Climate Change

With respect to responding to challenges from climate change, the WCS Fiji program is primarily focused on adaptation and nature based solution to the perceived main climate hazards of tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, coastal erosion, and loss of coral reef habitat from coral bleaching. In order to provide appropriate recommendations to Fijian communities and government on which actions will be most effective to adapt management plans and structures to changing climatic conditions, we have reviewed the current state of knowledge of predicted climate impacts to the Fiji Islands and the South Pacific.

WCS Fiji is therefore focusing on managing for the predicted but uncertain impacts of flooding, drought, severe storms, coastal erosion and coral bleaching through implementation of community-based natural resource management strategies under an ecosystem-based management framework. At the same time, the WCS Fiji is increasing social capacity to adapt to climate fluctuations by strengthening community-based management structures, improving communications networks, and improving collaboration among a range of sectors and partners. 

With respect to improving the resilience of Kubulau's coral reefs to climate-related disturbance, WCS Fiji adapted the reef resilience assessment methodology of Obura and Grimsditch (2009) to the local Fiji context. We are currently using data on a variety of reef indicators to design and reconfigure networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) to maximize future resistance to and resilience from climate disturbance while also spreading costs evenly among resource users. The recommendations for MPA placement will be coupled with recommendations for heightened protection across the entire fisheries management area of species such as grazers and top predators that confer higher resilience to reef communities.

Meanwhile, in order to reduce downstream impacts from climate-related flood disturbance, WCS Fiji and Wetlands International-Oceania (WIO) are closely collaborating to identify thresholds of land conversion beyond which downstream ecosystems are severely compromised. For example, a recent study by WCS Fiji and WIO demonstrated that loss of more than 50% catchment forest cover is associated with significant reductions in in-stream freshwater fish species richness, largely due to increased sedimentation (Jenkins et al. 2010). These effects are largely seasonal, with pronounced negative impacts during the wet season on biodiversity and food provisioning services in degraded catchments that will likely become more severe under predicted future climate scenarios (Jenkins and Jupiter 2011). WCS Fiji is using our science to develop recommendations for improved catchment management, including minimum sizes for riparian forest width, to preserve ecosystem integrity and essential services such as safe water provisioning.

To strengthen social resilience in Fijian land/seascapes, WCS Fiji, CORAL and Seaweb are piloting a new communications tool, the Community Educators Network Training, to help the local resource management committees deliver conservation and management messages to their constituents. Through tailored workshops, the management committee members learn how to draw upon traditional ecological knowledge as well as scientific information to empower them to communicate effectively in the village setting, particularly to target groups who have been previously under-represented in past management planning workshops, such as women and youth. To date, the training has resulted in increased enthusiasm for conservation, increased community organization, and improved awareness of how to mitigate threats to coastal and marine resources.

Finally, in order to assist communities to diversify sources of fuel, food and fiber, WCS is conducting surveys to document historical resource use patterns in response to past climate fluctuations in order to help communities modify behavior to adapt to future climate shifts. In addition, we have adapted the Community Risk Identification Tool-Adaptation and Livelihoods (CRiSTAL) to understand perceived threats from climate hazards and assess their impacts on community resources and local capacity to cope with climate disasters. Through these surveys, WCS Fiji will ensure that management plans developed with communities include appropriate disaster risk reduction activities.