Remote Atoll in the Marshall Islands wins the UN Equator Prize for their vision and belief in Pacific islanders’ resilience in the face of rising sea levels.


Clarence Luther, Mayor of Namdrik Atoll in the Marshall Islands, (more on Mayor Luther here) has led his community to win the prestigious UN Equator Prize award following a strong nomination by national and international development practitioners and political leaders in the region.

Namdrik Atoll is in the Ralik (‘Sunset’) chain of atolls. It is a low-lying atoll, vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather events. The atoll has a population of around 500 men, women and children living on the main island, which has only 1.7 km² of land. The community relies on their natural resources for daily subsistence and small scale, commercial use.

Led by their Mayor Luther and Senator Mattlan Zachras, the people of Namdrik Atoll have taken on the challenges of rising seas and changing climate and developed their own vision for a future that keeps them connected with their land and their heritage, on their island.

With shared beliefs and leadership, the community has developed an island development plan that focuses on meeting basic needs and achieving environmental sustainability. All members of the community are implementing actions centred on food security, natural resource management, livelihood generation, education and opportunities for young people.

Supported by the local Marshall Islands Conservation Society (MICS) and their national and international partners*, activities such as shoreline rehabilitation, rainwater harvesting, installation of solar power, replanting of native food species, development of industries such as pearl cultivation and handicrafts are all underway.

A delighted Albon Ishoda, executive director of MICS, remarked “This award is great recognition for the leadership and strength of character of the people of Namdrik. We will continue to support remote communities of the Marshall Islands to be prepared for the challenges of a changing climate.”

The Namdrik story has inspired other atoll communities and leaders within the Marshall Islands. It has become the benchmark to inform national climate change adaptation strategies, including the guidance for atoll communities called ‘Reimaanlok’ (‘Way Forward’).

It is also a flagship case study for the Micronesia Challenge – the regional commitment by island leaders to protect 20% of terrestrial lands and resources, and 30% of important coastal and near-shore areas by 2020, and has informed efforts in other parts of the Pacific and even to the Caribbean.

Mayor Clarence Luther’s commitment to his fellow islanders is clear:
“When I heard about climate change and seal level rise – I was really scared – I thought it was going to happen tomorrow. And now I realize we can do something and we have some hope. If we don’t do what we are doing it takes your power away and you don’t know what to expect. We can do something to make our lives better for now and the future. We can show that we can do something and that we can survive years from now but if we don’t do something we are not going to survive for long. This way we have a lot of lessons to show other parts of Micronesia and Melanesia. We want to get our lessons to other places.”

The UN Equator Initiative Prize will be presented to Clarence Luther in behalf of Namdrick Atoll at the ‘Rio+20’ United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June this year.

*Including The Nature Conservancy, the Micronesia Conservation Trust, the University of Rhode Island – Coastal Resources Centre, and AusAID’s International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, the German International Climate Initiative, and the US International Development Agency, USAID. Local partners include the College of the Marshall Islands, the Coastal and Marine Action Council (CMAC) advisory group, as well as the national government, especially Marine Resources Agency (MIMRA).