Preparing for the Worst of Climate Change in Papua New Guinea

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Here in Hong Kong, we know what it means to worry about the future effects of climate change: rising sea levels, more violent storms, and higher temperatures all threaten our very landscape and the way of life we love. But in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, where 50,000 people live, the impacts of climate change are already threatening these islanders’ way of life.

Six of Manus Island Province’s atolls are already underwater, due to sea level rise caused by climate change. Temperatures are rising, and finding climate change. Temperatures are rising, and finding clean water is getting more difficult all the time. As oceans warm, the effects could be devastating on local fish populations, jeopardizing the primary food and livelihood source for many Manusian residents.

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Bringing the Fish Back

Local fish stocks in Manus Island were on the brink of collapse less than a decade ago. In remote Pere village people used to fish with spears made of bamboo, and tribal customs on the island ensured no one species was overfished. But globalization pushed villagers to go beyond traditional fishing practices, and their new fishing methods, including the use of cyanide, led to the village’s fish populations being quickly depleted, leaving enough for no one.

In 2004, a Conservancy scientist, Richard Hamilton, and a Conservancy staffer who grew up in Pere, Manuai Matawai, visited the village to help them figure out how they could restore fish populations to the healthy levels they depended on. By eliminating techniques like use of cyanide and targeting spawning aggregations, as well as implementing self-policed catch limits, off-limits areas, management plans and seasonal closures, the village has largely restored its fish stocks — some communities claim to have ten times as many fish as they used to.

Locals Lead Climate Change Planning

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But with climate change now posing a dangerous threat to the Manus Island’s very existence, the Conservancy has teamed up with AusAID, Australia’s overseas aid program, on the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. Working together with Manusian communities to map out fish stocks and the other natural resources they rely on, we’re helping them plan how to manage their natural resources — and identify alternatives — as climate change alters their homeland and way of life.

According to Trish Kas, Conservancy Program Manager in Manus Province, “This whole process was another really striking example of the good that comes from letting local people take the lead. By facilitating community efforts and helping them to gather traditional knowledge, we can complement their conservation projects with our science and planning expertise, but the impetus for our involvement has to come from them.”