Australia doesn’t ‘get’ the environmental challenges faced by Pacific Islanders



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Environmental threats in the Pacific Islands can be cultural as well as physical.
Christopher Johnson/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Steven Cork, Australian National University and Kate Auty, University of Melbourne

What actions are required to implement nature-based solutions to Oceania’s most pressing sustainability challenges? That’s the question addressed by the recently released Brisbane Declaration on ecosystem services and sustainability in Oceania.

Compiled following a forum earlier this year in Brisbane, featuring researchers, politicians and community leaders, the declaration suggests that Australia can help Pacific Island communities in a much wider range of ways than simply responding to disasters such as tropical cyclones.

Many of the insights offered at the forum were shocking, especially for Australians. Over the past few years, many articles, including several on The Conversation, have highlighted the losses of beaches, villages and whole islands in the region, including in the Solomons, Catarets, Takuu Atoll and Torres Strait, as sea level has risen. But the forum in Brisbane highlighted how little many Australians understand about the implications of these events.

Over the past decade, Australia has experienced a range of extreme weather events, including Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which hit Queensland in the very week that the forum was in progress. People who have been directly affected by these events can understand the deep emotional trauma that accompanies damage to life and property.

At the forum, people from several Pacific nations spoke personally about how the tragedy of sea-level rise is impacting life, culture and nature for Pacific Islanders.

One story, which has become the focus of the play Mama’s Bones, told of the deep emotional suffering that results when islanders are forced to move from the land that holds their ancestors’ remains.

The forum also featured a screening of the film There Once Was an Island, which documents people living on the remote Takuu Atoll as they attempt to deal with the impact of rising seas on their 600-strong island community. Released in 2011, it shows how Pacific Islanders are already struggling with the pressure to relocate, the perils of moving to new homes far away, and the potentially painful fragmentation of families and community that will result.

There Once Was an Island.

Their culture is demonstrably under threat, yet many of the people featured in the film said they receive little government or international help in facing these upheavals. Australia’s foreign aid budgets have since shrunk even further.

As Stella Miria-Robinson, representing the Pacific Islands Council of Queensland, reminded participants at the forum, the losses faced by Pacific Islanders are at least partly due to the emissions-intensive lifestyles enjoyed by people in developed countries.

Australia’s role

What can Australians do to help? Obviously, encouraging informed debate about aid and immigration policies is an important first step. As public policy researchers Susan Nicholls and Leanne Glenny have noted,
in relation to the 2003 Canberra bushfires, Australians understand so-called “hard hat” responses to crises (such as fixing the electricity, phones, water, roads and other infrastructure) much better than “soft hat” responses such as supporting the psychological recovery of those affected.

Similarly, participants in the Brisbane forum noted that Australian aid to Pacific nations is typically tied to hard-hat advice from consultants based in Australia. This means that soft-hat issues – like providing islanders with education and culturally appropriate psychological services – are under-supported.

The Brisbane Declaration calls on governments, aid agencies, academics and international development organisations to do better. Among a series of recommendations aimed at preserving Pacific Island communities and ecosystems, it calls for the agencies to “actively incorporate indigenous and local knowledge” in their plans.

At the heart of the recommendations is the need to establish mechanisms for ongoing conversations among Oceanic nations, to improve not only understanding of each others’ cultures but of people’s relationships with the environment. Key to these conversations is the development of a common language about the social and cultural, as well as economic, meaning of the natural environment to people, and the building of capacity among all nations to engage in productive dialogue (that is, both speaking and listening).

This capacity involves not only training in relevant skills, but also establishing relevant networks, collecting and sharing appropriate information, and acknowledging the importance of indigenous and local knowledge.

Apart from the recognition that Australians have some way to go to put themselves in the shoes of our Pacific neighbours, it is very clear that these neighbours, through the challenges they have already faced, have many valuable insights that can help Australia develop policies, governance arrangements and management approaches in our quest to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


The ConversationThis article was co-written by Simone Maynard, Forum Coordinator and Ecosystem Services Thematic Group Lead, IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management.

Steven Cork, Adjunct Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Kate Auty, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Feral animals are running amok on Australia’s islands – here’s how to stop them


Chris Wilcox, CSIRO and Erin McCreless, University of California, Santa Cruz

Australia has some 8,300 islands, many of them home to threatened species. But humans have introduced rodents and predators such as feral cats and foxes to many of these islands, devastating native wildlife and changing entire island ecosystems. Removing invasive mammals has proven to be a very effective tool for protecting island species.

As a result, the federal government has made it a priority to remove invasive vertebrates from islands where they pose the most severe threats to native plants and animals.

But choosing where to remove those invasives is difficult. We don’t have complete information about the distribution of native species and threats across the nation’s 8,300 islands, and we haven’t been able to predict where eradication will have the most benefit.

However, in a recent study published in Nature Communications, our global team of scientists looked at islands around the world to consider where we can get the biggest bang for our buck.

Eradicating cats, rats and pigs from Flinders Island in Tasmania would help save forty-spotted pardalotes.
Francesco Veronesi, CC BY-SA

It costs money to save species

The total cost of the recently completed rat and rabbit eradication on Macquarie Island was A$27 million. The proposed removal of rats from Lord Howe Island off New South Wales is expected to cost A$9 million.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has just announced funding to remove feral cats from five islands: Christmas Island, Dirk Hartog Island and the French Islands in Western Australia; and Bruny and King Islands in Tasmania.

Conservation dollars are limited, so it is important that these pricey interventions be focused on the islands where they will go the furthest toward conserving native island biodiversity.

Conversely, it is essential that we identify places where they won’t provide much benefit, either because a threatened species is likely to go extinct regardless of such interventions, or because the invasive species actually poses little threat.

It cost A$24 million to eradicate rats and rabbits from Macquarie Island.
Macquarie Island image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Island life

We analysed the effects of invasive mammals on 1,200 globally threatened species across more than 1,000 islands to develop a model for where eradicating invasive wildlife will provide the greatest benefits to island species.

We estimate nearly half of threatened species populations on islands could disappear without conservation efforts. But targeted eradication could prevent 40-75% of these losses.

We found that just a few types of invasive mammals – rats, cats, pigs, mongooses and weasels – are most strongly associated with the disappearance of native species from islands.

Importantly, our study shows that the impacts of invasive mammals vary widely across the type of native species (native amphibians, birds, reptiles or mammals) and the conditions of the islands on which they live.

For example, we found that removing invasive mammals from small, dry islands could halve the extirpation risk for threatened native birds and mammals, but doing so on large, wet islands would have less benefit.

Australia’s most important islands

Our study included thirty-three Australian islands, home to 17 species of globally threatened birds, mammals and amphibians including the woylie (or brush-tailed bettong), Tasmania devils, black-browed albatross and Cooloola sedgefrog.

Eighteen of these islands are also home to introduced rats, cats or pigs, which potentially threaten native species with extinction.

Traditionally, we might assume that eradicating cats and rats would always reduce bird extinctions. However, our study suggests otherwise.

Eradicating cats and rats could help northern quolls on some islands.
Quoll image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Rat or cat eradication may have little benefit on some islands. This is either because these invasive species have relatively minor impacts in some island environments, or because the native population is likely to go extinct regardless of conservation interventions.

So our study shows that of these 18 islands, eradicating invasive species on only two would likely prevent extinction of three native species populations. These are the eradication of cats and rats on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, which would avert the extirpation (that is, the island-level extinction) of the northern quoll and northern hopping mouse; and the eradication of cats, rats and pigs on Flinders Island in Tasmania, which would avert the extirpation of the forty-spotted pardalote.

While this sounds like a tiny number, remember we haven’t looked at all of Australia’s islands and the species that live on them. Indeed, we only included species considered threatened at a global level. For the other islands not included in our study, species threatened with extinction at regional or national scales may – or may not – benefit from eradicating invasive species. As more information comes in on these islands, our analysis can suggest which of these we should focus on.

The Conversation

Chris Wilcox, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO and Erin McCreless, Research scientist, University of California, Santa Cruz

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sea-level rise has claimed five whole islands in the Pacific: first scientific evidence


Simon Albert, The University of Queensland; Alistair Grinham, The University of Queensland; Badin Gibbes, The University of Queensland; Javier Leon, University of the Sunshine Coast, and John Church, CSIRO

Sea-level rise, erosion and coastal flooding are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity from climate change.

Recently at least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea-level rise and coastal erosion, and a further six islands have been severely eroded.

These islands lost to the sea range in size from one to five hectares. They supported dense tropical vegetation that was at least 300 years old. Nuatambu Island, home to 25 families, has lost more than half of its habitable area, with 11 houses washed into the sea since 2011.

This is the first scientific evidence, published in Environmental Research Letters, that confirms the numerous anecdotal accounts from across the Pacific of the dramatic impacts of climate change on coastlines and people.

All that remains of one of the completely eroded islands.
Simon Albert, Author provided

A warning for the world

Previous studies examining the risk of coastal inundation in the Pacific region have found that islands can actually keep pace with sea-level rise and sometimes even expand.

However, these studies have been conducted in areas of the Pacific with rates of sea level rise of 3-5 mm per year – broadly in line with the global average of 3 mm per year.

For the past 20 years, the Solomon Islands have been a hotspot for sea-level rise. Here the sea has risen at almost three times the global average, around 7-10 mm per year since 1993. This higher local rate is partly the result of natural climate variability.

These higher rates are in line with what we can expect across much of the Pacific in the second half of this century as a result of human-induced sea-level rise. Many areas will experience long-term rates of sea-level rise similar to that already experienced in Solomon Islands in all but the very lowest-emission scenarios.

Natural variations and geological movements will be superimposed on these higher rates of global average sea level rise, resulting in periods when local rates of rise will be substantially larger than that recently observed in Solomon Islands. We can therefore see the current conditions in Solomon Islands as an insight into the future impacts of accelerated sea-level rise.

We studied the coastlines of 33 reef islands using aerial and satellite imagery from 1947-2015. This information was integrated with local traditional knowledge, radiocarbon dating of trees, sea-level records, and wave models.

Waves add to damage

Wave energy appears to play an important role in the dramatic coastal erosion observed in Solomon Islands. Islands exposed to higher wave energy in addition to sea-level rise experienced greatly accelerated loss compared with more sheltered islands.

Twelve islands we studied in a low wave energy area of Solomon Islands experienced little noticeable change in shorelines despite being exposed to similar sea-level rise. However, of the 21 islands exposed to higher wave energy, five completely disappeared and a further six islands eroded substantially.

The human story

These rapid changes to shorelines observed in Solomon Islands have led to the relocation of several coastal communities that have inhabited these areas for generations. These are not planned relocations led by governments or supported by international climate funds, but are ad hoc relocations using their own limited resources.

Many homes are close to sea level on the Solomons.
Simon Albert, Author provided

The customary land tenure (native title) system in Solomon Islands has provided a safety net for these displaced communities. In fact, in some cases entire communities have left coastal villages that were established in the early 1900s by missionaries, and retraced their ancestral movements to resettle old inland village sites used by their forefathers.

In other cases, relocations have been more ad hoc, with indivdual families resettling small inland hamlets over which they have customary ownership.

In these cases, communities of 100-200 people have fragmented into handfuls of tiny family hamlets. Sirilo Sutaroti, the 94-year-old chief of the Paurata tribe, recently abandoned his village. “The sea has started to come inland, it forced us to move up to the hilltop and rebuild our village there away from the sea,” he told us.

In addition to these village relocations, Taro, the capital of Choiseul Province, is set to become the first provincial capital in the world to relocate residents and services in response to the impact of sea-level rise.

The global effort

Interactions between sea-level rise, waves, and the large range of responses observed in Solomon Islands – from total island loss to relative stability – shows the importance of integrating local assessments with traditional knowledge when planning for sea-level rise and climate change.

Linking this rich knowledge and inherent resilience in the people with technical assessments and climate funding is critical to guiding adaptation efforts.

Melchior Mataki who chairs the Solomon Islands’ National Disaster Council, said: “This ultimately calls for support from development partners and international financial mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund. This support should include nationally driven scientific studies to inform adaptation planning to address the impacts of climate change in Solomon Islands.”

Last month, the Solomon Islands government joined 11 other small Pacific Island nations in signing the Paris climate agreement in New York. There is a sense of optimism among these nations that this signifies a turning point in global efforts.

However, it remains to be seen how the hundreds of billions of dollars promised through global funding models such as the Green Climate Fund can support those most at need in remote communities, like those in Solomon Islands.

Simon, Alistair and Javier will be on hand for an Author Q&A 2-3pm Monday May 9 2016. Leave your comments below.

The Conversation

Simon Albert, Senior Research Fellow, School of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland; Alistair Grinham, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland; Badin Gibbes, Senior Lecturer, School of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland; Javier Leon, Lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast, and John Church, CSIRO Fellow, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rising Sea Level Threat


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the threat of rising sea levels to islands caused by global warming and climate change.

For more visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0408-edwards-sealevels-extinction.html

Low-lying islands are going to drown, so should we even bother trying to save their ecosystems?


Grist

Islands are hot spots of biodiversity, often home to rich and unique ecosystems. Despite covering just 5 percent of the Earth’s land, the planet’s 180,000-odd islands contain a fifth of its plant and animal species. Around half of recorded extinctions have occurred on islands.

Unfortunately, many islands have been infested in recent centuries with ecosystem-wrecking rats and other invasive species. So scientists the world over have clamored to remove the destructive pests and protect the original inhabitants. More than 900 islands have been cleansed of rats and other animal invaders so far, often through the controversial use of poisoned baits.

But a new paper published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution asks an unsettling question: When it comes to low-lying islands that will eventually be swallowed by sea-level rise, why bother?

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Rats: Disaster for Islands


The link below is to an article that reports on the problem of rats for many islands around the world and the environmental disasters they bring to islands.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/jul/04/rats-islands-wildlife-south-georgia

Pacific Ocean: Climate Change and the Pacific Islands


The link below is to an article that reports on climate change and its impact on islands in the Pacific Ocean.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/07/pacific-islands-global-warming-climate