03.09.2014 - Natural Sciences Sector

Addressing ocean threats for resilient island communitites

© Atoll Ecosystem Project/Ministry of Housing & Environment(Baa Atoll), Maldives

Small Island Developping States are in fact primarily ocean-based economies and societies, as they are custodians of vast ocean spaces that are essential for providing communities with food, employment, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, or cultural diversity. They are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise, or extreme events such as Tsunami and storm surges. In the last decade or so, the scientific community has also increased our understanding on the present and future impacts of Ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and the resource base that communities rely on for their livelihoods. In order to provide recommendations to the ongoing 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a side event lead by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) focused on Coping with and adapting to ocean threats for resilient SIDS communities.

Building on the work of the Commission and partners, this event focused on how science and observation, the use of early warnings can help SIDS in reducing coastal vulnerability and guide the development of coastal adaptation measures. Common strategies for reducing vulnerability and identifying successful mitigation measures in protecting people while building ecosystem resilience were also discussed.

The discussion was opened by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and Faamoetauloa Lealaiauloto Taito Dr. Faale Tumaalii, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Samoa. A panel of international experts addressed the challenges of coping with and adapting to three types of ocean hazards namely sea-level rise, ocean acidification and tsunamis, faced by SIDS in all ocean basins. Key recommendations were identified for each issue (see below) and will be submitted to the conference.

One such recommendation is to look for synergies on how SIDS address the different type of ocean threats, both in terms of strategy for data and observation and in the formulation of responses in a multi-hazard framework. For example, sea level data is needed to provide inundation models for both coastal adaptation and preparing for tsunamis. Likewise, restoring coastal ecosystems can serve to protect communities and infrastructure from coastal hazards, as they act as natural buffers against the wave effects of tsunami or sea level rise, while potentially strengthening ecosystem resilience to the impacts of ocean acidification.

It was recognized that ocean acidification is a threat to marine ecosystems that SIDS depend on. It is already having an impact on certain species and ecosystems (for example, the mortality of oyster larvae has increased dramatically in some areas of the Pacific) and this threat is sure to escalate in the coming decades. More research is needed to better understand ecosystem response to ocean acidification and improve forecasts. A SIDS-focused and driven ocean acidification network is being developed as part of the existing Global Ocean Acidification Observation Network, following a parallel workshop during the conference.

Global monitoring efforts must be sustained in order to provide the reliable data needed to further research and fuel effective, science-based management. Protecting, recovering and sustaining the ocean’s environment and biodiversity can be accomplished only with a strong knowledge base on the ocean.

Impacts of sea-level rise:

  • Embed climate change and coastal adaptation measures within a green economy and sustainable development framework at national level;
  • Ensure that Coastal Land Use Planning mechanisms are in place, through enforced coastal zone managements plans that imposes conditions on coastal infrastructure - protect life, ecosystems, reduces social vulnerability to sea level-related hazards, maintains recreational space for citizens and visitors – and economic development;
  • Conduct effective coastal protection, whilst promoting the use and preservation of natural buffers (such as fringing reefs, seagrasses, mangroves, sandunes).
  • Improve Information/data collection, analysis, interpretation, application and communication through partnerships, resources and technology transfer for SIDS  aimed  strengthening their ocean and coastal monitoring, and ultimately improving the information base for designing sound adaptation measures (High resolution bathymetry, Marine meteorology, Offshore/nearshore wave climate, Beach profile measurements, Sediment transport mechanisms were identified as specific data gaps).

Ocean acidification:

  • More research is needed to understand global ocean acidification conditions, ecosystem response to ocean acidification and optimize forecasts for ocean acidification and its impacts. This is the main objectives of the Global Ocean Acidification Observation Network.
  • Following a parallel workshop organized during UN SIDS Conference 2014, a new Ocean Acidification networks for Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and AIMS SIDS regions was fostered, which will be SIDS-focused and driven, and will promote capacity building activities and south-south cooperation, as part of the existing Global Ocean Acidification Observation Network.

Tsunami mitigation and preparedness:

  • The Pacific Ocean is still poorly covered in term of seismic observations. There is therefore a need to strengthen the existing observation network, particularly in the South Pacific region.
  • Technical capacity as well as awareness-raising with local communities is essential to increase tsunami preparedness and should be increased in the Pacific region.
  • Communication materials need to developed in local languages and tailored to specific stakeholders keeping in mind cultural traditions of local population.
  • SIDS need to address specific challenges in terms of improved monitoring and response to tsunami events, in particular the establishment of national tsunami warning center operating on 24/7 basis across the region, the development of timely communications to local population, the adoption of tsunami evacuation maps, the undertaking of exercise and drills with local communities so to raise preparedness, and continue to build human capacity – knowledge and skills.
  • Partnerships should be developed with private sector, donors, Technical organizations at regional and international levels, and community based organizations in the areas identified. In this respect, the Partnership on Global Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Systems led by IOC provides an existing and recognized framework to address the specific needs of SIDS.

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