Pohnpei’s shrinking reef islands: an impact of climate change?

laiap 02By Patrick Nunn
August 1, 2017
FSM—Many readers will be familiar with the small beautiful islands, covered with coconut palms and fringed with white-sand beaches, that sit on the edge of the coral reef off the south coast of Pohnpei. From Dawahk in the west, through Nahlap and Laiap in the center, to Nahpali way out east, these islands have been a feature of Pohnpeian geography for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
But there are not as many islands as there were once. North of Kehpara, according to Ertin Poll, there was once an island named Kepidau en Pehleng that has now disappeared. And northeast of Penieu, there was a famous island named Nahlapenlohd. This island was so large that in the year 1850 it was the site of a pitched battle; some stories recall that fighters hid behind coconut palms to avoid musket bullets. But today, there is no sign of Nahlapenlohd, not even a mound of sand marking where it once was. Perhaps, as some stories tell, so much blood was spilled during the battle that it washed all the vegetation off the island, leaving it exposed to erosion by the waves. More likely, the rise in the ocean surface (sea level) that has been affecting FSM for several decades is responsible for the disappearance of Nahlapenlohd.

laiap 01
Although there have been minor fluctuations, sea level has been rising in most parts of the Pacific for the last fifty years or more. Over the last twenty years, sea level has been rising faster than the global average in FSM-Palau and in Solomon Islands. To understand the effects of this, a recent study was conducted by Patrick Nunn and Roselyn Kumar from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia with Augustine Kohler from FSM’s Department of National Archives, Culture and Historic Preservation. The research team visited ten reef islands off the south coast of Pohnpei and found that some of them – not all – were showing signs of erosion consistent with the effects of rising sea levels.
While islands like Dawahk, Kehpara and Nahlap on the sheltered (leeward) side of Pohnpei showed little sign of erosion, those more exposed to waves and wind from the east did. These include the island of Nahtik, which is estimated to have lost 70% of its 2007 landmass, and Ros which has shrunk by about 60% since 2007. The sand strip that once connected Dekehtik and Na off the southeast coast of Pohnpei seems to have disappeared some time in the last twenty years.
When sea level rises, it forces changes to the shape of sandy beaches. It removes material from their higher parts and dumps it offshore. This is known as the Bruun Effect and is believed to be responsible for most of the shoreline erosion that has been observed over the last few decades on many Pacific Islands. While it is difficult to be certain, the weight of evidence suggests that sea-level rise is behind the disappearance and shrinking of the sand islands off Pohnpei’s southern reef barrier.
But there is some better news. Patrick’s team found hardly any evidence of shoreline erosion consistent with sea-level rise along the fringes of the main island in Pohnpei. This is hardly surprising considering that most of it is cloaked by mangrove forest – and it does underline the importance of preserving mangroves. Throughout the Pacific Islands, mangroves have been shown to be the best way to protect shorelines from erosion associated with sea-level rise. The researchers also visited Ant Atoll, where no clear signs of the effects of sea-level rise could be observed.
If you would like an e-copy of the full research report, please email Patrick on pnunn@usc.edu.au and he would be happy to send you one.

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Linking Climate Change and Health in the Lower-Mortlock Islands

By Zag Puas - JULY 2017
Climate Change is a cutting-edge reality in the Lower Mortlocks. The rise in the sea level is one of the major consequences of climate change; it affects food production, water conservation and especially human health. In November 2016, a new partnership between US based organization- the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the FSM Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSA) and an indigenous Mortlockese, Zag Puas (PhD), formed a partnership to develop strategies to address the link between climate change and healthy life style. Food production and water conservation practices were adopted as top priorities in anticipation of the increasing incursion of salt water on farm land and fresh water wells. The extent of the project also calls for the sharing of ideas between the Mortlockese stake- holders, DHSA, ASTHO and the public at large.

The Lower Mortlocks is a collection of four islands, Lukunor, Oneop, Satowan and Ta. Lukunor and Oneop shared a lagoon, while Satowan and Ta are located on a separate lagoon. These islands communities suffer from lack of health care services due to their geographical distance from the major porttowns, for example, Weno and Pohnpei. Despite this, many of the low-lying atoll dwellers persist in living on their islands. This is despite the knowledge that one day their islands will not be able to sustain them, due to the anticipated rise in the sea level. Recent studies indicated that arable land will be overwhelmed by salt water within a fifty-year time frame. The islands’ elevation ranges from 3-4 metres above sea level. Because of their vulnerability, they are among the first to experience the ongoing and brutal reality of climate change induced sea level rise. Relocation will be the last option, however, a great number of the people have stated that it is not an option for them at all. For instance, during my field interviews, many Mortlockese cannot foresee living in an alternative environment, even if it is on another island, where they would be the subject to someone else’s dictates. They expressed a preference to remain in the Mortlocks and die, rather than to live in an alien space somewhere beyond the horizon.
However, to prolong their ability to remain living on the island in the face of climate change, providing appropriate health care in the communities, remains a major challenge. The above partnership is undertaking a project which seeks to enmesh traditional and outside knowledge to enhance a healthy life style in the age of climate change. Taro farming targeting specific species of taro that can withstand increased salinity in the soil, together with the construction of a low-cost water storage facilities, are the two of the strategies proposed as a way of promoting and maintaining a healthy life style in the Mortlocks. At this stage, the project has been progressing well in meeting its main objectives. ASTHO, the principal provider for the project, together with the FSM DHSA, and many prominent members of the public, have been very supportive of the project since communities on low-lying islands are often exposed to greater health challenges. The Mortlockese people wish to express their deep appreciation to the two major supporters and look forward to continue the partnership in light of the ongoing climate change induced health challenges as they arise in the future.

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The FSM gets ready for the Green Climate Fund

climate fund

The national inception workshop for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Readiness Program for the FSM was held in Pohnpei State, from November 21 to 24, 2016. The workshop was attended by the key stakeholders for climate change from the four States including the traditional leaders and dignitaries from both the national and state governments. Lieutenant Governor of Pohnpei State, Honorable Reed B. Oliver, gave an invigorating welcoming address and referred to the recently released documentary on climate change. He expressed his gratitude for the opportunities offered by the Fund, especially as a way to bypass the ‘climate change deniers’, and urged participants to keep engaged with the task of reducing emissions and increasing resilience of communities in the FSM, beyond the workshop. On the closing day of the workshop, the Honorable Sihna Lawrence, Secretary of Finance and the designated GCF National Designated Authority (NDA) gave an inspiring yet cautious closing address.

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Sea Level rises faster than projected

US scientists raise bar for sea level by 2100

wilkins ice shelf collapse

Wilkins Ice shelf Collapse - Antarctica - British Antarctic Survey

22 APRIL 2017

The report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) set the "extreme" scenario of global average sea level rise by 2100 to 8.2 feet (2.5 meters), up half a meter from the last estimate issued in 2012.
"We raised the upper limit of our scenarios," lead author William Sweet told AFP.
"It is possible. It has a very low probability. But we can't discount it entirely."
The figures are among the highest ever issued by the US government, and take into account new scientific studies on the disappearing ice cover in Greenland and Antarctica.
"Recent (scientific) results regarding Antarctic ice sheet instability indicate that such outcomes may be more likely than previously thought," said the report, released on January 19.
It also revised the lower end of the anticipated range, saying nearly one foot (0.3 meters) is expected by 2100, up from four inches (0.1 meters) previously.

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President Christian joins world leaders to push forward with climate action at COP22

FSM Public Information Office - DEC 2016
Unfazed by the challenges of the multilateral negotiations, FSM President Peter M. Christian called on the world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco to maintain the momentum by “fighting the battles and climbing the mountains” to overcome such challenges in the continuing war to “save the planet and her people”. In the presence of His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco, President Christian highlighted recent successes initiated and co-sponsored by FSM and Morocco which included the phase-down and phase-outs of HFCs in the Kigali Treaty which would result in the reduction of .5 (half a percent) degrees of global warming and the elimination of about 70-80 tons of greenhouse toxic chemical being emitted into our atmosphere. Such successes must be celebrated but also followed by continued work to maintain and accelerate the momentum.
President Christian and a relatively small delegation attended the COP 22 from November 7-18, 2016 in Marrakech, Morocco. The President’s delegation joined the rest of the FSM’s technical team headed by Director Andrew Yatilman of the Office of Environment & Emergency Management at the height of the negotiations. Upon arrival President Christian was welcomed with a courtesy meeting with Morocco’s Minister of National Education and Vocational Training Mr. RachidBelmokhtar Benabdellah.
At the High Level Segment of the Conference, President Christian addressed the plenary session of world leaders and joined them in expressing their unwavering commitment to upholding and continuing the progress made thus far in addressing the effects of Climate Change. Mindful of the fact that a new administration will be inaugurated soon in the United States, President Christian euphemistically stated, “Our work in progress must continue even against new odds and speculations that certain recent events in America may not aid our efforts on Climate Change. We must have faith that our cause is too JUST to be waylaid.” The atmosphere in the room was undoubtedly one of solidarity and strength as these sentiments were echoed throughout the plenary session.

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From Paris to Marrakech to the Pacific, an overview of the UN Climate COP22 outcomes

Mr Kosi Latu, Director General, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)

“While the Twenty-second Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP23) may be over, it was straight from one monumental environment event to another with the start of the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13) that followed in Cancun, as well as the eighth Green Climate Fund Board Meeting hosted by Samoa. Finding a moment of calm in this hectic international schedule, there is always a good time to reflect on the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP23 hosted in Marrakech this year from 7 – 18 November, and to understand how some of these outcomes may impact us here in the Pacific region. We won’t paint a story of how climate change is impacting us in the Pacific islands as this is a story that we all know so well. We will, however have a look at what 190+ country parties have agreed to at the international level, which will eventually affect us all in our homes at the national and community level. History was made yet again, with the Paris Agreement legally coming into force just days before the actual COP22 started in Marrakech, Morocco, and for this we must congratulate our Pacific island members who played a pivotal role in helping to make this happen by ensuring they had all ratified the agreement within a one year period.

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Read more: From Paris to Marrakech to the Pacific, an overview of the UN Climate COP22 outcomes

Fiji presidency a breakthrough for Pacific voice on climate change

21 November 2016
Noumea, New Caledonia – Fiji’s successful bid to preside over next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23) is the added muscle needed to trigger more action to combat climate change for small island states, according to the Director-General of the Pacific Community, Dr Colin Tukuitonga.
“This is a tremendous achievement for Fiji who continue to demonstrate strong leadership and commitment on the international stage,” Dr Tukuitonga said.
“On the same note, this is very significant for the entire Pacific region. The Pacific has been staunch in presenting a united voice on climate change and this appointment acknowledges support from the wider global community for the voice of the Pacific.
“It also presents an opportunity to harness more visibility and support for effectively addressing this global challenge, in particular its negative impacts on small island communities everywhere,” Dr Tukuitonga said.
Fiji’s appointment makes it the first Pacific island nation to take on this important role at a COP.
“The Pacific Community will continue to serve and support its Pacific Island members, by utilising its scientific and technical expertise to address and adapt to this ongoing climate change challenge,” Dr Tukuitonga said.
In February, Fiji’s parliament became the first in the world to approve the ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; Fiji’s Peter Thomson is the current President of the United Nations General Assembly and Fiji also will co-organise the SDG14 Ocean Conference in June 2017 at UN headquarters in New York, thus demonstrating the country’s leadership in bringing together the international community on climate change and sustainable development.
COP 23 will be held in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany, which is the headquarters for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

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