03.09.2014 - UNESCO Office in Apia

IOC event on ocean threats emphasizes stronger systems, networks, and skills

Event speakers (from left to right) Wendy Watson-Wright, Netatua Pelesikoti, Jan Newton, Muliagatele Filomena Nelson, Tommy Moore, Laura Kong and Lorna Inniss © Mikia Weidenbach UNESCO

The Third International SIDS Conference officially began on the 1 September 2014. Among the first day’s many happenings was the “Coping with and adapting to ocean threats for resilient SIDS communities” side event organised by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. The IOC is instrumental in providing ocean science, ocean observatories, ocean data and information exchange, and ocean services such as tsunami early-warning systems.

The side event began with IOC Executive Secretary, Assistant Director General, Wendy Watson-Wright, who introduced the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, for the opening remarks. Mrs Bokova emphasized that the health of the ocean is the health of everyone. She also stressed the need for stronger systems, networks, and skills. These ideas were reiterated throughout the event by the six speakers who presented on the event’s three themes: 1) Sea Level Rise (SLR), 2) Ocean Acidification (OA), and 3) tsunamis.  

The first speaker on SLR was Dr Netatua Pelesikoti, Director of Climate Change Division of SPREP, who demonstrated the importance of data collection and scientific endeavours in improving decision making.  An example provided to illustrate this point included a model of a 100-year tsunami in Apia, and how that informed the best location for constructing the Parliament building. Dr Lorna Inniss, Acting Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit in Barbados, joined in the conversation on SLR. Dr. Inniss explained that SIDS have scarce resources, and that the resources used because to combat SLR detract from investments in health and education. The estimated cost of addressing SLR in Barbados in 2011 has grown to 42 million dollars, a price the country must pay because of the importance of maintaining their beaches for tourism, which represents 70% of their economy.  Like Dr. Pelesikoti, Dr. Inniss demonstrated through examples the use of data and modelling that inform development planning.  

The OA session began with Dr Jan Newton, a Principal Oceanographer at the University of Washington who spoke about the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON).  GOA-ON is a collaborative international approach to documenting, understanding, and forecasting OA in open-ocean, coastal, and estuarine environments.  Pacific Islands Global Ocean Observing System (PI-GOOS) Officer at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Dr Tommy Moore, elaborated on the threats of OA on coral reefs, shellfish, fish behaviour, ecosystem diversity, and the pelagic food web, and how the changes to these systems ultimately affect humans. Dr. Moore’s focus was on the need for building human capacity by educating students and community members about OA.  

The final session focused on the challenges and innovations around tsunami mitigation and preparation. Muliagatele Filomena Nelson, Assistant Chief Executive Officer of Samoa’s Disaster Management Office of MNRE, spoke in detail about the Samoan system for tsunamis. Samoa has gone from one seismic station prior to the 2009 tsunami, to six seismic stations and a national earthquake data centre. Also discussed were the local coping mechanisms or tools necessary in early warning systems, such as the use of church bells in Samoa to achieve the greatest penetration into Samoan villages. The final speaker on tsunamis was Dr Laura Kong, Director of UNESCO/IOC–NOAA International Tsunami Information Center. Dr. Kong gave a global perspective to the issue of tsunamis and different early warning systems, highlighting progress particularly since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Her presentation revealed that 74% of tsunamis occur in the Pacific, a fact that stresses the need to improve data collection and adaptations to tsunamis in this region.  

In the end, Dr. Watson of IOC concluded that “we need to invest in science, which really speaks to the SAMOA Pathway document.” She led the audience and panelists in a discussion about what the main takeaways of the session were. These conclusions include South-South cooperation, investing in building human capacity such as in education, enhancing observation systems, working with existing frameworks, and addressing these ocean threats as a whole, as these are all issues exacerbated by climate change.

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