A guest column – The Anglican Church of Melanesia
Island communities in the South Pacific have been identified to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and associated sea-level rise. Evidence of these impacts is already visible across the region. For example, the artificial island of Walande, located off the coast of South Malaita in Solomon Islands, has been submerged by rising sea-levels in recent years and the community has been faced with relocation onto the nearby mainland. Low-lying coastal communities across the country are threatened by similar scenarios. Scientific data is urgently needed to understand the environmental changes that island communities in the Pacific are facing today and in the future.
Photo: Alex Leger, 2016.
The village of Walande, a community with more than 1,000 people, had to relocate to the mainland of South Malaita, when their island was repeatedly affected by flooding events and ongoing coastal erosion.
The Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) Environment Observatory project aims to address this issue by bringing together clergy, scientists and local people to monitor the local environment in Solomon Islands and to encourage caring for creation.
The observatories are based on citizen-led observations using simple, low-cost measurement structures to monitor temperature, rainfall, water levels, and shoreline positions. Observations are documented in manual booklets by “Green Apostles”, dedicated volunteers, who organise the data collection in their local communities. The observatory sites are centrally managed at ACOM headquarters in collaboration with the research team at the University of Southampton and with support from The Melanesian Mission UK.
Photo: Alfred Bale, 2020.
ACOM Environment Observatory project manager, Freda Fataka, says: “The monitoring project Anglican Church of Melanesia Environment Observatory is a home-grown approach which empowers local communities, schools and institutions that are at the forefront of climate change. The initiative creates local knowledge and understanding of climate change locally and encourages people to monitor the environmental changes that the country is currently facing today and the future.”
At present, the monitoring project encompasses four test sites across Solomon Islands: Fanalei and Walande in South Malaita, Red Beach community near the capital Honiara, and Selwyn College, a secondary school in West Guadalcanal. At these sites, data on environmental change has been collected by dedicated volunteers since October 2019. While the project was originally intended as a monitoring initiative with a primary focus on data collection, the evaluation of the project has highlighted a range of benefits for participating communities. “Green Apostles” at the test sites have praised the educational value of the project and the momentum that it has created amongst the communities to care for the environment.
“Green Apostle” Naomi Matani says: “Working on the project has changed me a lot. I feel motivated and interested to observe the local environment and its changes over time. […] I have the heart to advocate for caring for the environment.”
The project team is currently working on a plan for the strategic expansion of the project to more communities in Melanesia, potentially involving the use of modern technologies such as a mobile phone app which can be used to enter and view the environmental data for each observatory site.
To find out more about the project visit: https://acomobservatory.wordpress.com/
To learn more about environmental change in the village of Walande watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2_GzkUne7g