BY ALFRED PAGEPITU
The coastal community of Nagoibo on Santa Isabel Province in Solomon Islands is one of the most vulnerable places in the country to the impacts of climate change. It is threatened by rising sea levels and experts say massive mangrove planting could protect their village from the devastating impact of erosion, wave surges and floods.
Until recently, villagers are beginning to see the importance of mangroves and are engaging in mangrove planting initiative.
The mangrove planting initiative by the community comes at a time that many Pacific Island Communities are turning to mangrove reforestation to mitigate some of the effects of sea level rise.
The importance of mangroves to the eco-system was emphasized by University of the South Pacific School (USP) of Marine lecturer, Dr Stuart Kininmonth based in Suva, Fiji, who described mangroves as the interface between the land and marine environment. The School of Marine has been leading mangrove planting initiative in communities around Fiji.
While communities in Fiji have been benefiting from research-based institutions such as USP assisting communities in mangrove planting and rehabilitation initiatives, communities such as Nagoibo are not waiting for government or outside assistance to kick start their defence against the rising tide.
Nagoibo village, on the West Bugotu District of Isabel Province is one of the communities inundated by rising sea levels.
The village is located on the coast, near a low-lying coastal strip of land boarded on the landward side by creeks, swamps and hills.
People depend on nature for survival. But when the ecosystem is in danger, they are the ones who fear their homes being flooded and they worry about the inability to sustain their livelihoods into the future.
Long-time resident of Nagoibo village, 90-year-old Kadesh Kohe said that one of the most visible effects of sea level rise on Isabel is shoreline erosion.
She said their community is experiencing the environmental threats due to sea level rise, which causes more extreme changes that continue to affect their Village.
“Waves and current never stop moving in, it continues to crawl into our village. As waves reach further in our shore, it kills huge trees that hold the ground along the shoreline including coconut trees.
While she has been around for many years, Mrs Kohe predicts that by the next generation they will lose their beautiful village to the sea, if necessary action is not taken.
She mentioned mangrove planting as the only workable solution they can think of to lessen the effects of rising sea-levels.
“We have no option but to plant more mangrove and trees to stand this force of nature,” she said.
Village chief, Charles Eteto also sounded the alarm adding that Nagoibo will not have any future if the current impacts are not challenged.
He said a village-based mangrove planting programme has been worked on the coastline, to help stem the flow of salt water inland.
“I believe mangroves can help lessen the impacts of tropical cyclones and bad weather which are becoming a normal occurrence in the region.
“Once these occurrences happen, there is bound to be infrastructure damage and risk to human lives and as such there is importance that we use mangroves as deterrence to these phenomena’s,” he added.
The importance of mangrove to the eco-system is important, this is a fact amplified by Dr. Stuart Kininmonth Senior lecturer at the University of the South Pacific (USP) School of Marine, who described mangroves as an interface between the land and the marine environment.
He said there is a need to protect the mangrove eco-system around the world.
He stressed that mangrove planting has been very successful, especially in Fiji, partly because it’s a very low-skill so it means you can get young school children to older people to basically plant mangroves and as long as it’s done in the right location, with the right species and the right time, its normally very successful.
“The biggest issue though is it raises awareness on why people should continue with mangrove planting, why the need to maintain and keep them going.,” Dr. Kininmonth added.
He however, added that mangroves are not being spared the effects of climate change as mangroves have inexplicably died for no real apparent reason.
“It seems that most of the problems are to do with temperature which then affects salinity and then it’s about the mangroves dealing with the changing environment and so the increase in temperature means the mangroves then have to do a range of different activities with their leaves which allows them to do respirations and photosynthesis and that allows them to grow or not to grow.
“So, climate change is going to have an impact on mangroves, partly to temperature, partly to rainfall changes and also sea level changes which will be the biggest short-term problems,” Dr Kininmonth added.
In the Solomon Islands, mangroves are managed under customary tenure systems, with resource owners and/or chiefs making decisions with regards to the use and management of the mangrove forests. According to a 2013, World Fish report, the government supports a community-based management approach to mangrove rehabilitation in the country.
Communities such as Nagoibo are looking towards the mangrove to help mitigate some of changing patterns they have seen with the rising tide of late.
“We only need government support in terms of expert advice to help us in our efforts to save our village, Chief Eteto remarked as he looks over the horizon.
* This feature story was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) under its Asia-Pacific Project 2020.