Marshall Islands Expedition
Kõmij mour ijin / our life is here
An arts/science expedition in the Marshall Islands
In June 2023, twenty international and Oceanian artists and scientists will sail north aboard research vessel M/V Pacific Master from Kwajalein Atoll to radioactive Bikini Atoll, uninhabitable since the 1954 uncontrolled and largest U.S. hydrogen bomb test, code-named BRAVO. Their mission will be to explore the legacy of the 20th-century Cold War American nuclear testing program there, as well as the ways climate change is affecting the Marshallese people and their 3,000 year-old culture today. The Marshalls, with an average height of 6 feet above sea level, are located in the center of the Pacific Oceanamidst water that is rising at an accelerating rate. The Marshallese now confront the possibility of their home becoming uninhabitable within a single lifetime due to climate induced rising sea levels. Humanities monsters came from afar, and Marshallese resilience and creativity in tackling them head-on serves as an inspiring example to the global
community that created— and still struggles to contain— these same demons. Marshallese atolls and their remarkable people tell an existential story that is deeply relevant to all of humanity.
“Kõmij Mour Ijin/Our Life Is Here”
Isolated in the midst of Earth’s largest ocean, the 29 coral atolls of the Marshall Islands
have been called home for more than three thousand years by canoe-voyaging people
who could navigate just by sensing the rhythms of waves with their bodies and
observing the positions of the stars. Yet, that precious home of land and water can now
rightly be called the most existentially threatened place on the planet. Marshall
Islanders have nonetheless survived and thrived for millennia: their important wisdom
gleaned from the upheavals of 20th century, and their ongoing tenacity in the 21st, has
much to teach the rest of the world about commitment to land and our earth.
From 1946 to 1958, the Marshall Islands served as the site of 67 of the largest United
States atmospheric nuclear detonations, and suffered the worst radiological disasters in
U. S. history, the worst of which left Bikini Atoll uninhabitable to this day. Literal and
metaphorical fallout, cancerous to the body and traumatic to the soul, persists to the
present day for the Marshallese.
Today, Marshall Islanders are also on the front lines of another human-created threat
that is almost too big to comprehend: that of global climate change and rising sea levels,
the legacy of two hundred years of the industrialized world burning fossil fuels for
energy. Living on coral that lies on average barely six feet above sea level, all of the
Marshalls’ 70,000 people are now urgently threatened by the very oceans that have
nurtured them for millennia. It is estimated that the nation will become uninhabitable
by the end of the century, drowned by forces and actions it had no hand in creating.
Lastly, the Marshallese are fluent in the language of water as much as they are grounded
in land; they understand the inscrutable ocean in ways most of us do not. Like the
possibility of nuclear annihilation and the fact of human-induced climate change, the
scale and nature of the oceans is truly challenging to comprehend. The oceans cover
71% of the globe’s surface, harbor 80% of its species, are by far the largest sink of
human carbon emissions, and generate the oxygen needed in every other breath we
take—and yet fewer people have been to their depths than have walked on the surface
of the moon. 58% of the oceans—half the surface of the planet—remain outside any
national jurisdiction and are essentially ungoverned.
Directly confronted as nowhere else on Earth with such vast and overwhelming
forces—what philosopher Timothy Morton calls “Hyperobjects,” entities the scale of
which are almost impossible to comprehend— the people of the Marshall Islands are
engaging with tenacity, resilience and innovation, as they have bravely throughout over a century of colonial, military, and nuclear violence. Following on decades of anti-nuclear campaigns for compensation and eradication of weapons led by nuclear testing survivors and activists such as Darlene Keju, Marshallese have also been outspoken intheir advocacy for saving our environment by taking concrete action to slow or reverse climate change. Global expedition partner Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, who has inspired
millions of people of all ages around the world to stand in solidarity with atoll nations
like the Marshall Islands, first gained international attention with her riveting poetry
The Kõmij Mour Ijin expedition aims to bring worlds together to tell a compelling story that
will capture the public’s imagination – globally. We voyage to learn and
appreciate—to remember, to reimagine, to reinvent. We voyage to reaffirm our
home right here and now on Earth and to ensure that all of us can not only survive
but also thrive.