—suggested we take our meal to the airport runway.

A wrecked fishing vessel serves as a diving platform for Tarawa youngsters, who grow up in, on, and always within sight and sound of the ocean. We took grilled fish, rice, and fried breadfruit chips to eat and moimoto—green coconuts—to drink.
I wished I could name the constellations as the early navigators did, knowing them as intimately as if they were family. Every day school children visit the monument for the child victims of Hiroshima adorned with a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding up an origami crane. Hiroshima, JAPAN—Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper, often conjures images of paper cranes, or orizuru in Japanese. In Japanese lore, the crane—a type of large, migratory bird—was thought to live for 1,000 years, and the animals are held in the highest regard. Sadako survived the Hiroshima bomb when she was only two years old, but by 1950 she had swollen glands. In 2007, Sadako Legacy began donating Sadako’s paper cranes around the world to places in need of healing. Museum staff added the cranes to the memorial, including thousands donated by Japanese students.
In addition to the September 11 memorial, Sadako Legacy has donated a crane to Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona Memorial with the help of Daniel, The Peace Library at the Austrian Study Center for Peace, and the city of Okinawa. This fall Sadako’s brother Masahiro and his son Yuji Sasaki will donate a crane to the city of Sao Paolo, Brazil, which has a community of more than a hundred atomic bomb survivors, and one to the Harry S.
This origami crane, Located in Kaisezen Park, Koriyama, Fukushima was melded from steel recovered at the World Trade Center site in New York City. In 2011, tragedy hit Japan again: A devastating earthquake triggered an even more devastating tsunami, which caused a core meltdown at Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Sadako’s nephew, Yuji Sasaki, holds the paper crane his aunt folded in Koriyama City, in Fukushima Prefecture, before donating it to the mayor. The Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship is a component of the Fulbright Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S.
Fulbright-National Geographic Fellowship Digital Stories is not an official Fulbright Program site.
How Fulbright Changed My LifeNational Geographic explorer, television correspondent, and book author Mireya Mayor tells how the Fulbright Program changed her life.
Janice Cantieri is a journalist and researcher from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who will be documenting the stories of displacement and adaptation between the Pacific Island nations of Kiribati and Fiji. Hiba Dlewati is a Syrian American journalist and writer who will be spending nine months moving throughout Jordan, Turkey and Sweden to document and narrate the stories of the Syrian diaspora. Daniel Koehler, of New York City, filmed a documentary on the San living near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, focusing on the loss and change of their culture.
A New York City-based researcher, artist and educator, Mimi Onuoh was in the United Kingdom to explore the chasms and overlaps between the online and offline lives of a demographically diverse group of Londoners.
Ann Chen, an artist and researcher from New York City, focused on mapping the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada through collective storytelling and citizen science. Back in our preindustrial days we feared them like wolves—except glaciers ate whole villages. Snow stacks up to become ice in the upper altitudes of a glacier; it melts down near the snout. Twenty thousand years ago Switzerland was a sea of ice; only the high Alps protruded as wind-shattered islands. As the world warms, a glacier seeks balance: an altitude and a mass at which snow added above equals ice melted below. The town is just one of many nearly erased from Japan's northeastern coast, where water, electricity, and telecommunications are largely unavailable.As of Monday an estimated 350,000 people are reportedly homeless in the wake of Friday's magnitude 9 earthquakea€”Japan's biggest on record.
The daughter is among people evacuated from the vicinity of Fukushima's damaged nuclear plants. There is now nothing to stop the reactor from catastrophically overheating and causing a meltdown of the reactor core. The warming atmosphere is predicted to bring heavier rainfall to Kiribati and other island nations in the central Pacific Ocean. People drifted sleepily into the lagoon to wash, splashing water on their faces, then tightening their sarongs and diving under. This is the time of bibitakin kanoan boong—“change in weather over many days”—the Kiribati phrase for climate change. Their own leaders have said that Kiribati—33 coral islands in an expanse of the central Pacific larger than India—is “among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.” They have predicted that Tarawa atoll, the nation’s capital, will become uninhabitable within a generation. They do not think of themselves as “sinking islanders,” rather as descendants of voyagers, inheritors of a proud tradition of endurance and survival. Much of Tarawa is less than eight feet above sea level and risks being inundated as the ocean rises. The sea is becoming an unwelcome intruder, eroding the shoreline and infiltrating soils, turning wells brackish and killing crops and trees. In a communal garden on one of Tarawa’s neighboring atolls, Abaiang, I watched Makurita Teakin chop leaves into mulch and spread it around seedlings of a shallow-rooting variety of taro that doesn’t need swamp conditions. Many islanders think about moving to safer countries, but they also feel wedded to their homeland and its lifestyle.
Adults and children, toting plastic bags and buckets, probed the sand with their fingers and scratched in the crevices of rocks with teaspoons for cockles—called koikoi—and sea snails.
Mwairin Timon was making coconut sennit when I met her, sitting on an old pandanus mat outside her shanty at the edge of the lagoon, rolling tufts of coconut fiber on a piece of driftwood with the palm of her hand. Soon they would bring relief to this side, South Tarawa, where half the nation’s people live on barely six square miles of land. As underground freshwater reserves are compromised by rising seas—and in Tarawa’s case, heavy population pressure—harvesting rainwater from roofs may offer an alternative. As the sea grows warmer and more acidic throughout this century, reef growth is predicted to slow and even stop. Atoll islands rely on deposits of sediment from corals and other marine organisms—often dumped onshore by storms—to keep their heads above water. Since the 1980s Pacific leaders have scolded, cajoled, pleaded with, and tried to shame the major carbon-polluting countries over climate change. When I joined fishermen traveling from Tarawa to Abaiang, on a day so calm the clouds had blue-green bellies from the reflection of the sea, the skipper stopped the outboard motor at a certain reef and one of the crew threw hand-rolled pandanus cigarettes into the sea as offerings and a mark of respect for the owners of the territory we were crossing. You make a gift of cigarettes or a few coins, and the caretaker picks up damp sand and pats it on your cheeks and ties a tendril of green vine around your head. I picture a cloud of greenhouse gases drifting toward Tarawa from over the horizon, like radioactivity from the nuclear weapons exploded in Kiribati’s Line Islands after the Second World War. Half of Kiribati’s 106,000 citizens live on the southern islets, which are connected by causeways.
Early this year a king tide lifted a shipwreck off the reef at Betio, Tarawa’s westernmost islet, and flung it ashore, piercing a seawall.
The shipwreck came ashore on Red Beach, where a lower-than-expected tide stranded American landing craft during the Battle of Tarawa in 1943, leading to a bloodbath.
In February, waves washed away this bulwark and rolled inland, leaving behind flooded homes, salty soil, and tainted wells. In Kiribati’s origin story Nareau, the Creator, was a spider, and I-Kiribati have been spinning webs ever since. But some of the young choose to live a simple life on ancestral land rather than pursue prosperity abroad.
Tangiran abam has kept Kiribati’s more distant atolls culturally vibrant, even as their populations shrink and Tarawa’s swells. I joined some women who were picking ripe seedlings that dangled in bunches like string beans among the glossy green leaves of a mature mangrove stand.
The current symbol, emblazoned on the Kiribati flag, is evocative too: eitei, the frigatebird, a bird of chiefs, a bird of the dance, a high flier that floats on the wind rather than fights against it. I am a Pacific islander too—although New Zealand’s mountainous islands face nothing like the existential threat that looms for atolls where much of the land is only a few feet above sea level.

It is something of a tradition, on sultry nights too stifling even for a fan to relieve, for families to spread their mats on the little-used runway and eat a picnic supper. This and coming generations face tough climate challenges as warming, rising, acidifying seas threaten life on their native islands.
They learned them by seeing the sky as the roof of a meetinghouse, divided into a grid by rafters and lines of thatch. I began to wonder, where does this fabled art form originate, and why are paper cranes regarded as a symbol of peace? Folded paper butterfly figures were first used in Japan to decorate sake cups at weddings, and paper was folded in Shinto shrines for good luck.
Origami as we know it was popularized and taught in Japanese schools in art class, and has since evolved as a childhood pastime. In every resource I found, the story of Sadako Sasaki was the reason why it became popular to fold them and make a wish.
Her family donated over a hundred of them to the museum, which has agreed to give them back to her family  one crane at a time. Twenty-four Japanese citizens were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, and it got back to Sadako’s family that people were leaving paper cranes at the fence near Ground Zero. Moved by this, Sasaki decided to donate one of Sadako’s cranes, which was unveiled at the museum in 2010. Consoled by Sadako’s crane, they dedicated their own crane, which now rests in the city of Koriyama, Fukushima, a town less than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from the crippled nuclear power plant.
In a way they are the same kind of disaster, and people of both city are affected by radiation,” he said at the ceremony. Great work by Ari Beser to spread word about the origin about the paper cranes and the meaning behind them.
As a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow, he will travel through Russia and Kazakhstan where farmers are working to rebuild their cattle industries.
She is a designer, researcher, and educator whose project gives voice to the communities of the Ciliwung River through an interactive website, mapping stories that expose the relationships between urbanism, ecology, and politics. She herself is deaf and uses video, text, photographs, maps, and drawings to document the lives of deaf Cambodians as they encountered each other for the first time and learn Cambodian Sign Language. In the 19th century the remnants of this Ice Age surged a bit, at the end of what’s now called the Little Ice Age.
To see it in winter, when it’s alone and in its element and the road to the hotel is closed, you have to snowshoe up a mountain. Atolls like Tarawa rely for their fertility on a lens of freshwater, replenished by rain, which floats on a saltwater aquifer.
Sensitive to saltwater intrusion in the pits in which it’s cultivated, bwabwai now cannot be grown in many areas and could eventually disappear from island cuisine. Nearby, another woman watered her seedlings with fish fertilizer from a can punched with nail holes. The harvesters walked far out to the water’s receding edge, bending over double, sifting and scraping for a few ounces of seafood. Baskets, brooms, timber, thatch, oil, fermented toddy, soap, a dark sweet syrup called kamwaimwai. More than a year ago she had buried coconut husks in the lagoon, marking the place with a rock. On Abaiang foreign aid has provided some communities with simple systems that catch, filter, treat, and store rainfall.
Coral bleaching—when stressed corals expel the symbiotic algae that give them color and nutrients—used to happen every ten years or so.
The islands are ants and the industrialized nations are elephants, declared Teburoro Tito, a former Kiribati president, speaking of the infinitesimal contribution his country has made to the planet’s carbon burden. It doesn’t seem so very different: nuclear fallout in the 20th century, climate fallout in the 21st.
Every family has relatives in New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and farther overseas, each migration a silk strand in a net of kinship bonds. A few days later we planted them in a part of the lagoon that needs extra protection from king tides. Yet the “blue blood of Oceania,” as Kiribati poet Teweiariki Teaero calls the Pacific, binds us as one family.
We found a quiet spot, ate, talked, then lay on our backs and stared at the blazing night sky—the “belly of the eel,” as I-Kiribati call the Milky Way. I-Kiribati might live on small islands, but there is nothing small about their sense of their place in the world.
Decorative figures of paper cranes began showing up on ceremonial kimonos as far back as the 16th century. In August a quarter of the water flowing in the Rhône River comes from melting glaciers. An 1849 daguerreotype shows the snout of the Rhône Glacier extending about 1,700 vertical feet lower than it does now. Conversely, if we burn all the coal, oil, and gas still underground, we’ll melt every last speck of ice on Earth. Weather is local, the struggle is individual, and so a few glaciers on Earth are still advancing—but only a few, and none in the Alps. From there, as crows circle above and snow swirls around you, the beast will be at your feet: an undulating white serpent, hauntingly quiet. As the sea level rises—a few millimeters a year at the moment but likely to accelerate—so does the level of salt water underground, shrinking the freshwater sweet spot.
In times past, if you understood these axes, you could calculate when to plant crops, when to fish, when to set sail in hundred-foot outrigger canoes called baurua. But it’s becoming more frequent and eventually could happen yearly, threatening coral survival and dimming the reefs’ living rainbow to a shadow.
It wasn’t much, but there’s little else islanders can do to hold on to their land except rebuild their seawalls when the waves smash them. If the fish depart for good, will the frigatebird’s forked tail still be seen scissoring Kiribati skies?
Sasaki, carrying the last crane Sadako ever folded in a box, placed it in Daniel’s hand and asked him if he would help them send a message of peace. It fell down a steep escarpment, its ice crags suffused with blue light, and crept along the valley floor like a frozen amoeba. Half the ice there has melted in the past century, enough to fill all the lakes in Switzerland.
I-Kiribati have more than a dozen words for the stages of the fruit alone—from a young nut before the water forms to an old one with rancid flesh. Now she twisted them into string the same way her grandmother would have, and her grandmother before her, all the way back to the first settlers of these atolls, who splashed ashore some 3,000 years ago. He is traveling through Japan with the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship to report on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima.
I heard it in the words of Teburoro Tito, when he met me between parliamentary sessions and said that, at heart, he was an island boy: “I grew out of the soil and the sand and the coral of this place. Using photo essays, videos, and articles, Beser will give voice to people directly affected by nuclear technology today, as well as work with Japanese and Americans to encourage a message of reconciliation and nuclear disarmament.
We know them by their moraines—the piles of rubble they plowed up as they slid downhill, back when they were alive and moving.
She is beginning to show a different face, a menacing one of encroaching tides and battering waves.

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