Implementing Climate Change Adaptation Activities in Pacific Outer Islands

Five case studies covering six different countries will be described to illustrate the challenges involved and how they were met in delivering project activities to outer islands.

Managing Marine Resources in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands lying between 8°S and 23°S in the south Pacific Ocean and divided into a southern group and a northern group. The GCCA: PSIS climate change adaptation project focused particularly on the Manihiki atoll in the northern group. Up until the beginning of the 21st century there used to be a vibrant pearl farming industry in the Manihiki Lagoon (Ponia et al. 2000), however, following a severe cyclone in 1997 and outbreaks of pearl oyster disease relating to intense El Nino and La Nina events, export production of pearls fell from a peak of US$ 9 million in 2000 to US$ 3 million in 2003 (Ponia 2010; Diggles and Hine 2001). The decline was also related to poor farming practices.

The project sought to strengthen real time environmental monitoring, including water quality so as to provide information that will assist pearl farmers improve their farming practices, and avoid disease outbreaks and stress to the oysters due to present environmental conditions and future projected conditions under climate change.

One of the planned activities was to establish an automatic water quality monitoring buoy in the lagoon to provide real time information to the pearl farmers. While this was achieved to a limited extent it was not as successful as hoped. One of the reasons was the remoteness of Manihiki, which lies 1,200 km from the main island, Rarotonga, and is served by an infrequent and somewhat irregular shipping schedule and a small 8-seater plane which only flies the 4 h trip once every two weeks. Added to which Cook Islands, with a population of around 15,000 people, does not have the skills in-country for maintaining and servicing such equipment. Routine maintenance, such as calibration of sensors, involves the equipment being sent off-island with resultant long delays and breaks in data records.

An alternative approach was adopted which proved to be more successful and this involved stationing a marine biologist from the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources full-time on Manihiki to work with the communities and pearl farmers to regularly monitor water quality with mobile probes and to advise on practical ways to improve farming practices on a day-to-day basis. Monitoring results are regularly posted on community noticeboards and water quality alerts are sent out to the farmers via emails and text messages on mobile phones e.g. when water temperatures are high and the oyster shells should not be disturbed.

This simpler type of technology combined with a more personal approach is providing some positive results e.g. one pearl farmer noted that receiving the information not to handle the shells between January and April 2016 because of the high sea surface temperatures helped her plan to spend that period in Rarotonga and focus on pearl marketing.

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