Citizen-science Empowering Locals to Tackle Environmental Change in Solomon Islands

Published: October 12, 2023

The ACoM Environment Observatory is a collaborative environmental monitoring initiative bringing together local knowledge, faith, and science to empower island communities in Solomon Islands to address environmental change. 

The first four observatories were established in Fanalei, Walande, Red Beach and Selwyn College in 2019 and 2020. Local people received training on drivers, impacts and potential adaptation options to environmental change as well as practical skills in data collection. Following the training, volunteers at the monitoring sites started to document changes in temperature, rainfall, water levels and shoreline position as well as occurrences of extreme events using simple and cost-effective methods. The idea was to obtain comprehensive datasets of local environmental change to inform natural resource management and adaptation to climate change and to facilitate environmental awareness and stewardship among the population. 

In 2022, the test phase of project was evaluated by analysing existing datasets and conducting interviews with participants. The evaluation showed that the project had a strong impact in fostering environmental awareness and stewardship for God’s Creation, but that data quality had to be improved for the observatories to become a reliable source of scientific information. Issues with data quality were predominantly caused by irregular schedules and other commitments of volunteers in the villages.  Based on these results, it was envisaged to focus the project on ACoM’s religious orders and schools. 

In May 2023, Freda Fataka, local Project Manager at ACoM headquarters, and Marie Schlenker, MMUK’s Creation Care Officer, visited the four Anglican religious orders in Solomon Islands to discuss their potential involvement in the project. All four religious orders indicated their support for the project and, furthermore, asked for more formal training for their members in Creation Care. Four new observatory stations were set up at Tabalia with the Melanesian Brotherhood, at Veranaaso with the Community of the Sisters of Melanesia, at Hautambu with the Society of Saint Francis, and at the Christian Care Centre with the Sisters of the Church. At these sites, novices of the religious orders are involved in the data collection so they acquire scientific knowledge about environmental change before they go out to their placements on the outer islands. The project team hopes to establish four more monitoring sites with the religious orders on outer islands before the end of the year. 

Principals of ACOM schools have also expressed their interest in establishing monitoring sites and involving students in the data collection, similar to the example at Selwyn College. Discussions on the involvement of schools and integration of the data collection into the school curriculum are currently in progress with ACoM’s Education Secretary, Dr James Memua. 

In addition, the project team hopes to increase its offer of training workshops and outreach materials and to engage a wide group of people with the project. Despite the adjustments to establish monitoring sites at households of religious orders and ACoM’s schools, the project team is committed to continue engaging people in local villages with scientific knowledge on environmental change, for example, through visits of trained members of the religious communities. New outreach materials for formal and informal education are currently co-designed by a team of local and international professionals. 

The project team believes that greater geographical reach and increased offer of trainings, engaging a wide group of people, will significantly increase the impact of the ACoM Environment Observatory Project.