Bringing The World Home To You

© 2021 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
91.5 Chapel Hill 88.9 Manteo 90.9 Rocky Mount 91.1 Welcome 91.9 Fayetteville 90.5 Buxton 94.1 Lumberton 99.9 Southern Pines
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Their lands are oceans apart but are linked by rising, warming seas of climate change

Teafua Tanu is an islet of Tokelau used by residents of Fakaofo atoll as a Catholic cemetery. Over the past two decades, the territory of Tokelau has proved extremely vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels owing, partly, to its being a small land mass surrounded by ocean, and its location in a region prone to natural disasters.
Teafua Tanu is an islet of Tokelau used by residents of Fakaofo atoll as a Catholic cemetery. Over the past two decades, the territory of Tokelau has proved extremely vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels owing, partly, to its being a small land mass surrounded by ocean, and its location in a region prone to natural disasters.

Editor's note: As the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Summit convenes, NPR's Picture Show is taking a look at work by artists and visual journalists that highlight climate change.


Vlad Sokhin's interest in climate change came from his own global upbringing.

Born in Russia, and having spent formative years in Portugal, Sokhin made a career as a documentary photographer capturing health and human rights issues in Europe, Africa and Asia. Yet it was a 2013 assignment to cover deforestation in Papua New Guinea that convinced him to train his lens on humanity's impact on the planet.

"I saw how the environment was changing because of illegal logging," Sokhin tells NPR. "But the big picture wasn't there. I thought, 'What if I extend a little bit?'"

Eight years and thousands of miles later, the result is Warm Waters, (Schilt Publishing, 2021) an exploration of climate change traveling across 18 countries and off-the-map territories seen by seldom few.

The people of Fale village<strong> </strong>in Fakaofo spend much of their leisure time in the cool water of the lagoon. They usually chat, smoke cigarettes and eat raw fish with coconuts.
/ Vlad Sokhin
The people of Fale village<strong> </strong>in Fakaofo spend much of their leisure time in the cool water of the lagoon. They usually chat, smoke cigarettes and eat raw fish with coconuts.
Jack Pombo, 41, from Trin village, holds a dead bird of paradise. He finds many dead birds when he goes to logging areas. "Before our forest was full of birds. We had parrots, birds of paradise. Now many of them gone, because we don't have a forest anymore. Some birds died, some moved to different areas. Some come to our gardens and destroy our crops," he says.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Jack Pombo, 41, from Trin village, holds a dead bird of paradise. He finds many dead birds when he goes to logging areas. "Before our forest was full of birds. We had parrots, birds of paradise. Now many of them gone, because we don't have a forest anymore. Some birds died, some moved to different areas. Some come to our gardens and destroy our crops," he says.
A young man rides by Shishmaref cemetery on his motorcycle. Shishmaref is one of the most climate change-affected settlements in Alaska. Located on a sandbar between the Chukchi Sea and Shishmaref Lagoon, the village has lost significant landmass to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
/ Vlad Sokhin
A young man rides by Shishmaref cemetery on his motorcycle. Shishmaref is one of the most climate change-affected settlements in Alaska. Located on a sandbar between the Chukchi Sea and Shishmaref Lagoon, the village has lost significant landmass to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

Within his native Russia, Sokhin, 40, spends time with communities on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Across the Barents Sea, he photographs native Inupiat and Yupik settlements in Alaska. Both are confronting the same coastal erosion and melting permafrost — the once-frozen soil layer now fast disappearing throughout the Arctic region.

Mostly, Sokhin explores Oceania — the South Pacific — where rising tides have inundated communities in places like the Aleutian Islands, Micronesia, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tuvalu. Some may recover, others may soon be lost to the sea forever. Yet Sokhin's lens is constantly drawn to locals trying to adapt the best they can.

Simanu, 25, enjoying water in Moata'a Mangrove Reserve in Apia, on Samoa's Upolu island. The Samoan government supports many local communities through replanting mangroves that protect people and their livelihoods from rising sea level and coastal erosion.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Simanu, 25, enjoying water in Moata'a Mangrove Reserve in Apia, on Samoa's Upolu island. The Samoan government supports many local communities through replanting mangroves that protect people and their livelihoods from rising sea level and coastal erosion.
Children on Efate island watch a truck delivering drinking water to their village of Etas. After Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in March 2015, many local communities were left without fresh water supplies. International charity Oxfam organized an airport water tank truck to come to the villages around Port Vila and help locals to fill their barrels with drinking water.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Children on Efate island watch a truck delivering drinking water to their village of Etas. After Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in March 2015, many local communities were left without fresh water supplies. International charity Oxfam organized an airport water tank truck to come to the villages around Port Vila and help locals to fill their barrels with drinking water.
Teenagers ride bikes on the beach next to the destroyed apartment blocks of an area of Oktyabrskiy Settlement that is heavily affected by coastal erosion, in Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, in 2016. Since the 1970s, the sea has been claiming the land, destroying part of the settlement.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Teenagers ride bikes on the beach next to the destroyed apartment blocks of an area of Oktyabrskiy Settlement that is heavily affected by coastal erosion, in Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, in 2016. Since the 1970s, the sea has been claiming the land, destroying part of the settlement.

As a book, Warm Waters is no straightforward travel narrative. Sokhin eschews the traditional format of photos with captions and location information, and instead opts for what he calls "tonal narratives" — unexpected visual connections across cultures, countries, and, of course, bodies of water.

"You can see what's happening there and it doesn't matter which island it is," says Sokhin. "This is affecting everyone."

At its core, Warm Waters is one photographer's attempt to show how global warming is connecting seemingly disparate lives across vast distances.

What Sokhin finds is cause for extreme worry, of course; but also moments of resilience and wonder.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Roxanna Miller, a monitoring technician of the University of Guam Marine Lab, inspects staghorn coral that suffered a severe coral bleaching event in 2013 and 2014.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Roxanna Miller, a monitoring technician of the University of Guam Marine Lab, inspects staghorn coral that suffered a severe coral bleaching event in 2013 and 2014.
Steller sea lions rest on the rocks of Grotto Island in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Steller sea lions rest on the rocks of Grotto Island in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.
Elva, 10, sits on a dead coconut tree near Tina River in Niu Birao village, Solomon Islands.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Elva, 10, sits on a dead coconut tree near Tina River in Niu Birao village, Solomon Islands.
Children of Eita village swim in the area inundated by sea water during high tide.
/ Vlad Sokhin
Children of Eita village swim in the area inundated by sea water during high tide.
An Inupiat girl named Amaia, 11, stands on an ice floe on a shore of the Arctic Ocean in Barrow, Alaska. The anomalous melting of the Arctic ice is one of the many effects of global warming that has a serious impact on the life of humans and wildlife.
/ Vlad Sokhin
An Inupiat girl named Amaia, 11, stands on an ice floe on a shore of the Arctic Ocean in Barrow, Alaska. The anomalous melting of the Arctic ice is one of the many effects of global warming that has a serious impact on the life of humans and wildlife.

More Stories