Case study: Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) – Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa (historic)

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“Knowing real-time meteorological parameters and having access to suitable information has given us the opportunity to understand and improve maritime analyses in terms of maritime incidents.”

– Captain Franck Razafindraibe, Director of the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre (NMIFC), Madagascar

Summary

Coastal communities are exposed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related phenomena, such as sea surges, cyclones and flooding, due to climate change. The predictability of such events can be improved with knowledge gained from the acquisition and analysis of satellite-derived data on oceanic and atmospheric variables. However, the skills to perform such analyses and to harness their potential to benefit on-the-ground scenarios and mitigate risks are not widespread.

The C-RISe project has sought to improve this situation by offering training opportunities to coastal management practitioners in southern Africa through courses on how to acquire necessary open-access datasets (hosted by South Africa) and licence-free analytical software. Further training on how to apply such datasets and analytical skills to resolving specific challenges locally was delivered via the choice of 27 real-world cases from coastal settings in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Coverage of C-Rise programme
Coverage of the C-RISe programme. The area within the light blue box gives the overall coverage of the programme, red lines represent ground tracks for Jason-series Earth Observation satellites, and yellow pins are tide gauge locations against which satellite data can be validated.

Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, health and safety at sea, as well as ongoing development and disaster prevention initiatives. Nine of these cases have been identified as having an impact, and findings from this work have been shared regionally, fostering further collaboration with Mauritius.

The challenges encountered during this project have largely pivoted on the age and computational capacity of available hardware in the region, as well as on the diversity of software versions still in use. Upgrading computational capacity to a common useable standard whilst also being limited by slow and intermittent connectivity to the internet – hampering access to data and training materials – has been a significant challenge.

The issue

The coastal populations of Southwest Indian Ocean nations are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In particular, there are climate-sensitive, economically important coastal resources, such as port and aquaculture infrastructures, as well as ecologically important habitats that are exposed to the sea surges associated with evermore frequent and forceful cyclones.

Access to regional data on coastal risk factors (i.e., sea level change and wave and wind extremes) can support plans to protect coastal communities and safeguard economic activity. This information can also contribute to improving industrial and commercial competitiveness in the maritime sector (e.g., by improving maritime navigation security, or by monitoring seawater quality, pollution or toxic algal blooms in relation to coastal fisheries).

Training workshop participants in Madagascar Training workshop participants in Mozambique
Training workshop participants in Madagascar and Mozambique

However, access and use of such data are hampered by limited technical capacity locally, with knock-on effects on the region’s ability to provide support for scientific decision-making regarding strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas and building resilience to coastal hazards.

The development of local capacity to access and use available data alongside other information sources is necessary to ensure a viable long-term service to manage coastal risks, mitigate potential losses and improve self-sufficiency.

The response

The Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) was created – in partnership with Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and South Africa – to facilitate access to satellite-derived data on sea levels, wind speeds and wave heights and to build local capacity for data analysis and application.

The goal was to enable stakeholders to improve socioeconomic resilience to coastal hazards associated with sea level changes such as floods, storm damage, wetland loss, habitat change, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

C-RISe was funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) under the International Partnership Programme, whose aim is to deliver a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to developing countries and economies by identifying space solutions to solve their specific development challenges and so increase their capacity.

C-RISe’s objectives were threefold:

  • Deliver a coastal risk information service, providing satellite-derived information about sea levels, winds and waves to support coastal vulnerability assessment and hazard management efforts.
  • Apply and evaluate the C-RISe service through the application of its products to selected real-world scenarios that address local priorities.
  • Build local capacity to use satellite data to provide scientific decision support for strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas to increase resilience to coastal hazards.

The C-RISe programme ran from 2016 to 2019, although its success generated further interest and additional funding from UKSA during its legacy period (March 2020-March 2021), enabling the acquisition and inclusion of higher resolution spatial data. A bid to expand the extent of the project was not successful; this option continues to be explored.

Partnerships and support

The C-RISe partnership comprised three contributors from the United Kingdom (Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd, the National Oceanography Centre and Bilko Development Ltd) and ten international contributors from southern Africa: the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa; the Mozambique Hydrographic Office; Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique; the Madagascar Meteorological Office; the National Oceanographic Research Centre, Madagascar; the Institute of Fisheries and Marine Science within the University of Toliara, Madagascar; the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre, Madagascar; the University of Mauritius; WWF Madagascar Country Office; and Conservation International.

Support for the partnership came from the UKSA’s International Partnership Programme funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports challenge-led interdisciplinary research while strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange.

Whilst funding for the initial three-year C-RISe programme ended in 2019, programme leaders have continued to investigate a range of potential funding options that centre on opportunities for C-RISe to work with other organisations, initiatives and donors in southern Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. As of April 2021, a joint bid to continue work with partners in Madagascar is awaiting a final decision.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Following five introductory and training workshops using C-RISe data, African coastal and marine scientists selected 27 applications (16 in Madagascar, 9 in Mozambique, 2 in Mauritius) with which to embed the skills they learnt into their organisations for the long term. Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, better understanding of sea state and safety at sea. Specific examples include:

  • Sea state information for improving maritime navigation security and safety for Madagascar
  • Marine protected area management (Nosy Hara and Ambodivahibe) in Madagascar
  • Impact of coastal climate change on mangroves on Madagascar’s west coast
  • Pollution from rare earth metal mining in Madagascar
  • Wave climatology for the Mozambique channel
  • Analysis of regional variability in sea-level change in Mozambique’s coastal seas
  • Effects of climate variability on semi-industrial shrimp catches in Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Results from all 27 cases were shared at regional workshops and conferences in Madagascar, Mauritius and Mozambique, allowing attendees to understand how data can be used whilst also fostering local cross-organisational partnerships. Nine applications have already been identified as having achieved significant impact by enhancing local capabilities, strengthening resilience towards natural hazards and improving management of protected areas, and all of them are available publicly via the C-RISe website.

The impact from these applications has included:

  • Enabling law enforcement in cases of drug trafficking and illegal migration;
  • Improved management of mangroves and reefs;
  • Improved management of Marine Protected Areas, leading to their expansion.

A set of comprehensive training resources has also been made available online, which includes introductory materials, examples of applications for earth observation data, software installation instructions and capacity development tools.

WWF Madagascar Use Case
Results of the WWF Madagascar Use Case to analyse vulnerability of mangrove forest at Ambaro Bay.

Challenges

A major limitation to the implementation of the programme and the pace of work was intermittent and slow internet connectivity. This can severely compromise access to and acquisition of satellite data resources as well as access to the free, open-source analytical software on which the programme depends. Hand-to-hand sharing of datasets via portable disk drives helped overcome this issue, but this temporary solution is not compatible with the long-term sustainability and legacy of the programme. The age and computational capacity of available hardware, as well as the lack of up-to-date software versions, were also limiting.

In-country training was limited to the duration of visits by. implementing partners using training datasets. This did not always allow for in-depth road-testing of acquired skills with real data and adequate support. Necessarily remote and protracted training sessions in 2020, however, allowed participants time to apply their training between sessions while still being supervised.

When governments change, the leadership of key government partner agencies can also change. Building strong relationships with managers at lower levels within partner organisations was vital to re-establishing contacts with leadership following any restructuring.

Key lessons learnt

  • The need for reliable data and the skills with which to use them is well recognised throughout the region, although the breadth of potential for the application of such data is underestimated. The creation of compelling narratives and the connection of earth observation data to clearly defined, policy-relevant questions can only help emphasise the value and benefits of existing data resources as well as promote the acquisition of valuable skills locally to harness those benefits. Showing how C-RISe data can complement data from other sources to resolve policy challenges can enhance their potential for impact.
  • Engaging actors with knowledge of policy issues to ensure maximum impact is also paramount. Policy briefs are being compiled to further engage managers and politicians to expose and promote the range of issues that can be addressed by initiatives such as C-RISe, especially with the availability of data and improved local capacity to use them.
  • Improved connectivity, communication and prolonged skill and information sharing within and between countries in the Southwest Indian Ocean offer significant benefits to the region’s overall prosperity and collective ability to address impending challenges.

Lead contacts

David Cotton, Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd
(SatOC), Project Lead: [email protected]

Amani Becker, National Oceanography Centre, Project Lead: [email protected]

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Commonwealth countries pilot new tool to gauge climate and ocean risks

The Commonwealth Secretariat and US-based Stimson Center have teamed up to pilot a new process to quickly determine climate vulnerability and risks in coastal communities.

This ‘rapid assessment protocol’, developed under the Stimson Center’s Coastal Resilience Vulnerability Index (CORVI) Project, will be trialled in the Commonwealth countries of Barbados, Kiribati and Sri Lanka.

The project is generously supported by the United Kingdom’s Blue Planet Fund through the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA) which the Commonwealth Secretariat recently joined as a member.

It aims to support better decision making and more climate-smart investments by clearly outlining the financial, political, and ecological risks that climate change poses to a small island country or coastal city.

The Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “We are thrilled to be piloting this approach in Commonwealth countries, as it wholly aligns with the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by all 54 member countries to work together to solve global ocean challenges, such as coastal climate risk.

“This new partnership builds on the momentum achieved during discussions at the UN Climate Conference COP26 on ocean and climate action. It will allow the participating countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis to assess and tackle the urgent and long-term vulnerabilities they face, with targeted actions and investments.”

Normally, undertaking a full ocean and climate risk assessment under CORVI would take at least 18 months. However, the rapid assessment process will take place over just three months, providing countries with a first-look risk picture which could then be further elaborated through dedicated projects.

The first phase of the four-month project commenced in December 2021. The three pilot countries will engage with the methodology, receive the rapid assessment results and determine next steps to help their coastal communities advance climate-smart policies and build resilience.

All three pilot countries are leading on ocean action as champion countries under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. Barbados co-leads the action group on marine protected areas (along with Seychelles), Kiribati co-leads the action group on sustainable coastal fisheries (with Maldives), and Sri Lanka champions the action group on mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods.

Case study: The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS)

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 “The Indian monsoon and its vagaries are tightly linked to the changing environmental conditions in the Indian Ocean. Hence high-resolution ocean observations can help improve our monsoon forecasts. In terms of cyclones, forecasting has improved a lot. The India Meteorological Department can now predict the genesis, track and landfall of cyclones with greater accuracy, so that we are able to save many lives, from tens of thousands of casualties in the 1990s to tens of hundreds by 2020.” 

– Roxy Mathew Koll, Co-chair of CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel 

Summary 

The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS), established in 2006, is a network of interdependent and complementary instruments deployed in the Indian Ocean for measuring seawater temperature, salinity, ocean currents, atmospheric humidity and wind. Originally set up to better understand and forecast the onset of the seasonal monsoon, it now serves to enable the modelling of future climate scenarios under climate change and to predict extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and cyclones – at a regional scale. Such predictions can help prepare for and mitigate the worst effects of extreme weather on vulnerable communities across the Indian Ocean and beyond. Continued financial support for maintaining the existing network of instruments and to expand its reach into new areas to improve the system’s prediction ability is necessary and would be enhanced by the establishment of more partnerships in the region as well as political will to allow observational access to the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal states. Training of personnel at a local level to deploy and maintain the instruments, as well as to analyse the measurements, is also addressed by IndOOS. Improved coordination of all activities that utilise the recorded observations, as well as the continuing development of data recording, calibration and management standards, should improve the system’s capacity to inform science and be of use to Indian Ocean communities into the future. 

Illustration of the Indian Ocean Observing System

The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) (from Beal et al., 2019).

The issue 

The Indian Ocean basin is surrounded by 22 countries – home to almost one third of humankind – many of which are vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change. These countries rely heavily on fisheries and rain-dependent agriculture, both tightly linked to the monsoon, which is itself driven by dynamic temperature gradients across the Indian Ocean. Variations in ocean surface temperature have been shown to influence monsoon rains across the basin, flooding in East Africa, droughts and wildfires in Australia and Indonesia, changes in upwelling intensity and even sea level rise. Associated shifts in water oxygenation, salinity and nutrient levels also influence marine productivity and ecosystem stability as a whole. Disruption of ecosystem stability on this scale is predicted to increase the number of undernourished people in the region by 50 per cent by 2030. 

The Indian Ocean’s influence extends beyond its boundaries, redistributing heat across the planet and modulating the climate in the Pacific, North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. 

Regular observations of different ocean attributes over the entire Indian Ocean are the key to informing and improving our understanding of how the climate works and varies over time. Mathematical models that use data from such observations to simulate future climate conditions can be used to forecast the timing and intensity of the monsoon or extreme weather events, which in turn can help mitigate any potential damage to crops and livelihoods. 

The response 

The goal of the Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) is to provide sustained, high quality oceanographic and marine meteorological measurements to support knowledge-based decision-making through improved scientific understanding, weather and climate forecasts and environmental assessments for the benefit of society. Its objectives are to foster agreements and partnerships among Indian Ocean countries and beyond, creating opportunities for them to enhance long-term monitoring and forecasting capacity. 

The framework for IndOOS comprises five observing networks: 

  1. Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA)
  2. Profiling floats (part of the global Argo array)
  3. Surface drifters (Global Drifter Program, GDP)
  4. Repeat temperature lines (eXpendable Bathy Thermograph (XBT) network)
  5. Tide gauges 

Augmenting and cross-calibrating these networks are remotely sensed (via satellite) observations of surface wind, sea level, surface temperature and salinity, rainfall and ocean colour, as well as a coarse network of decadal hydrographic survey lines (The Global Ocean Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Program, GO-SHIP).

Partnerships and support 

IndOOS emerged from discussions among scientists at the First International Conference on the Ocean Observing System for Climate (OceanObs) in 1999, a time of new and advancing observing technologies, such as profiling floats (Argo), satellite missions and surface meteorological buoys. Based on scientific and societal needs, an implementation plan for IndOOS was put together by the Indian Ocean Panel (now the Indian Ocean Regional Panel) in 2006, established under the Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability, and Change (CLIVAR) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission – Global Ocean Observing System (IOC-GOOS) programmes. 

Since its inception, the CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel has provided scientific and technical oversight for implementation of IndOOS and coordinated research on the role of the Indian Ocean in the climate system. Members of the Panel currently include representatives of research institutions from Australia, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Mozambique, Norway, Republic of Korea, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Funding for the development and continuation of IndOOS is the responsibility of the Indian Ocean Resources Forum (IRF), following the business plan devised by the Panel at its inception. The IRF works year-round to facilitate and coordinate the provision of the resources required for the implementation of IndOOS, promoting contributions from international aid and development agencies as well as from institutions in participating countries. The IRF also monitors and critiques the rationale for implementation of IndOOS as articulated by the Panel and other relevant expert bodies. 

A Roadmap to Sustained Observations of the Indian Ocean for 2020-2030

IndOOS-2: A Roadmap to Sustained Observations of the Indian Ocean for 2020-2030 (from Beal et al., 2020).

Results, accomplishments and outcomes 

To date, IndOOS has provided unprecedented measurements of weather, ocean and climate phenomena. These observations have, for instance: 

  • supported the study and forecast of tropical cyclones and marine heatwaves; 
  • improved our understanding of the variables driving tropical seasonal variability and their influence on sub-seasonal variations of the global climate; 
  • mapped equatorial and monsoon circulations and captured variability of the Indonesian throughflow (an ocean current with importance for the global climate); and 
  • revealed year-to-year climate variations in the tropical Indian Ocean and their relationship to tropical Pacific climate variations (i.e., the El Niño Southern Oscillation). 

In addition, approximately 20 capacity development workshops have been held across the region to ensure broad understanding of the social and economic applications and benefits of IndOOS, as well as technological training in the sustainment of these vital meteorological and oceanic observations. 

Examples of capacity development programmes include: 

  • Partnerships for New GEOSS (Global Earth Observing System of Systems) Applications (PANGEA), which has delivered in-country training (e.g., in South Africa and United Republic of Tanzania) on the applications of ocean data (for understanding and predicting regional weather, ocean and climate and their impact on fisheries, coastal zone management, natural disasters, water resource management, human health and others), and fostered partnerships between developed and developing countries (including Comoros, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and the United States) to realise the socioeconomic benefits of ocean observing systems. 
  • Provision – through the Second International Indian Ocean Expedition 2015-2025 (IIOE-2) – of berths on research vessels and opportunities for young and emerging scientists and practitioners from India. 

A review of IndOOS’s performance was completed in 2019, addressing the way societal and scientific priorities and measurement technologies have evolved, especially considering the accelerating pace of climatic and oceanic change. The review has provided a roadmap to sustained observations of the Indian Ocean up to 2030. 

Challenges 

Aside from logistical challenges presented by maintaining unattended equipment at sea (e.g., piracy, vandalism, ship time for servicing), a major challenge of the IndOOS programme has been to gain authorisation from coastal states to extend the observation network into their EEZs. Access to these waters would enable the study of important coastal, shelf and slope systems that are integral to sustaining fisheries and to understanding the entire basin. Installing and testing new observing platforms within EEZs, together with building trust, national capacity and resource sharing across state boundaries, may help address this challenge. 

Ensuring the quality, accuracy and compatibility of data across all ocean observation programmes is an ongoing universal challenge, addressed by the creation of best practices for instrument calibration, data recording, integration, reporting and quality control, as well as regular provision of national and regional training workshops. 

Another significant challenge is the flat or declining levels of national funding for sustained ocean observation networks. Ongoing commitment to IndOOS by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Science Council through their support of the World Climate Research Program is essential. Importantly, improvements and enhancements to the system require increased participation by countries and institutions willing to provide resources. 

Key lessons learnt 

  • Despite the significant efforts invested in IndOOS and the unprecedented amount of information it has generated, with tangible benefits in capacity building and harm prevention, its inherent limitations mean it still falls short of meeting many of society’s demands for climate forecasting and prediction. The relatively low prediction skill of forecasts is a result of a lack of sufficient information, which can only be addressed by more sustained observations. Enhanced vertical (at depth) and temporal resolution of upper-ocean measurements, in addition to those from existing and expanded measurement platforms, would improve the situation. 
  • Increased engagement and partnerships among Indian Ocean countries are needed, fomented by recognition of the national benefits that arise from participating in such international initiatives. Much of the expansion of IndOOS into coastal regions is reliant on increased involvement and cooperation of regional countries and agencies, along with their commitment to building and supporting national capacity and observing best practices, and on data sharing and dissemination. 
  • More ought to be done to connect Indian Ocean countries and institutions with the benefits, principles and tools of IndOOS to encourage engagement, collaboration, resource sharing and capacity development. Enhanced multilateral partnerships – fostered and supported by the Indian Ocean Region Panel, Indian Ocean Global Ocean Observing System and IRF – can help ensure that international resources are optimised, national cases for funding are strengthened, capacity building is conducted in priority areas and data are shared. 

Lead contacts 

Juliet Hermes (South Africa, [email protected]) and Roxy Mathew Koll (India, [email protected]), Co-chairs of CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel, https://www.clivar.org/clivar-panels/indian 

YouTube presentation on IndOOS-2

Supporting documentation: 

Synthesis of the IndOOS-2 Report: Beal, LM, J Vialard, MK Roxy and co-authors (2020) ‘A Roadmap to IndOOS-2: Better Observations of the Rapidly-Warming Indian Ocean’. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 101(11): E1891–E1913, doi:10.1175/ BAMS-D-19-0209.1

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Meet the young climate official championing Fiji’s oceans

A blog by Chimaobi Omeye, Commonwealth Correspondent

This Commonwealth Secretariat blog is the second in a series launched during Youth4Climate and continuing in the lead up to COP26 and beyond, featuring young people from across the Commonwealth who are leading the way on local climate action. View the full blog series.

The blogs are written by fellow youth citizens from the Commonwealth Correspondents network. To be part of this series, contact us.

Kushaal Raj is the Acting Manager for Climate Change and the Ocean Specialist for the Ministry of Economy, Government of Fiji, where he develops ocean policy and provides technical expertise for international negotiations on ocean-related climate challenges.

He is also responsible for updating Fiji’s progress on oceans within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – so is currently immersed in preparations for the global COP26 climate talks which take place next month.

Here, Commonwealth Correspondent Chimaobi Omeye interviews Kushaal Raj during the busy lead up to COP26, about his journey as a Fijian climate official for one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, during the most critical time in history for climate action.

What led you to become a climate change champion?

I started my career as an academic at the University of the South Pacific with a focus on renewable energy, after studying biology and chemistry.

My academic research group discovered the critical links between climate change and the renewable energy sector in Fiji. The University then championed further exploration of this link by developing the first programme in Fiji on Renewable Energy Management.

The passion I developed for climate change began there and took me towards a change in my career pathway. I diversified my knowledge through training and began aspiring to join climate change and oceans advocacy movements.


Kushaal Raj, Acting Manager for Climate Change and the Ocean Specialist for the Ministry of Economy, Government of Fiji

Why and how is Fiji is prone to climate change and ocean disasters?

As a large ocean state and developing Island Nation, Fiji – like the rest of the Pacific – is not immune to climate change.

We are vulnerable not only due to our small economies and inability to secure and adapt to climate-ready infrastructure, but the ‘doubled’ threat we face from multiple climate scenarios: sea level rise, coral bleaching, coastal inundation, intense and frequent cyclones, droughts, and others.

Fiji alone does not have the financial resources nor the technical capacity to address climate challenges, yet it trail-blazes efforts towards ensuring and increasing climate resilience through innovative policy interventions, coupling adaptation and mitigation co-benefits through nature-based solutions and integrated disaster risk reduction systems.

In what ways has Fiji been successful in rising above the challenges?

Fiji has always led through implementation; whether it was on mitigation through our Low Emissions Development Strategy, adaptation through our National Adaptation Plan or more recently on oceans through the National Ocean Policy.

Robust policy requires concise and effective implementation – which is what we are currently doing – through dialogue with mandated ministries and development partners, as well as the public through consultation on progress of actions within the ocean space.

This helps create greater awareness on the threats of natural disasters and what communities can do to assist in mitigating damage.

Climate policies

Apart from those stated, other notable policies include:

  • Fiji’s Five year and 20-year National Development Plan
  • The Third National Communication
  • The Planned Relocation Guidelines
  • The National Climate Change Policy
  • The Displacement Guidelines
  • Fiji’s Updated Nationally Determined Contributions and

Fiji has also complemented the Paris Agreement through its updated Nationally Determined Contribution, through which Fiji reaffirms its:

  • 2030 target under Article 4.11 of the Paris Agreement
  • Commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050
  • Commitment to enact its Climate Change Bill by 2021; and
  • To operationalise its National Adaptation Plan.

The Climate Change Bill, once endorsed, will be the legislative force which will ensure the implementation of numerous climate projects assist in Fiji ambitions to become carbon neutral.

In July 2019, Fiji successfully compiled its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) and presented it at the High-Level Political Forum in New York.

Fiji has learnt from its first progress report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is now undertaking preparatory works for the compilation of its second VNR for presentation in 2022.

Fiji is also working jointly with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in strengthening advocacy, awareness and institutional readiness for the implementation of the SDGs across all sectors.

Ocean action

How does your work influence the attainment of SDG 14: Life Below Water?

Our work consists of collating information and reporting on ocean actions and activities within Fiji to Government, development partners and the international community.

As the oceans unit, our work automatically creates synergies with SDG14: Life Below Water, however our work is holistic and spreads across multiple Ministries, such as Fisheries, Foreign Affairs and Environment, due to the diverse nature of the ocean.

Fiji has already taken steps to expedite work within the area of SDG 14 specifically through the SDG unit of the Climate Change and International Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Economy, which will report on all SDGs and initiate a streamlined and directed approach towards collecting data on SDG 14, among others.

How do you work with communities?

Earlier this year we held a creek clean-up in Nabukalou. This was done in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and numerous civil-society organisations and was the first of many clean-up campaigns and events organised to raise awareness of pollution management, while we continue to improve other means of waste collection to protect the marine space.

The turnout was quite significant for the creek clean-up, particularly from young people – more than 100 people attended from registered community groups, faith-based organisations and the public.

Businesses have also taken initiatives to decrease their plastic pollution, which has been further assisted by the ban on single-use plastic bags in Fiji, which came into force on 1 January 2020.

Challenges

How has Covid-19 and cyclone Ana impacted your work?

I believe the paradigm shift to virtual meetings due to COVID-19 has been the biggest change. Although avoiding the long transits to attend meetings has been a respite, the lack of first-person contact has been a hurdle for many to counter, especially during negotiations and high-level meetings.

We were fortunate that the cyclone did not cause as much damage to the capital city of Suva (our place of business) as it did in the northern areas of Fiji and as a result, much of our work was unaffected. However, there have been numerous challenges posed on our economy and climate aspirations, which is constant with frequent cyclones in Fiji.

An area we are currently lacking in is advocacy, but although our work is updated and regularly reported on the international and global stage, we have only recently started campaigning more widely on climate change issues domestically.

Our hope is to align our work with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

The team is in the process of operationalizing the National Ocean Policy, as although the Policy is robust, its implementation will require multi-stakeholder input.

Similarly, as Fiji was devastated by the recent tropical cyclones Yasa and Ana, a pilot project called the Savusavu Blue Town Model is being developed to assist in rehabilitation in the northern division and as a foundation to improve economic resilience through investment in ecological resilience.

Advice for young people

Climate ambition without climate action is ineffective. Your passion about climate change should not end at advocacy, but if you have the capacity, should also diversify into assisting the community in curbing climate and oceans issues.

This could be done through clean up and community-led programmes, pilot projects on innovative climate solutions and advocacy of these issues within communities – this will also help the drive towards resilience.

Do you believe young people are given opportunities in Fiji and globally?

Youth participation has always been key for climate action in Fiji and the world. Greta Thunberg is an excellent example of how youths can make a difference.

For Fiji, Timoci Naulusala is a similar figure in the context of climate change and international youth leadership, who at the age of 12 gave the opening speech of COP23 in Bonn, Germany. He captivated world leaders on the impacts of climate change and remarked that the ‘blaming and waiting game’ was over and it’s now time for action.

Together for change

national climate youth summit with a focus on climate change was recently organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in partnership with non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Economy, to inform youths on the importance of their roles in society as first responders and advocates for climate action.

They were also consulted on Fiji’s upcoming Climate Change Bill. It is an avenue to renew commitment towards youth-led community activities that address climate change and enable youth to better communicate and network on this issue with government ministries and development partners.

This youth leadership and collaboration is critical in addressing climate change. We must all work together for real change.

This Commonwealth Secretariat blog is the second in a series launched during Youth4Climate and continuing in the lead up to COP26 and beyond, featuring young people from across the Commonwealth who are leading the way on local climate action. View the full blog series.

The blogs are written by fellow youth citizens from the Commonwealth Correspondents network. To be part of this series, contact us

Share this blog series on social media using hashtags #CommonwealthForClimate, #CommonwealthYouth and #BlueCharter.

Case study: Impact Investing for Marine Sanctuary “Arrecifes del Sureste” by Blue Finance, Dominican Republic

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. Share your own case study with us.

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“Quite simply, MPAs [Marine Protected Areas] are one of the best tools we have right now for improving the health of the marine ecosystems. We can’t depend only on governments and grants to pay for marine conservation. We need a new source of financing that will allow for proper management – sustainable financing – and that is our role, to find investment opportunities that will contribute to better marine reserve management.” 

– Nicolas Pascal, Founder and Director of Blue Finance

Summary 

The Marine Sanctuary Arrecifes del Sureste (“the Sanctuary”) in the Dominican Republic provides for the sustainable use of almost 8,000 km2 (800,000 ha) of highly biodiverse marine park, covers 100 km of coastline and supports the livelihoods of approximately 15,000 households. The Sanctuary is one of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Caribbean, consisting of the Eastern, Central and Southern Marine Management Areas. It encompasses vibrant coral reef ecosystems, several major urban centres and two of the country’s primary tourism centres that receive over 4 million visitors annually and consists of fisheries, tourism and conservation areas.

However, protection of the Sanctuary has not been implemented (essentially relegating the Sanctuary to the status of a “paper park”) as the Dominican Republic’s government struggles to deliver and enforce effective protection measures. The problem is not restricted to the Dominican Republic or the Caribbean: inadequate budgets and staffing are problems for many MPAs, making it difficult to meet even basic management needs.



Partners gather to launch the partnership for Marine Sanctuary “Arrecifes del Sureste.”

Blue Finance is a social enterprise that has partnered with the Dominican Republic’s government, communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), investors and entrepreneurs to design a novel co-management framework to enable the conservation of the Sanctuary. The co-management framework is a system of carefully crafted public–private partnership agreements that deliver social, environmental and economic outcomes to benefit all parties.

It is a 10-year renewable agreement that involves the creation of two co-management bodies (NGOs) that are expected to be financially sustainable and to generate their own incomes from a mix of sources such as user fees and innovative tourism models. The approach relies on the concept of innovative management leases for MPAs by co-management bodies that rely on tangible revenue models, leveraged by blended finance, to empower local communities. 

Blue Finance designed the co-management agreement with the government of the Dominican Republic, developed an investable model and the necessary secured blended finance from impact investors and philanthropic sources. Blue Finance is supported by the UN and has forged strong partnerships with impact investors Mirova-Althelia and other partners such as the Paul Allen Foundation.  

The issue 

Establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is still one of the best ways to protect and manage coral reef ecosystems that can benefit coastal and wider communities. MPAs, when well managed, can support and improve ecosystems, thereby enhancing food supply, resulting in incomes for local and indigenous communities from (traditional) fishing, nature-based tourism businesses and protection of shorelines, leading to better resilience to climate change. A 10 per cent conservation target has been set as part of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, with several nations supporting a 30 per cent target by 2030.

Funding for MPAs is often piecemeal, insufficient and short-term, and, without the necessary starting capital and basic social entrepreneur skills, MPAs cannot become financially sustainable on their own and over the long term. Meanwhile, impact investors and donors have communicated a clear need for a pipeline of viable investable projects in marine conservation. 

The Sanctuary Arrecifes del Sureste was created in 2009 but its protection has remained mostly inactive because the government does not have the required financial or human resources to manage the area. The region faces a number of challenges, both ecological and social in nature. Local impacts include degradation as a result of coastal development, tourism activities (especially diving), vessel groundings, anchor damage and fishing (recreational and subsistence). Meanwhile, the area has immense aesthetic value, resulting in a proliferation of coastal development. There is an urgent need for the Sanctuary to start the process of zoning and defining regulations with local stakeholders through a participatory approach. 

The response 

Two non-profit co-management organisations have been established, one each to look after the Eastern and the Southern sections of the Sanctuary. The co-management bodies develop the management plan and zonation of their areas with local stakeholders. They are also responsible for hiring and managing staff and purchasing the required equipment to carry out the activities agreed to by the government. 

The co-management organisations comprise local conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local foundations of the major tourism holdings in the country and other associations.


Location of Marine Sanctuary “Arrecifes del Sureste” in the Dominican Republic

The co-management organisations are guided by an Advisory Committee comprising public and private members. An independent, internationally recognised institution will audit the performance of the co-management groups annually. Implementation will be guided by annual work plans, prepared by each co-management body, reviewed by the Advisory Committee and approved by government.

These activities, with collaboration from existing institutions, include the following: improving the health of marine habitats; monitoring, zonation and enforcement; community engagement and livelihood enhancement; support to tourism activities; and maintenance, management and marketing. 

The Sanctuary is divided into different conservation zones, a No Take Zone and recreation, fishery and transport areas. Each zone has its own regulation framework and management strategies. Currently, the Management and Marine Spatial plan is being developed.  

One of the co-management bodies has arranged major financing for initial capital expenditure (purchase of vessels, buoys, tourism facilities, etc.) through an eight-year loan from the Sustainable Ocean Fund. The Sustainable Ocean Fund is an impact investment fund managed by Althelia-Mirova. It is dedicated to creating, accelerating and executing sustainable fishery, aquaculture and coastal conservation projects globally, while applying best-in-class social and environmental governance. 

Partnerships and support

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Dominican Republic) has spearheaded the co-management project. The co-management company for the Eastern part of the Sanctuary (the Allianza Arrecifes del Este) includes Fundación Grupo Punta Cana (FGPC), Clúster Turístico Altagracia, Asociación de Hoteles Altagracia, Asociación Deacuáticas and Blue Finance Dominicana.

The co-management company for the Southern part of the Sanctuary (the Consorcio Arrecifes del Sur) is formed by Fundación Grupo la Romana, Clúster Turístico Bayahibe, Asociación de Hoteles Bayahibe, Fundación Dominicana des Estudios Marinos (FUNDEMAR) and Blue Finance Dominicana. 

Several NGOs that are part of the co-management organisations played a role in setting up the co-management bodies, as outlined below.

FGPC was integral in drafting the co-management plan for the protected area and getting approval for a co-management agreement. FGPC is an NGO with extensive experience in marine conservation. It has pioneered one of the Caribbean’s largest coral reef restoration projects and created several market-based community development projects, such as Zero Waste, the Dominican Republic’s first and largest corporate recycling programme. FGPC has also successfully implemented several innovative alternative livelihood programmes for local fishers and their families.

FUNDEMAR is another NGO partner that is dedicated to promoting the sustainable use of coastal marine ecosystems and resources through research, education and support for the development of conservation projects. It has a multidisciplinary technical team of biologists, ecologists, social scientists and educators capable of carrying out actions and projects with scientific rigour. 

CODOPESCA (Consejo Dominicano de Pesca y Acuicultura) is the Dominican government agency in charge of regulating, developing, promoting and supervising the management (including research) of fisheries and aquaculture. CODOPESCA establishes policies, strategies, norms, regulations and other instruments related to the use of fishery resources, based on participatory processes that encourage changes in user behaviour, leading to more responsible and sustainable development. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) SPAW-RAC is the Regional Activity Centre implementing the Protocol on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the wider Caribbean region, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea. The SPAW Protocol has a focus on marine and coastal biodiversity, such as sea grass beds, coral reefs, marine species (such as cetaceans and turtles), MPAs, etc.

One of its objectives is to promote and assist in the development and implementation of the guidelines on protected area establishment and management under the SPAW. 

Results, accomplishments and outcomes 

The co-management agreement was signed between the Ministry of Environment (Dominican Republic) and the co-managers of the two co-management bodies (the Allianza and the Consortio) in February 2018. The agreement prescribes which organisation is responsible for the delivery and management of the various social, environmental and economic outcomes. The Marine Spatial Plan under development and in the co-management bodies is in the final stages of preparation for investment. 

The early-stage activities are funded through direct cash and in-kind support from the founder members as well as grants from international institutions. Initial fees collected from users are expected to bring additional funding. The early-stage activities involve planning and strategic work – namely (i) completion of the management plans of the Sanctuary with stakeholders, (ii) design of the business plan of the co-management bodies, (iii) financial arrangements and (iv) legal arrangements.

Blue Finance seeks to upscale the approach used here to other five MPAs by 2021 in developing countries (with a final aim of 20 MPAs by 2030). The five MPAs have relevant works already underway, including late-stage developments in Belize, Cape Verde and Philippines. 

Challenges 

Developing complex co-management strategies for MPAs has taken much longer than initially anticipated, and this has been exacerbated by COVID-19. While the co-management agreement was signed fairly quickly, getting agreement from the co-managers has taken time. NGOs are not accustomed to dealing with financial instruments that require repayment, relying instead on government subventions or grants. Considerable effort is still needed to instil an entrepreneurial mindset among local stakeholders and to educate them in such approaches. 

The investment required for a single MPA is usually much less than the investor’s minimum investment size. Blue Finance had to assemble a portfolio of projects to make MPAs attractive for investors. As this is a new approach, information on financial performance and expected returns from MPAs is limited, resulting in some hesitation by governments and investors. A very thorough financial feasibility assessment was carried out to ensure that adequate revenue would be generated. Key Performance Indicators have yet to be agreed to by both parties. 

Key lessons learnt 

The co-management approach represents a type of public-private partnership, an undertaking known for being complex and time-consuming. However, the co-management approach can be replicated and scaled, making the time and effort invested in the developing the project and negotiating contracts applicable in other situations. 

The experience illustrates the value of using blended finance wisely, such as leveraging public funding (grants or philanthropic) to assist early-stage development. 

Developing and fostering entrepreneurial skills among local communities will remain vital to the success of the Sanctuary. These skills will need to be developed among locals to operate tourist visitor centres and other small tourism businesses to benefit from the conservation of the MPA.

Lead contact 

Director of Blue Finance: Nicolas Pascal: [email protected]

References

  • Avery, H. (2018) “Blue Finance: Why Marine PPPs Could Be a Win-Win-Win”. Euromoney, 5 June. 
  • Gill, D., Mascia, M., Ahmadia, G., Glew, L. et al. (2017) “Capacity Shortfalls Hinder the Performance of Marine Protected Areas Globally”. Nature 543: 665–669.
     

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Mangrove Blue Carbon for Climate Change Mitigation

NAIROBI, Oct 7 2021 (IPS) – Smelly, boggy, and full of bugs, mangroves’ superpowers are well hidden. However, there is rising confidence that mangroves are the silver bullet to combat the effects of climate change.

“Mangrove ecosystems are a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals and can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Dr Sevvandi Jayakody, a senior lecturer at Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

A natural line of defence

Mangrove forests also act as a natural defence against storm surges, including mitigating the effects of cyclones and tsunamis, says Dr Nicholas Hardman‑Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Within this context, he says, Commonwealth countries are working together under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement made by all 54 member states, to actively work together to tackle ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

The Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group consists of 13 countries, including Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom, is championed by Sri Lanka.

Hardman‑Mountford tells IPS that countries exchange knowledge centred on mangrove protection, management, and sustainability within the action group. Shared knowledge includes a wide range of topics, including policy, legislation, and regulatory frameworks.

Leveraging on the protective power of mangroves, Jayakody says that Sri Lanka is actively building its second line of defence. The country’s first line of defence, the reefs, were heavily compromised by the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – one of the worst disasters in modern history, killing nearly 230 000 people across dozens of countries.

Such was the devastation that the government of Sri Lanka estimated losses of over $1 billion in assets and $330 million in potential output.

Worse still, approximately 35 000 people died or went missing. In Sri Lanka alone, property damage included 110 000 houses, of which 70 000 were destroyed. In all, at least 250 000 families lost their means of support.

Combatting the impacts of climate change

Experts say that mangroves have immense capacity to prevent such catastrophes and combat other devastating effects of climate change.

Bolstered by growing scientific evidence, Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation, has made significant strides in building its defence using mangroves.

Dr Rahanna Juman, Acting Director at the Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, tells IPS that in 2014, the government of Trinidad and Tobago commissioned an aerial survey of the country. Using this data, an estimate of carbon in mangrove forests across the country was ascertained.

“This information illustrated how mangrove and other hardwood forests could offset emissions and was incorporated into the Greenhouse Gas inventory of Trinidad and Tobago. Importantly, the survey conclusively demonstrated that mangrove forests store more carbon per hectare than other hardwood forests,” Juman expounds.

In 2020, the Institute of Marine Affairs received funding from the British High Commission to fund a mangrove soil carbon assessment project involving Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Juman indicates that the assessment found that “the amount of carbon in the mangrove soil was many times larger than the amount of carbon above the ground. This is an assessment that could be replicated in other Commonwealth countries because we have developed a low-cost technique of undertaking this important assessment.”

Adding that Mangroves are starting to be incorporated into the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, which means countries could potentially earn money from protecting and restoring mangroves.

Mangrove blue carbon

Meanwhile, Hardman‑Mountford cites various challenges in exploring blue carbon because it is still an evolving area of science and policy.

Sri Lanka understands this challenge all too well. After the Tsunami, Jayakody says that the government launched vast mangrove restoration projects covering over 2 000 hectares in partnership with other agencies.

Due to limited information on mangroves, she tells IPS that a majority of these projects failed. Undeterred and leveraging on scientific research over the years, Sri Lanka is today a success story in restoring and conserving mangrove cover estimated at 19 600 hectares.

Other challenges facing countries keen on mangrove blue carbon include a lack of protection for mangroves because approximately 75 percent of mangrove forests globally remain unprotected and overexploited.

Over the years, Jayakody indicates that mangroves have been at a very high risk of destruction because their power to prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, and provide livelihoods for coastal communities through fisheries was not fully understood.

Hardman‑Mountford agrees, adding that mangrove forests have declined globally with a loss of between 30 to 50 percent over the past 50 years from over-harvesting, pollution, agriculture, aquaculture, and coastal development.

The Commonwealth has a huge role to play in reversing this decline. Overall, there are 47 Commonwealth countries with a coastline.

“Nearly 90 percent of Commonwealth countries with a coast have mangroves, and at least 38 of these countries with mangroves have provided some level of protection to their mangroves. In all, 16 countries have protected about half or more of their mangroves,” he says.

Mangroves
Image credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

This is a challenge that Sri Lanka is successfully overcoming. With an estimated 40 percent of the population in Sri Lanka living along the coastline, Jayakody says that there was an urgent need to protect both livelihoods and coastlines from further degradation.

“In 2015, Sri Lanka established the National Mangrove Expert Committee, and through that, all mangroves were mapped. More so, several new areas were brought under protection, and there have been relentless efforts to improve the communities’ understanding of the importance of mangrove ecosystem,” she says.

Further, Sri Lanka recently validated the Best Practice Guidelines on the Restoration of Mangroves in Sri Lanka and the national mangrove action plan, in line with the mangrove policy adopted in 2020.

Other countries making strides in the right direction include the Australian government’s involvement with blue carbon and especially ongoing efforts to build capacity in blue carbon science, policy and economics through multi-sectoral partnerships.

“To support its efforts in blue carbon advocacy and outreach, the Australian government launched the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) at the UNFCCC CoP in Paris in 2015,” says Ms Heidi Prislan, a Blue Charter Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Australia is also one of the 28 countries that refer specifically to the mitigation benefits of carbon sequestration associated with coastal wetlands in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. In comparison, 59 other countries mention coastal ecosystems as part of their adaptation strategies.

To increase opportunities for blue carbon to participate in the national emissions reduction scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Australian government has supported research into potential mitigation methodologies that could be implemented to generate carbon credits from domestic projects.

Equally important, she says that Commonwealth member countries have collectively made 44 national commitments to protect or restore mangroves.

As the world stares at a catastrophe from the devastating effects of climate change, the massive potential of blue carbon and, more so, mangrove blue carbon to bolster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts can no longer be ignored.

This article was originally published by IPS.

Partnership with Arizona State University will help track climate impact on coral reefs

A new agreement between the Commonwealth Secretariat and Arizona State University (ASU) will leverage cutting-edge coral-mapping technology to protect and restore coral reefs in the Commonwealth.

The partnership aims to support governments in using the Allen Coral Atlas, a powerful web-based tool, to monitor and manage coral reef ecosystems for enhanced ocean policies.

Named for the late Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, the Allen Coral Atlas was conceived and funded by his company, Vulcan Inc., and is now managed by the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

Monitoring ‘coral bleaching’

This year, a ground-breaking new feature was added to the platform, using satellite images to monitor ‘coral bleaching’ – a phenomenon driven mainly by climate change.

Allen Coral Atlas map

Bleaching occurs when extra warm ocean waters cause corals to expel the colourful algae living in their tissues. As the algae also serve as an important food source, extended periods of bleaching will cause corals to starve and die.

Increasingly within the last decade, wide-scale coral bleaching events have been seen across the world, linked to warmer waters and more frequent marine heatwaves.

With 45 percent of the world’s tropical coral reefs located in the Commonwealth, the Allen Coral Atlas could offer vital support to help mitigate these threats caused by climate change and other human pressures.

Welcoming the partnership, Senior Director for Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Paulo Kautoke said:

“Coral reefs act as vital reservoirs of marine life and biodiversity, natural sea defences and a source of life and livelihood for millions of people. This initiative will provide Commonwealth countries with essential geographic data and ecosystem health information to protect and manage their coral reefs in a sustainable manner.

Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups can also facilitate learning and help member countries make the most effective use of this information.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by the 54 member countries to collaborate on solving ocean challenges, implemented through 10 country-driven action groups, each led by a ‘Champion country’.

The Allen Coral Atlas will support the Action Group on Coral Reef Protection and Restoration, championed by Australia, Belize and Mauritius, by providing access to common data sets, shared practices, co-learning opportunities and scientific capacity-building to support marine policy development.

Dr. Greg Asner, Managing Director of the Allen Coral Atlas, and Director of the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science added: “By partnering with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Allen Coral Atlas will reach new countries and communities as a resource to generate and scale coral reef protection and management.

“The true impact will best be achieved as more governments and organizations implement the Atlas tool kit in pursuit of long-term reef sustainability, biodiversity protection, and the preservation of human livelihoods that depend on the world’s coral reefs.”

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “More than half of coral reefs globally have declined since the 1950s. If we continue to burn fossil fuels and drive up ocean temperatures, both ocean life and human well-being will be at risk. Coral mapping tools and technology can help countries monitor the impacts of climate change in the ocean and develop strategies to build resilience in coastal ecosystems.”

The Commonwealth Secretariat will be launching online training modules for coral managers and technicians in member countries to learn how to use the Allen Coral Atlas to map local reefs, study bleaching trends and feed this data into policy and decision-making processes.

The Atlas could also assist other Action Groups focused on mangrove ecosystems, marine protected areas and ocean observations, helping expand the mapping of other aquatic ecosystems and collection of spatial data. Earlier this year it was used to track the impacts of the MV Wakashio oil spill which occurred in Mauritius in August 2020.

This partnership follows on a previous agreement with Vulcan Inc.

How space tech is aiding mangrove conservation in the Commonwealth

Powerful satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth are helping some Commonwealth countries save and restore vital mangrove ecosystems while combatting climate change.

Officials from Trinidad and Tobago and Sri Lanka recently shared how they are using sophisticated earth-imaging technology to gather valuable data on the coverage, health and changes in the features of mangroves along their coastlines and rivers.

The information is critical to stemming the rapid disappearance of mangroves worldwide, with 30 to 50 per cent of these marine ecosystems lost mainly to deforestation over the last 50 years.

The data is also key to understanding mangroves’ capacity to capture and store away carbon from the atmosphere – the main driver of climate change.

Country experiences

Countries shared their experiences during an online event organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat to mark International Mangrove Day on 26 July, which also included insights from Planet, a world leader in satellite imagery technology.

Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka, Hasanthi Dissanayake, highlighted:

“Sri Lanka became a global leader in mangrove restoration and conservation after the devastating impacts of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. We learnt from the experience and have spearheaded the conservation in our country and across the Commonwealth.”

The country has since advanced in strides, championing the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods since 2018, establishing a cross-sectoral Mangrove Taskforce and adopting a national policy on the conservation and sustainable use of mangroves in 2020.

The Director of the Biodiversity Secretariat at the Ministry of Environment, Pathma Abeykoon, also shared how satellite technology is used to track changes to mangrove ecosystems over time, in addition to modelling disasters and mapping vulnerable areas for disaster preparation, management and recovery.

Mitigating climate change

In Trinidad and Tobago, scientists at the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) combined several different layers of data in order to learn how to manage mangroves sustainably, and study its role as a carbon ‘sink’.

“Mangrove forests actually store something like four times more carbon than terrestrial forests,” explained Nikia Gooding, a geospatial research fellow at the country’s Institute of Marine Affairs.

“If we’re able to understand how much carbon is stored and sequestered in these forests, then we can start an argument as to why they should be conserved and protected, because it’s one of the ways for us to mitigate against climate change.”

The IMA has been using a combination of aerial and satellite imagery, the most recent Google Earth imagery, LandSat data produced by American Space Agency (NASA) and other sources to monitor mangrove ecosystems in Trinidad and Tobago over a 25-year period from 1994 to 2019. The findings were published earlier this year.

Data sets from 3-D laser scans and physical measurements of mangroves, soil analysis and carbon testing, are also being used to accurately quantify the carbon stored in mangrove forests, both above and below the ground.

Ms Gooding highlighted the benefits of free online and virtual training modules offered through Commonwealth Blue Charter which trains mangrove technicians and managers on the use of GIS tools to map mangroves and contribute to policy development.

Democratising data

Presenting the vast applications of satellite data, Planet’s Strategic Accounts manager for the EMEA region, Mark Richardson, said: “At Planet, we collect massive amounts of data, every single day. We want to democratise access to our imagery and fundamentally that means ensuring those people who need it the most are able to access those data.”

A frontrunner in the field, Planet uses 180 small satellites to scan and produce images of the Earth every day at a 3-metre resolution, with 21 larger satellites scanning at 50 centimetre resolution. At last, 20 terra bytes of data are downloaded from the satellites every single day.

This data has been used by a wide range of stakeholders, including mangrove researchers focusing on ‘blue carbon’, habitat mapping and protection, and storm impacts.

Adviser and Blue Charter lead at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Jeff Ardron, said: “One of the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter is to bring countries together, along with other action-oriented partners, to share experiences and discuss solutions to common challenges.

“These include new approaches that take advantage of emerging and low-cost technologies to build resilience of local communities.”

The webinar was part of an ongoing series focused innovative solutions and best practices being implemented by the 10 country-led Action Groups of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

About Commonwealth Blue Charter Training opportunities

The Commonwealth Blue Charter during 2020, pivoted from in-country training events to the virtual and self-paced programmes. Since mid-2020 the Commonwealth Blue Charter has trained over 300 government officials and scientists across eight topics, including Mangrove Mapping for Managers and Technicians. These courses are free and aim to help Action Group members gain new skills or enhance existing ones.

Over the coming months further modules will become available, relating to coral reef mapping, blue carbon, blue economy and sustainable coastal fisheries.

To keep up-to-date with online training opportunities and events subscribe to the Commonwealth Blue Charter newsletter.