Cyclone Oma left a trail of damage, leaving many homeless in the Nupani Atoll. Homes were washed away by high storm surges submerging the atoll for ten days – killing taro and banana crops. In other parts of Vattu and Pele regions there was also extensive damage to food crops – breadfruit, banana, cassava, pawpaw and vegetables. It will take at least twelve months to recover. Food assistance is needed for six months.
Marie Schlenker from the University of Southampton attended the January 2019 Melanesian Mission UK Trustee Meeting. She shared with the charity news of her PhD Project : The impact of sea-level rise and climate change on Solomon Islands.
My name is Marie Schlenker and I am a postgraduate research student in the Energy and Climate Change research group, within the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Southampton. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geosciences and a Master of Science in Environmental Physics from the University of Bremen, Germany.
During my studies, I developed a strong interest in the impact of climate change on coastal regions. Following my interests, I specialised in climate change and coastal hazards during my study abroad at Oregon State University within the framework of the American Fulbright programme. Furthermore, I obtained a Postgraduate Certificate in Disaster Management and conducted research into coastal hazards as part of internships at the Lower Saxony Water Management, Coastal Defence and Nature Conservation Agency, Norderney, Germany, and the Institute of Coastal Research, Geesthacht, Germany. I have been involved in volunteering for disaster risk reduction and environmental protection and obtained teaching experience during a 5-month placement in a public school in Chile.
In my PhD project, I will investigate the impact of sea-level rise and other climate change impacts on the Solomon Islands. To address this overall aim, my research has three objectives:
- To map and quantify the extent of shoreline and vegetation changes, erosion rates and human development changes along the coastline of the Solomon Islands over a range of timescales (100 years, decadal and annual), using aerial and satellite imagery;
- To assess rates of sea level rise in the South Pacific, and identify specific storm events and conditions which have led to major inundation and coastal erosion events in the past using observational datasets and model hindcast of sea level and waves; and
- To investigate how island communities are being impacted and might respond to climate change in the future.
At the moment, I am conducting a comprehensive literature review on coastal changes and associated impacts in the Solomon Islands and other island states in the South Pacific. After this initial phase, I will address the first and second objective of my PhD, using pre-existing datasets.
The first objective of my PhD will involve an analysis of aerial and satellite imagery to assess shoreline changes on a national scale. Historical aerial photographs will be sourced from the Solomon Islands Government Ministry of Housing, Lands and Survey archives for the period 1947 to 1962, and historic charts will be obtained from the UK Admiralty Office. In addition, high resolution satellite imagery will be sourced for each site for more recent periods, post 2000 (using Google Earth Engine). For the second objective, observational datasets including back barrier/lagoon storm overwash records, water level and wave model hindcast of sea level and waves will be analysed. Rates of sea-level rise and characteristics of larger storm surge and wave events across the Solomon Islands will be examined.
For the third objective of my PhD, fieldwork is essential. I plan to plan to visit local communities in the Solomon Islands and obtain insights on climate change from local knowledge through focus group discussions and interviews with community members. My fieldwork aims are to (a) document how climate change has impacted coastal communities in the Solomon Islands both in the past and presently using oral evidence, and (b) develop a better understanding of how coastal communities are adapting or might adapt to coastal change in the future, including the identification of potential barriers to adaptation. To achieve my fieldwork aims, I would like to collaborate with local contacts of MMUK in the Solomon Islands.
As part of my fieldwork, I plan to collect data on the following indicators of climate change and its impacts: Shoreline recession and growth, flooding frequency and extent, frequency/duration/intensity of storm, king tide and swell events, land subsidence, mangrove health, coral reef health (esp. coral bleaching events), occurrence of saltwater intrusion and water shortages, rise and fall of the groundwater table (e.g. in wells), impacts of storms/flooding on agriculture/infrastructure/health, adaptation strategies (e.g. human shoreline protection, rising houses/infrastructure, landward migration, resettlement of inhabitants to other islands and related issues) and particularly vulnerable/resilient population groups.
Insights from local knowledge will significantly increase our current understanding of climate change and its impacts in the Solomon Islands (and potentially other small island nations) and form a knowledge basis for comprehensive climate change policy and coastal management. Dissemination of the results to a wide audience will raise awareness about climate change impacts in vulnerable island settings and empower the local people to actively participate in the process of climate change adaptation. To actively increase the awareness about climate change in the Solomon Islands, I would be happy to engage in outreach activities in the Solomon Islands, including visits to local schools.
The PhD project is embedded within the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, an internationally recognised centre of excellence focusing on interdisciplinary marine and maritime research, and will be jointly supervised by Prof. Robert Nicholls, Prof. David Sear and Dr. Ivan Haigh (all from the University of Southampton). Robert Nicholls is Professor of Coastal Engineering, focusing on coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change. He has significantly contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and was awarded the Roger Revelle Medal for his contributions to ocean science. David Sear is Professor of Physical Geography, undertaking research into flood risk management, coastal erosion, and tropical cyclone and climate variability in small island states in the western tropical Pacific. Ivan Haigh is an Associate Professor in coastal oceanography at the prestigious National Oceanography Centre, investigating sea-level changes and their impacts on coasts. I will also collaborate with Dr. Adam Bobbette (University of New South Wales) in developing a climate change monitoring system for the Solomon Islands and Dr. Simon Albert (University of Queensland), who has undertaken research into climate change impacts in the Solomon Islands previously.
The MMUK office was saddened to learn on reopening in early January, that the Solomon Islands had suffered from heavy rain over Christmas and new year. An estimated 100,000 people across six of Solomon Islands’ eight provinces had been affected by two weeks of torrential rain and strong winds.
Secretary to the Melanesian Brothers’, Alphonse Garimae reported: “Rain and wind on New Year’s Eve has badly affected the Melanesian Brotherhood Head Quarters. Flooding has damaged again food gardens and other crops, according to reports received from Head Brother. Gardens were swept away by rivers and some bush garden houses were damaged due to fallen trees.”
The Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM) has received numerous requests for assistance with food from various communities throughout Guadalcanal. The ACoM Disaster Committee met last week to look at the situation and coordinate with other relief agencies and the National Disaster Council to respond accordingly. Donations to support this work, can be sent to MMUK, with the reference 2018 SI Flood Appeal.
Community of the Sisters of Melanesia Flooding Report
Date: December 2018 – January 2019
Damage report from the headquarters of The Community of the Sisters of Melanesia in Verana’aso. Sisters, Novices and Staff have been affected, especially their daily food sourced from the root crop gardens. This will probably last for another four to five months whilst they begin to plant their food crops again. A few of the community’s temporary buildings also had their roofs blown off.
The pictures below show the major damage to the CSM food crops, vegetable and staff gardens.
News story and pictures courtesy of Companion Charlton Thegu – 1st January 2019 at Verana’aso
Following ongoing volcanic activity and falling ash from the volcano on the Vanuatu island of Ambae, the government has ordered a complete evacuation and the permanent closure of all institutions. This has made over 9,000 people homeless and also the loss of a Melanesian Brothers’ Household and the Church flagship school St Patricks.
The Rt Revd James Tama, Bishop of Vanuatu and New Caledonia has made this appeal to UK friends.
Please pray for our situation here and the displaced families from Ambae, over 2,000 in Maewo, over 7,000 in Santo and over 2,000 scattered all over the islands in Vanuatu with immediate family members. I have
over 40 families, a total of 110 staying with me at the bishop’s residence. I do sympathize with them and had to organise fundraising for them, since the government is still to respond with immediate needs. We are looking for some plots of land, somewhere suitable for farming and the stronger men will then go there and begin clearing the bush ready for farming. The women will stay back with the children who are attending school. We have partitioned part of the Diocesan office into 3 rooms where the children of over 5 schools from Ambae attend daily from kindy, class 1 – class 6.
My wife and I have started the psychological first aid support with the mothers, gathering them, allowing them to express freely their feelings and the needs for their families, then we decided out of our own pockets provide wool for knitting, printing materials, crochet knitting, sewing materials, and other life-skills to occupy themselves and at least do something that they can sell and earn small money to help their families since the state of emergency is now extended until 26 November. My humble request is if you can share our stories of the difficult situation we are facing at the moment, and for anyone who may wish to support our mothers with little funds to resource their home life-skill training would be very much appreciated.
Many thanks with love and prayers +James Tama
Diocese of Vanuatu and New Caledonia
Many thanks to those individuals, parishes, schools and Companions of the Melanesian Brotherhood who have already sent in donations to support those affected by the volcano. If you would like to make a donation to help Bishop James provide for these displaced families, please send your donations to the charity with the reference Ambae relocation. The charity is planning to transfer another round of donations before Christmas.
In 2019 MMUK hopes to receive the plans for the rebuilding of St Patricks School, and will launch a fundraising campaign to support this large project. You will find details for this, at the time of launch, on our donations page.
Our latest film – ‘Climate Change and the Church’ premiered at the charity’s AGM and Festival Day earlier in the month. Outgoing Trustee Ven Chris Liley caught up with Selwyn College PhD student Adam Bobbette on his return to the UK after a month-long research trip to the Solomon Islands. Adam was inspired to travel to Melanesia, after hearing the Most Revd George Takeli speak at Selwyn College last year, about the devastating effects of climate change across the Pacific.
In the film Adam explains a potential new role for the church in recording climate change using the 2,000 parishes across the province.
Adam says: “We don’t need to send people to the region to tell Melanesians about the changes in their weather patterns and coastal erosion. They are there already noting these changes themselves.
“What the problem is, is that no one is recording and logging these changes. The church can play a role here, gather all this information from their congregations and send it to the Anglican Church of Melanesia’s headquarters. This information can then be used by governments and international bodies to get a better picture of what is going on in the region.”
It is hoped that this project will be adopted by the Anglican Church of Melanesia’s Council of Bishops in November, and booklets for recording this data, designed, printed and distributed early in 2019.
The Melanesian Mission UK is very grateful to Adam and also to Selwyn College, Cambridge for funding Adam’s research project and travel to the region.
If you would like to support this project (the printing and distribution of the booklets, and the collation of data in 2019), please reference your donation to the charity ‘Church Observatory’.
Please pray for this project.
O God of land, sea and sky hear the cry of your people,
for homes and livelihoods destroyed by rising seas and warming earth;
caused by ignorance, apathy and selfish greed.
Inspire all people of goodwill to work for change of hearts and minds,
so that loving respect and valuing all creation may increase awareness of the wonderful gift of the world and its life.
We pray that you will enable us to overcome all that destroys and pollutes and build a world where all life is sacred,
and the earth enriched for all its inhabitants and those yet to be born.
In the name of the one who promised life in all its fullness
through sacrificial love, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Rt Revd William Alaha Pwaisiho, Honorary Assistant Bishop of Chester, and Rector of Gawsworth and North Rode, has called for greater action to tackle climate change at the 29th annual session of the Crans Montana Forum.
Heads of State and Government, ministers, members of parliaments, international organisations and major businesses from more than 100 countries gathered in Brussels, to discuss topics as far ranging as fake news, global warming, globalisation, and maritime and port industry in Africa.
Bishop William, who is a Melanesian national, spoke about climate change and its impact on the environment. The Melanesian islands in the South Pacific have been badly affected by rising sea levels.
Addressing delegates Bishop William said: “Our planet earth is scarred and abused, our air and atmosphere is polluted with poisons and every human being is responsible, sooner or later we will be sorry. Well, it is now more evident where I come from in the South Pacific that small island nations are now suffering as the result of climate change and global warming. It is true today that entire communities have lost their livelihood since the rise of the sea level. Lands to plant food and wells to drink from are no longer useful, the ecology is now suffering.”
Last month the Diocese of Chester marked thirty years of its link with the Anglican Church of Melanesia. The link is thriving in both directions, with several new school partnerships in prospect.
VANISHING WORLDS OF A PACIFIC ISLAND NATION: A CALL TO ACTION
Community leaders from the Pacific Commonwealth nation of the Solomon Islands are joining forces with scientists from the University of Southampton to warn of the impending destruction of entire villages at the hands of sea-level rise and extreme events.
Discussions are now underway involving the University and community leaders from the Solomon Islands and the Melanesian Mission, which has a 150-year history with the people of this 900-island nation, to plan a new research initiative to study the impacts of climate change on the Solomon Islands.
The University of Southampton will host a special seminar on the ‘Lost Islands of the Pacific’ on Monday, 25 September from 2.00pm (Main Lecture Theatre, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton).
The seminar will feature a short film telling the story of Walande Island, shot and produced by Alex Leger (a former producer with BBC Blue Peter), with commentary from Dr Ivan Haigh, Associate Professor in Coastal Oceanography. Walande was once a thriving island village with a population of 1,000 people, it is now virtually uninhabited, following a major storm and coastal flood in 1997.
Following the film, Dr Haigh will lead a discussion on the future of low lying Islands with special guests including Bishop William Pwaisiho and Rev’d Nigel Kelaepa, both of whom were born in the Solomon Islands and have witnessed first hand the impacts of climate change on their island nations.
Joining the discussion will be Professor Robert Nicholls (Engineering in the Environment), expert on the impacts of sea level rise, and Dr Cecilia D’Angelo (Ocean and Earth Science), expert on coral reefs.
Five islands in the Solomon Island chain have already vanished, forcing families to relocate to other, larger islands where they face local, tribal conflict.
Over the last 20 years, there has been an acceleration in the rate of sea-level rise which, along with other climate change impacts such as more intense tropical cyclones, changes to rainfall salt water intrusion and coral decline, will plunge the Solomon Islands into an even deeper crisis.
According to Dr Ivan Haigh, Associate Professor in Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton, “Sea-level rise is one of the most certain consequences of climate change and, along with other climate-related changes, will impact the Solomon Islands, and other Small Island Developing States, harder than almost anywhere on earth.
“When you analyse the current data, and review a number of other factors and events, it’s possible to conclude that the Islands are facing an even greater danger from sea level than previously predicted,” says Dr Haigh. “Sea levels in the South Pacific are currently rising at three times the global average but we are also seeing further changes to storm surges and waves, as a result of variations in weather patterns. The combination of these factors and many others is having a lifechanging impact on several communities across the Solomon Islands.
“For example, Walande Island, off the southeast coast of Malaita – the largest of the Solomon Islands – was once a thriving village with a population of 1,000 people,” he continues. “It is now virtually uninhabited, following a major storm and coastal flood in 1997.
“On Ontong Java, around 4,000 people are currently being forced to abandon their homes to be resettled elsewhere,” Dr Haigh adds. “Here, climate change has seen crops reduce from three to just one per year. It is simply too hot to grow enough food to sustain the population and in the future, it is likely that fresh water supplies will be severely impacted by salt water intrusion.”
Robert Nicholls, a Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton, says: “With the rate of sea level rise projected to increase significantly in coming decades, many low-lying islands will face a losing battle to future extreme storm surge and wave events,” Professor Nicholls explains. “However, determining which specific islands are most vulnerable is difficult because of the vast variations in the topographic size and shape of islands and their surrounding coral reefs and sediment supply.
“Data on these variables is often limited in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere,” he concludes. “A much better understanding of what is happening with the climate and other driving factors is critical if we are to address the implications of sea level rise and flooding and propose appropriate management and adaption options.”
Islanders fear for the future
Walande Ecologist, James Taluasi says: “(Rising sea levels) are threatening the livelihoods of these people. It is threatening the food security of these people and it affects their long terms life in the future. In fifty years’ time, there will be no family. It will disappear.”
Walande Community Leader Frederick Daoburi believes climate change is to blame for the crisis affecting small island nations in the Pacific. “It’s a new thing happening these days,” he contends. “Disasters like this never happened before.”
Walande resident Peter Wate is fearful for his children’s future. “I’m feeling scared about it. Even our children feel scared because it’s beyond our reach; it’s out of our control. We see the sea crawling up the coastal areas and this poses a big problem for our children in the future.”
Bishop William Pwaisiho MBE from the Melanesian Mission but now living in the UK has returned to his homeland a number of times to his beloved islands to witness first hand the devastation caused by rising sea levels. “Look over there, that’s the stumps – all that’s left of the village. Now it’s all under water. It’s tragic what has happened to a beautiful island village in Walande.”
The Most Revd George Takeli, Archbishop of Melanesia, is calling for urgent action to help tackle the crisis unfolding in the Solomon Islands: “I have come to the UK to share the plight of people in the pacific suffering from the impacts of climate change. Many are having to abandon their homes, villages and islands due to increasing sea levels, unpredictable weather patterns and increased air temperature. “Many communities are struggling to adapt to these changes, with limited relocation options, resources or support. As a region with a relatively low carbon footprint, we seem to be paying a heavy price for rest of the world’s over development and wastefulness.”
- Footage of the Solomon Islands by Alex Leger (a former producer with BBC Blue Peter), including interviews with Bishop William Pwaisiho, village resident Susan Fakaia, Walande Community Leader Frederick Daoburi and Walande resident Peter Wate is available on request from the University of Southampton.
- The Melanesian Mission is an Anglican mission agency that provides support to the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM), through Prayer, People and Giving. http://www.mmuk.net/
- Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from New Guinea island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea and eastward to Fiji. The region includes the countries of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
- The University of Southampton drives original thinking, turns knowledge into action and impact, and creates solutions to the world’s challenges. We are among the top one per cent of institutions globally. Our academics are leaders in their fields, forging links with high-profile international businesses and organisations, and inspiring a 24,000-strong community of exceptional students, from over 135 countries worldwide. Through our high-quality education, the University helps students on a journey of discovery to realise their potential and join our global network of over 200,000 alumni. www.southampton.ac.uk
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