Marshall Islands Climate & Migration Project

2017 Preliminary Results

 Preliminary Findings from Fieldwork in the Marshall Islands and Hawaiʻi


"If a severe drought hits right now, we only have few reservoirs that can handle the certain amount of population. Whenever a severe drought hits, we either turn to the US or other political ties in order to seek for aid” 


Preliminary Findings from Fieldwork in the Marshall Islands (Sample Size: 201)



Respondents are concerned about the impacts of climate change

  • They identify drought, salinity, and lack of freshwater as key problems and they are worried about sea level rise and the future of their islands.

Respondents perceive that they are not well-prepared for those impacts right now.

  • However, they also strongly resist the idea that they will be forced to leave their islands because of climate change in the future. They believe that between now and a future in which climate change poses an even bigger threat there will be solutions and they see a positive role for their government. 

Migration from and within the Marshall Islands is widespread

  • 91.3% of our 201 questionnaire respondents had at least one brother, sister, son or daughter who is currently living elsewhere. 
  • Out of these migrant relatives, 51.4% lived elsewhere in the RMI and 47.3% lived in the US. 


  • 55.8% of migrants were men; 44.2% were women.
  • Among those who moved to the US 57.3% were men and 42.7% women. 
  • Arkansas, Hawaiʻi, and Washington were the most frequent destinations for siblings and children of survey respondents. 

Respondents cite seeking better education and healthcare as key reasons for people to migrate

  • Further, there is a lack of employment opportunities locally.

Respondents were quite divided or indecisive (but more negative than positive) about impacts of migration on the migrants themselves, their relatives at home and the Marshall Islands in general.

  • Many respondents thought that life in the Marshall Islands is more pleasant than in the U.S. and deemed the of migration to generate remittances of little importance. Also, respondents quite widely viewed migration as a threat to Marshallese culture and development. 


of migrants were men


of migrants were women


The number of Marshallese residing in the U.S. in 2000 and 2010.

The number of Marshallese residing in the U.S. has rapidly risen over the past two decades, from less than 7,000 in 2000 to more than 22,000 in 2010.

Preliminary Findings from Fieldwork in Hawaiʻi (Sample Size: 40)


Access to healthcare, education and job opportunities are the primary drivers for migration.

  • Respondents noted the steady increase in the cost of living, stagnation of formal employment, and falling real per capita GDP

Environmental factors, particularly sea level rise, and the lack of infrastructure to support educational attainment or economic growth are the primary push factors.

  • The "strongly agree" statements indicate that environmental factors, especially sea level rise, and the lack of infrastructure to support educational attainment or economic growth are the primary push factors. 
  • Interviewees agreed that environmental change further affects local economies and food systems- arguably driving the desire to relocate for health needs and access to employment opportunities. 

Climate may influence migration decisions, particularly with respect to decisions to return.

  • Respondents noted that periods or instances of drought, king tides, and heat waves were noted as severely increasing in the last 5-10 years by up to 95% of respondents.
  • Interviewees recognize that drought is affecting local food security and access to fresh water. 
  • Respondents acknowledge that the depreciating health of coral reefs is symptomatic of climate change.
  • Participants question RMI’s strategic ability to cope with onset climatic shocks and attest climate change as driver for a migration.
  • Qualitative data indicates that SLR is more often and more convincingly mentioned as a factor that works against future return and less as a factor of past movements.
  • 43.5 % of respondents stated that environmental factors play a role in influencing their decision to migrate to Hawaiʻi.
  • 65% of respondents states that environmental factors play a role in the decision to migrate back to the Marshall Islands.

Respondents largely viewed migration to Hawaiʻi as a successful adaption strategy.

  • Interviewees stated they believe there are available job opportunities for the Marshallese in Hawaiʻi.
  • Relocation was largely viewed as positive and not limited to those with relatively higher economic status due to access to remittances to fund relocation costs.

"Our sea walls are damaged and there is not enough money to reset them. Life is really stressful and people should move."