The island way of addressing climate change

The people of Mbuke Island in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea are making progress through adaption and mitigation efforts to address climate change.

The Mbuke islanders have silently suffered the long term effects of climate change, caused by global warming, for over five decades now.

With a population of 420, the people have seen and experienced the effects of climate change since the 70s, affecting their way of life including food security and water supply.

Former WWF marine officer and local environmentalist Selarn Kaluwin highlighted that over the years, the villagers have tried to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

They have experienced coastal destruction, drought, coral bleaching, high sea level, coastal flooding, fish migration and soil erosion.

Kaluwin heads the local Non-Government Organisation (NGO) group the Marine Environment Awareness and Response Team (MEART) that is involved in the adaptation and mitigation programs.

Adaptation programs

In adapting to climate change, the people have built a traditional seawall using stones and dead logs for protection against coastal flooding.

This traditional adaptation method is applied as a protection unit to minimize the impact of king tides experienced by the village.

Recently this year, the community was affected by king tides measuring 1.3 metres.

Kaluwin said that the tide increased by 0.1 metres compared to past events and the sea level reached about 5 to 20 metres inshore however the impact didn’t affect gardens and homes.

He added that they’re looking at coastal rehabilitation adaptation and coastal protection to minimise the impact of sea level rise on the coastlines.

MEART is focused on a coastal rehabilitation project which will include sea wall and tree planting with a proposed funding of K40 000.

“Coastal rehabilitation is part of adaptation to minimize the impact on our coastline and planting trees along the coast is our mitigation effort to help absorb carbon from the atmosphere,” Kaluwin explained.

The villagers are now growing drought resilience crops like yams, taro, cassava and banana to address food security.

This was initiated by community based organization group, Mbuke Island People Association (MIPA) and NARI and sponsored by the PNG Sustainable Development Program.

Ikanau Chalapan and Piwen Polaiap, who grow drought resilience crops, said the women in the village are happy with the crop resilience project.

“The outcome so far is good and we have planted eight different varieties of yams that are drought resilient,” they said.

With fish their staple food, the people have resorted to marine conservation and terrestrial wildlife management to sustainably conserve fish and animals used for protein for the future generation.

The rise in sea level is affecting the drinking water source of rural communities therefore the people have ventured into using water desalination solar powered plants to access fresh drinking water.

The desalination solar powered plant project was launched in Manus in 2016 and installed on five island villages including Mbuke where three desalination plants were installed.

The project, funded by the Japanese Government through the Pacific Environment Community (PEC), aims to ensure islanders have access to a sustainable and reliable water supply system.

One desalination plant produces 120L per hour and 720L of fresh drinking water per day from beach wells.

Kaluwin said, “We are grateful for this innovation as it has helped us a lot in obtaining fresh drinking water which they use for cooking and other use as well. The desalination plants will be very helpful during the El Nino period which is expected to hit in August, as predicted by the PNG National Weather Service.”

He added that their long term plan will be to resettle on another less populated island and they’re already in talks to carry out the relocation exercise.

Mitigation efforts

With PNG a signatory to the Paris Agreement, the Mbuke community is doing its part to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and keeping the global average temperature to well below 2 °C.

The people have planted mangroves to act as buffer zones along the coastline to prevent erosion and also to regenerate the mangrove habitat.

Kaluwin said they’re replanting carol polyps which is an approach of managing coral habitat and creating conservation areas.

MEART has established a surveillance and biological survey on locally managed areas (LMAs) and ‘no take zone’ or marine protected areas (MPAs).

Kaluwin highlighted that in order to implement the project, they will need K15 000 funding.

The surveillance project will provide security and monitoring of management areas and ‘no take zone’.

They have already established four ‘no take zones’ and four LMAs.

The team is now working on signboards for all management areas and removing all drifted logs stuck on all coral reefs and seagrass habitats.

Marine vegetated habitats such as seagrasses, salt-marshes, macro-algae, mangroves and coral reefs contribute 50% of carbon burial in marine sediments.

The community is also putting a lot of effort into mitigation efforts to reduce their carbon footprint by using solar power.

Out of 176 houses on Mbuke Island and nearby islands Pokali and Whal villages, 95 houses use solar panels and kits.

Kaluwin and his team are now working on a solar lighting project as part of their mitigation efforts with a proposed funding cost of K30 000.

“We want all houses to have at least a solar panel or kit in their home,” Kaluwin said.

They also plan to establish a Conservation and Research Centre on the island at a proposed cost of K30 000. The Centre will be for research purpose to create more conservation areas and conduct more research on mitigation efforts.

Funding constraints

The islanders are in dire need of funding to implement all their adaptation and mitigation program initiatives.

“We are looking at local approaches or knowledge in terms of adaptation measures. We have requested for assistance from NGO partners and government agencies for environmental friendly design seawall or coastal protection but are still waiting for a positive response,” he said.

Kaluwin said that due to funding constraints, they were unable to implement most of their projects over the years.

Pictures by Selarn Kaluwin

Quintina Naime