Sinking Pacific atolls 'may be abandoned in a generation'

A leading coral atoll expert has called on the Australian federal government to fund more research into rising sea levels to fully assess the threat to island nations.

University of Queensland archaeologist Dr Marshall Weisler has been studying the effects of rising seas on the central Pacific islands of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, as well as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

Dr Weisler said whole Pacific nations may need to abandon their homes within a generation.

He urged the Australian government to fund more research into the sustainability of the region's reef islands.

"If this problem had a greater financial stake and if areas of coastline where huge amounts of people lived, if it was ... really disrupting commerce, people would be working on it with no holds barred," he said.

"But no one knows where they are and they don't add integral commodities to the world economy.

In the Marshall Islands, Dr Weisler said he had seen coconut trees 20 metres offshore, that were once on farming land.

In Kiribati, stilt homes that are on dry land in the morning have water lapping underneath them by the high tide.

"I've personally witnessed trees that people planted for food, whether it's coconuts or ... pandanus for example, these really important economic plants for people who live on atolls, and as the shoreline erodes away, so do the plants," he said.

Dr Weisler recently attended a conference on the sustainability of atolls at the University of Tokyo, Japan.

The International Panel on Climate Change has predicted sea levels could rise between nine and 88 centimetres this century.