AFP

TOKYO

The skeletal remains of what are believed to be Japanese soldiers have been exposed on a remote Pacific island where rising sea levels have eroded the sea shore, Japanese and local officials said Monday.

The bodies of around 20 men have emerged from the earth at a small coastal cemetery because of the action of the ocean on the Marshall Islands, a place scientists have long warned is vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

“The government of the Marshall Islands has informed us that remains of about 20 human bodies have been exposed on the seashore of Enniburr island,” said a Japanese official, referring to one of the small islands that forms part of the Pacific nation.

“The remains, believed to be those of Japanese soldiers, surfaced after waves eroded a cemetery built on the seashore, according to the Marshall Islands government,” he said.

Annual peak tides in February and March have caused heavy shoreline damage in Majuro, Kwajalein and other atolls in the Marshalls in recent years, exposing graves and damaging houses.

In 2008, a cemetery on the Majuro shoreline was badly damaged when it was battered by high tides and ocean surges.

The low-lying Marshall Islands, a Pacific atoll chain that sits barely a metre above sea level, announced plans at the time for a wall to hold back rising seas.

“The remains appear to all be male between the ages of 18-40 and strongly appear to be of Asian descent,” Michael L. Terlep, chief archaeologist at the Marshall Islands Historic Preservation Office, told AFP on Monday.

“This is supported by the Japanese artefacts at the site (including a soy sauce bottle, military buttons, and Japanese coins) as well as historical data that suggest United States forces confronted Japanese resistance at the northern end of Enniburr.”