Gentle waves lap the edge of Kiribati as the Pacific nation slowly seeps into the clear, turquoise sea.
Paradise is under attack and there may be no turning back. The oceanic people may lose everything to global warming.
Already communities have had to relocate, having lost their homes to the sea - the result of rising sea levels due to climate change.
The coral island nation lies so low that when you look out to the horizon you can see the curvature of the earth.
Few are lucky enough to visit here. The group of 33 atolls straddles the equator. Located near the international dateline it was the the first country to greet the new millennium.
So isolated is it that there are only two flights a week into Bonriki International Airport - an airstrip which runs the entire length of one coral atoll and where impoverished, displaced squatters have settled on either side of the runway.
Just landing in the country is an adventure. As is the twice weekly boat trip to the capital of Tarawa and the nearby island village of Taritai where 16 Holy Spirit College students and two teachers were fortunate enough to spend a week in September.
Hosted by Catholic Mission as guests of a group of Sacred Heart nuns, the year 11 students experienced traditional life on Kiribati (pronounced Kir-i-bas) - where religion and culture trumps climate change science.
While the Kiribati government has begun a migration with dignity program, there are still many I-Kiribati [as they call themselves] who believe that God will save them and their land, which on average sits just two to three metres above sea level.
Natalie Lopresti, 16, says global warming is a touchy subject for the inhabitants of the island of Taritai.
"They avoid talking about it," says Natalie. "They don't believe in the science. They have strong religious views and beliefs that they will not be harmed and their land will be saved. They have complete faith. Their ancestors have told them that the coral will rise with the ocean so they will always be higher than sea level."
Scientists estimate that in less than 50 years Kiribati will no longer exist. The process has begun and mountains of sandbags and concrete barriers attempt to push back the sea - sometimes it's enough, sometimes not.
Rhiannon Simpson, 17, says the villagers do not understand the consequences of climate change despite the evidence staring them in the face.
"It's quite bizarre really," she says.
"I was honestly shocked. They believe that if there are waves it will happen away from their island.
"They have faith they will be safe and they know this because their ancestors told them.
"In the end we decided not to ask them too many questions because it was a sensitive issue."
It was a timely lesson in diplomatic relations for the students as they blended in with the traditional, almost subsistence lifestyle of the Kiribati people, whose staple diet is seafood, coconuts and rice, subsidised by government.
The now barren soil can no longer sustain vegetables or indeed much other vegetation. The groundwater has been contaminated by saltwater from frequent storms, which are followed by periods of drought.
Treated to a feast and entertainment each night, the students felt humbled to be welcomed into the fold. For Martin Quinn, 17, it was a life-changing experience.
"We come from a Catholic school but I'd never seen the dedication and faith that they have in religion. It was hard for us to comprehend," says Martin.
"It's not what a lot of us have in our daily lives. I mean, a lot of us are religious and spiritual but what they have is a deep affinity with not only their land but their culture and spirituality. Their beliefs are in everything they do, including how they treat one another.
"We don't have that. I felt almost guilty because they don't have a lot of material goods yet they were happy to give us everything."
Geography teacher Jim Walker, who organised the trip, explained that their connection with the ocean was one reason why they struggled to believe that the sea could one day rob them of their homeland.
"They rely on the sea for everything," says Jim. "They have a deep affinity with it because it provides them with food in all shapes and sizes. I think they are in denial because their relationship with the sea is that they need it to survive. But it could be the very thing that takes away their existence as a nation.
"I don't think they are very well informed, and I think we feel more sad about it than they did, but the harsh realities of life is that they will be compelled to relocate at some stage and it's going to be hard for them because they have such a deep sense of community, tradition and custom which have existed for generations."
Patrick Chapman, 16, met a tribal elder with a different view.
"I spoke with the dominant male of the community about climate change," he says.
"He started to tear up. He understood the science of it but he couldn't really see any option. He just went along with the spiritual thing because he knew that the rest of the tribe would never understand."
The government is encouraging education in the belief that a staggered, skilled migration plan would be best for its people. It also bought 6000 hectares of land in Fiji to grow food for those remaining on Kiribati.
Still there is a collective reluctance to leave their homeland.
"The island is everything they have, their lives depend on it," adds Martin.
"You can't just remove them from it and put them somewhere else and think they're going to be OK. They can't just pack up their bags and leave. I've got no idea what we should be doing for them but it seems to me that no-one is really supporting their cause and they are left to fend for themselves."
Jim says part of the plan to take students to Kiribati was to promote awareness through cultural exchange.
"It's hoped that the students will take it upon themselves to do some fund-raising activities," he says. "One thing they could do is purchase solar panelled lights so they can meet in their community huts at night."
As the students sit and eat a simple meal with the nuns, the rising tide, which travels 300 metres in about 10 minutes, begins to nudge at the concrete slabs surrounding the hut.
"It [sea] came in so fast in such a short time," says student Kane Soligo, 16. "If it was just a metre higher they would easily lose 30 metres of their land. When the island is only 200 metres wide at some points, it's a lot to lose."
At their widest the islands are 800m.
Another sign of global warming is the temperature. In the 1990s, the temperature averaged 32 degrees; now it reaches 35 to 40 degrees.
"The sun is incredibly intense," says Jim. "If you take your mind back to that scorching hot day we had in January [in NSW] this year where as soon as you walked outside the sun was tearing the life out of you. That's what it's like on Kiribati from 7am to 4pm. Of course the heat influences their daily routine."
With no mountains to hold weather patterns there is no distinct wet season.
Before the sea claims the land the people of Kiribati are likely to be displaced due to a lack of freshwater supply on the islands.
The natural wells are slowly being corrupted by salination and waste. With no freshwater, there can be no life.
Already the country is over-populated, with half of the 103,000 population living in or near the capital Tarawa - that's 51,000 people residing on a coral island 35 kilometres long.
As more displaced villagers crowd into Tarawa from the outer islands there is a chance diseases, such as cholera, could spread.
There are few jobs, and many families rely on a single member to travel to New Zealand to find work picking fruit.
There is no electricity or refrigeration. Food is caught from the ocean on the day it's eaten and the only energy is through a petrol generator.
"The experience has definitely changed me," explains Martin.
"It's made me appreciate my family more and made me more grateful for what we have, not just the material things of life, but relationships. Because even though they don't have much they're still the happiest people you'll ever meet. We have a lot of material things but still a lot of us aren't that happy. For them everyone is family. They are just so welcoming."
Sixteen-year-old Matthew Grey agrees.
"I was sitting on my own on the last day and one of village kids came up to me and said the whole village would be very, very sad when we left and that gave me a great understanding of how much we meant to them even though we'd been there for such a short time," he says.
Another student, Philip Chevis, 16, says: "We saw things we've never seen before. Now we want to do our bit; we want to raise funds and promote their cause so that they know and understand that we haven't forgotten them."