Recent environmental discourses and headlines on small island developing states (SIDS) have heralded the grave and impending threats of global warming and associated sea-level rise. These are undoubtedly significant challenges for SIDS, including atoll nations such as Kiribati. Nevertheless, securing small island state futures also requires a renewed commitment to addressing the obvious and immediate threats of urbanisation, pollution and sanitation. Looking at pressures of development on freshwater, this article argues that the future survival of small island states and their societies also greatly depends on managing the impacts of development. Approaches which can concurrently strengthen the resilience of communities and their ecosystems will result in mutual benefits for both sustainable development and climate change adaptation.