Skip to main content

Understanding how our planet is changing over time and what impact this has on our people, communities and countries is paramount for making informed decisions.  This includes understanding critical issues such as how our coastlines are changing and what this means. In the Pacific understanding, our earth and the changes it is witnessing as a result of storm events or the longer-term impacts of climate change is one of the most existential challenges faced by Pacific Governments, scientific organisations, partners, communities and decision-makers. The Pacific region makes up more than 30 million square kms over our planet. It is home to the healthiest and most diverse part of our great Ocean of which 20% of the world’s combined exclusive economic zones are home to.   Our vast Ocean States may be small inland but are large in resources, richness and culture but understanding and accessing some of its remotest parts can prove challenging.To overcome these challenges caused by our vast geography we can harness the power of satellite remote sensing, through using observational data that allows us to track our frequently changing and dynamic Blue continent. We are already using this type of data to understand the impact of storm events on our coastlines or to direct response support after a large disaster by using drones and satellite images to determine the most affected communities, but this type of science and technology can be used in a far greater and more streamlined manner into the future. This week we announced a strategic needs analysis and The Geoscience, Energy and Maritime (GEM) Division will anchor this work aimed at understanding the realities of how data and science from digital technologies and earth observation is used to inform key climate decisions in the Pacific.To better understand the best way forward to harness this technology for the Pacific region, a detailed needs analysis has been announced today at GEOWeek 2019.  This scientific and technical partnership is being led by SPC’s Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division alongside our Pacific member countries, partners, information users and technical specialists. This needs analysis will lead to a plan of action for a Pacific earth observation platform that will take data and provide analysed, relevant and Pacific-led information that will support more informed decisions into the future. At a fraction of the cost Pacific Island countries and territories will be able to collect, analyse and process a generation of remote sensing data at the same cost as a single scientific marine voyage.  This means better data, better understanding of what this data means and better decisions for the lives and livelihoods of our Pacific people, communities and cultures.{"preview_thumbnail":"/sites/default/files/styles/video_embed_wysiwyg_preview/public/video_thumbnails/wkDCim-eGiY.jpg?itok=lxK5upIV","video_url":"","settings":{"responsive":1,"width":"854","height":"480","autoplay":1},"settings_summary":["Embedded Video (Responsive, autoplaying)."]}

The following was presented to delegates to CRGA 48 in Nouméa end June 2018In the last decade, people of the Pacific experienced a considerable number of damaging natural disasters. These have included tsunamis in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands; cyclones have affected almost every other island. When a disaster strikes, the first concern is for the people most affected; where are they located and how many households and individuals have been impacted; have they lost their shelter; have their food and water sources been damaged. There is therefore a high demand for population data in disaster risk management (DRM) and food security applications.In one of the most recent and most damaging cyclones, TC Winston, that hit Fiji early in 2016, the Statistics for Development Division (SDD) working with the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime (GEM) Division were able to produce a map of the most-affected population just three days after the cyclone struck, see the map.MAP OF CYCLONE WINSTON POTENTIAL IMPACTED POPULATIONMaps like this provide essential information to enable emergency and relief services to focus on those areas with the most affected populations. However, in order to produce such maps for DRM, there needs to be good quality data and updated population datasets.Coastal population data maps are also important for the management of inshore fish resources, and for monitoring the food security situation of these populations. Geographic Information System (GIS) maps that show the populations living in costal buffer zones i.e. those living on the coast or up to 1km inland, those who are within 5km – walking distance – of the coast, and those who are “inland” or more than 5km from the coast. Across the region, approximately 26% of Pacific people live within 1km of coast, 45% within 5km, 54% within 10km; excluding PNG these proportions become 57% within 1km of the coast, 90% within 5km, and 97% within 10km. More information on the coastal mapping project and other innovative projects being undertaken by SDD can be found at use of hand-help GPS to identify and map individual households, supported by Computer Assisted Personal-Interviewing (CAPI) methodologies using tablet computers, have enabled the Statistics for Development Division of the Pacific Community to assist governments in significantly improving the quality and accuracy of their household and population data. The visualisation of this data using GIS mapping is opening a new way for Pacific governments, policy-makers, students and researchers to “see” and understand the great potential for the use of statistics in development.Contact: David Abbott, Manager, Data Analysis and Dissemination, Statistics for Development Division, Pacific Community (SPC), [email protected] 

Brailing of tuna onboard vessel Dolores, 2008. Credit: Siosifa Fukofuka (SPC)Understanding the impact of modern fishing techniques on the tuna fishery is critical to ensure the sustainability of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna fishery – the largest in the world, accounting for 55% of the total tropical tuna catch and providing up to 98% of government revenue for some Pacific Island nations.Multiple agreements have been signed by Pacific Island countries and territories to maintain the sustainability of this important ocean resource. However, the advent of fish aggregating devices (FADs) and their impact on fishing efficiency over the past 20 years has added a largely unknown factor to the management required to maintain the sustainability of this key fishery into the future.Researchers from the Pacific Community’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes have recently published two papers that reveal for the first time the trajectories and potential impact these FADs may have on fisheries and Pacific Island nations. They used a combination of records from captains and scientific observers, FAD tracking data, ocean models and cutting edge simulation methods.“Between 30,000–65,000 FADs are released every year in this region but we have very little understanding of where they end up, how they are being used, and the impact they have on coastal areas and the overall catch of the fishery,” said Dr Lauriane Escalle, a fisheries scientist at SPC.“While we know FADs make fishing more efficient, allowing fishing vessels to use less fuel and reduce fishing effort, there are unanswered questions around potential overfishing, impacts on bycatch species, ghost fishing and reef damage caused by FADs washing up on coral reefs and islands,” she added.Aside from catch data and ocean models, modern FADs themselves played an important role in helping the researchers get their answers.FADs work because ocean going species, such as tuna, tend to aggregate around floating objects. Why they do this is still not fully understood but fishers have long known this fact and have taken advantage of it by releasing bamboo rafts into the ocean – the world’s first FADs. Over time, commercial fishers added old ropes and nets to slow the drift of the FADS through the ocean.Today, FADs are high-tech buoys with solar powered devices that record the position, scan the ocean below to estimate the number of aggregated fish, and transmit this information to vessels via satellite. This technology opened the door to detailed observations of FAD life history while they drift across the Pacific Ocean.Combining this real-world information with catch data and cutting-edge simulations based on ocean models allowed the researchers to examine the dynamics of FAD connectivity and to test various hypotheses explaining the high number of FADs being beached in some areas. This key information could significantly assist in the management of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean tuna fishery and the exclusive economic zones within it.The studies found that:

  • more than 2000 FADs wash up on beaches and coral reefs every year;
  • up to 6000 FADs found on in the WCPO had drifted in from another fishery in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which has different management systems;
  • FADs spent more time in the exclusive economic zones of Tuvalu and Solomon Islands than any other part of the fishery;
  • the highest number of FAD beaching events occurred in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu. This was more the result of ocean currents than where the FADs were deployed, making management of this issue more difficult; and
  • Kiribati, located along the equator, experienced a high number of FADs drifting through their waters, alongside significant levels of beaching, as a result of where fishers deployed FADs.

Results from these studies will help to manage tuna resources effectively, through measures on the number and location of FAD deployments, the use of biodegradable FADs, programmes to recover lost FADs before they reach sensitive areas, and more research on the impact of FADs on tuna and bycatch populations.“Access to this unique regional database of FAD tracking data by fishing companies and managers allowed us to not only validate ocean models, but also to test different deployment hypotheses using millions of virtual FADs,” said Dr Joe Scutt Phillips, another fisheries scientist at SPC.“This method allows us to look back in time and make good estimates of the movement and impact of FADs from before tracking programmes, as well as examine their potential impact on tuna behaviour,” he added.“This collaboration among fishing companies, regional management organisations and researchers has resulted in an extraordinary amount of useful data that will go a long way towards helping Pacific Island nations and fisheries managers maintain the sustainability of this valuable USD 6 billion a year industry. It’s a great example of managers, industry and researchers working together for the benefit of all,” he concluded.Useful links:

La restitution du projet BIOPELAGOS se déroule le 28 et 31 mai 2019 à Wallis et Futuna. Deux séances auront lieu respectivement le 28 mai au Fale de la République et le 31 mai au service des pêches. Ce projet de la CPS, de l’IRD et du CNRS vise à étudier la biodiversité marine du large, qui reste méconnue. Les travaux ont porté sur la chaine alimentaire marine, des premiers maillons (phytoplancton, zooplancton au micronecton) jusqu’aux grands prédateurs du large (thons et oiseaux marins). Plus largement, il s’agit d’identifier les zones les plus productives de l’océan afin de pouvoir émettre des recommandations aux pays concernés par l’étude, la Nouvelle-Calédonie et Wallis et Futuna.

« Tout commence par l’analyse des caractéristiques physiques de l’eau», explique Christophe Menkès, océanographe de l’IRD. En océanographie physique, l’échantillonnage a consisté en la caractérisation de la physique de l’océan (température et salinité de l’eau de mer, en surface et le long d’un profil vertical de 0 à 600m de profondeur), la chimie (étude des sels nutritifs tels que les nitrates et les phosphates en profil vertical 0–600m). Le projet BIOPELAGOS a ainsi permis de mettre en évidence « une situation contrastée entre les zones de Nouvelle-Calédonie et celles de Wallis et Futuna », décrit le chercheur. Bien qu’une seule campagne en mer n’ait pu être menée à Wallis et Futuna en raison de conditions météorologiques difficiles, elle a permis d’établir que la structure physique des eaux au large de ce territoire était moins propice à la vie marine qu’au large de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. D’autres études ciblant les monts sous-marins de Wallis et Futuna sont néanmoins envisagées ultérieurement car ces zones semblent plus favorables à la production primaire, c’est-à-dire la prolifération des organismes constituant les premiers maillons de la chaine alimentaire marine.

Une chaine alimentaire diversifiée

« La chaine alimentaire marine est très vaste, souligne Valérie Allain, spécialiste de la CPS, elle inclut le phytoplancton, le zooplancton et le micronecton ». Ses travaux ont porté plus particulièrement sur les organismes qui composent le micronecton : des poissons, des crustacés et des calamars d’une taille allant de 2 à 20 cm. Pour cela, les scientifiques ont utilisé divers instruments de mesure (échosondeurs, sondes, etc.) et des dispositifs de prélèvement (bouteilles d’eau, filet à zooplancton, chalut à micronecton).

Résultats : pour la Nouvelle-Calédonie, environ 90.000 spécimens ont été collectés au cours des six campagnes océanographiques à bord de l’Alis, navire océanographique de l’IRD, soit près de 290 espèces de micronecton : 172 espèces de poissons, 58 espèces de crustacés et 48 espèces de céphalopodes, principalement des calamars. Pour Wallis et Futuna, une seule campagne n’ayant pu être conduite, l’équipe du projet BIOPELAGOS a collecté 2600 spécimens, qui se répartissent en 50 espèces de poissons, 25 espèces de crustacés et 6 espèces de céphalopodes.

Les oiseaux, grands prédateurs du large

Vaste, désertique et pourtant plein de vie marine : le parc marin de la Mer de Corail, la plus grande aire marine protégée française avec ses 1,3 millions de km², est parcouru par des oiseaux marins dont les zones d’alimentation restent méconnues, alors qu’elles pourraient s’avérer essentielles à protéger pour préserver la biodiversité marine océanique. C’est un des axes de recherche du projet BIOPELAGOS. « Nous avons particulièrement travaillé sur deux espèces : le puffin Fouquet et le pétrel de Tahiti », précise Eric Vidal, écologue de l’IRD. Le puffin Fouquet est une espèce très abondante en Nouvelle-Calédonie où la moitié de la population mondiale vient s’y reproduire. Les travaux ont montré que la distribution de ces oiseaux marins couvre toute la zone économique exclusive de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. A l’inverse, le pétrel de Tahiti fait partie des espèces très rare, très méconnue et menacée. Grâce à des balises GPS posées sur ces oiseaux capturés lors de leur retour au nid, les scientifiques ont pu identifier les zones de nourrissage de ces grands prédateurs océaniques, qui seraient centrées aux alentours des monts sous-marins. Ce résultat coïncide avec ceux d’autres projets comme le projet WHERE, qui a montré également un intérêt de ces monts sous-marins dans les déplacements des baleines à bosse.

Financé dans le cadre du programme BEST 2.0 de l’Union européenne, le projet BIOPELAGOS vise à mieux comprendre la biodiversité océanique pour une meilleure gestion de l’écosystème pélagique de la NouvelleCalédonie et de Wallis et Futuna. Il comporte trois volets : l’acquisition des connaissances ; la formation et l’information et les recommandations pour l’élaboration de politiques publiques.

Contacts : 
Valerie Allain, Chargé de recherche halieutique, CPS : [email protected] ou téléphone : +687 26 20 00
Christophe Menkes, IRD : [email protected] ou téléphone: +687 26 10 00
Eric Vidal, IRD : [email protected] ou téléphone: +687 26 10 00

Pour plus d’information :

Le communiqué de presse conjoint de l'IRD et de la CPS relatif à la restitution du projet Wallalis les 28 et 31 mai 2019 à Wallis et Futuna est disponible au téléchargement en format PDF en suivant ce lien.

(en anglais uniquement)

The four exclusively atoll nations came together in Fiji recently to discuss the fact their homes and cultures are at an increased risk as a result of the global climate crisis. High level representatives from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Maldives recognised in the one-day science session that climate change is disproportionately impacting their Island nations, and threatening the future of their people.

President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Dr. Hilda C. Heine expressed her hopes in a video link in taking a united approach to the challenges of atoll nations, “We face extraordinary and exceptional circumstances as a block of atoll nations to highlight the urgent need for support for atoll adaptation. We should find ways to sustain our dialog and we can identify some concrete ways we can work together and our collective efforts as atoll nations. Kommol tata."

The one-day event was a science and climate change learning session coordinated by the region’s peak scientific agency, The Pacific Community (SPC) on 30 April in Fiji.  During the meeting leaders from the four nations shared common experiences and debated what actions were needed to help them not only overcome the impact of climate change and increased disaster risk on their homes but challenges in continuing to grow sustainable development outcomes for their people.

Atolls are formed from the remains of extinct seamounts or volcanos, which have eroded or subsided partially beneath the water. The land that remains above water is typically low lying and narrow, leaving it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, cyclones and tsunamis. While there are many counties with atolls, there are only four exclusively made up of these geological features.

In the meeting, atoll nation representatives emphasised that climate change represents an exceptional, existential threat to their nations and their people. While debate about how to adapt to future climate change threats takes place across the globe, atoll nations are facing those threats today.

Amjad Abdulla, the Maldives Director General for Ministry of Environment, highlighted how the impact of climate change is forcing his country to make tough decisions,  “Efforts to address the impacts of climate change on land loss, beach erosion, water security, health and fisheries, have been diverting funds away from Government functions. To manage this better, the Maldives Government is currently zoning the entire archipelago where people are going to be settled, because we simply can’t afford to protect all sites.” 

Popular media frequently confuses projected and observed impacts of climate change and sea level rise, leaving the impression that there is some legitimate debate around the reality of the issue. However, in respect to sea level rise what we are seeing today in terms of marine hazards and flooding is absolutely consistent with the sea level rise science of projected impacts, and projections out to 2100 look disastrous for inhabited atoll islands even at the very lowest end of the models. It is an increasingly inconvenient truth that affords atoll nations little time to act.

The need for accelerated adaptation, through national adaption plans was highlighted during the discussions, focusing on some basic agreed principles including; 

  • The natural, inalienable right for atoll people to stay on their islands
  • Resilience as the fundamental focus
  • Recognition of the complex and multidimensional reality
  • Scientific and knowledge-first approach
  • Strengthening capacity to adapt Emphasizing consultation, consensus building
  • Embracing innovation, traditional knowledge
  • Recognizing the place of security, well-being, identity, self-determination, human rights, and survival.

Through the dialogue the atoll nations stressed the need for increased knowledge sharing among atoll nations, the development of downscaling models, and a greater emphasis on published atoll research through the IPCC mechanism and others. The possibility of creating an atoll specific research centre was also explored.

Benjamin Graham, Chief Secretary of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, saw the meeting as an important step for atoll nations to take control of their own density, “We’ve been focusing on saving the world, but in the last couple of years, we have seen the writing on the wall- and it’s a sea wall. The time has come for a Plan B. We’re starting right now, and want to learn as much as we can from our friends in the other atoll countries.”

Following this meeting, leaders of the Coalition of Atoll Nations Against Climate Change (CAN-CC) will be briefed and further opportunities for cooperation will be discussed including participation in the CAN-CC Summit in July, Pacific Islands Forum in August, as well as the upcoming Climate Summit and UN General Assembly meetings.

Session Papers


This meeting was supported by the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division (GEM) at the Pacific Community.  It was coordinated by the atoll nations directly. Donor partners, CROP agencies, international development agencies and academic institutions were in attendance. New Zealand Government supported also funded event logistics. 

Good data is the roadmap to good policy and the Pacific Island Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (PILNA) is a perfect example of how an investment in data can lead to meaningful change for the Pacific. PILNA was developed by SPC’s Educational Quality & Assessment Programme (EQAP) to provide a snapshot of how Pacific youth are faring in the skills essential to progress through school and life - reading, writing, numbers, operations, measurements and data.

The 2018 assessment is the third to be conducted since 2012, and covers Year 4 and Year 6 students from across 15 Pacific Island countries. PILNA is more than just a report card. With each iteration, we are better able to create a picture of our region’s educational strengths and weaknesses. Each report contains a wealth of invaluable data, which is carefully analysed by educators across the Pacific.

Click here to read more