REPICORE | Research in Melanesia – Documentary


(.. .) It feels a little bit strange to be
at the end of a four and a half year journey that had lots of ups and downs. It wasn’t always easy but it was a tremendous experience for me for sure as
a young scientist but I think also for everyone involved in this project. I had
a great team and I’m super happy to have worked with every single one of them. The
students, the PhD students, master students but also the people that we’ve
met along the journey – the collaborators that we worked with and the communities
that welcomed us. Very little is known about the reality of living in the South Pacific. A region that is really vastly affected by climate change (…) It is at the
same time very fragile but also very strong and resilient and I think this
complex story needs to be told more. And I hope that our project and the outcomes
help to put the region and the changes that are going on there in the life of
the people there more on the map and on the consciousness of people. And I’m
really thankful also now that we have the opportunity to go back once again
and discuss with the communities that we’ve worked in but also with
stakeholders and policymakers in the region to make sure that the results are
in the right hands to make a difference. And I’m looking forward to going back. The overarching goals of the REPICORE
project are within the frame in which it is placed: this BMBF program
“Research for sustainability”. So, the context is sustainability research in
global environmental change and in REPICORE in particularly we`re looking at the
South Pacific region which is faced by drastic environmental change at the
moment. So, global climate change that is affecting the reefs in the area but also
societal changes that are sweeping through the region such as integration
into a market economy, cultural changes at the local level and that is kind of
the background of the of the program. We wanted to see how these environmental
and societal changes are affecting reef, coral reef resources in the area – coral
reef ecosystems and the ecological processes within these ecosystems. But
also the social systems, the communities – the coastal communities that are
depending on these coral reef systems and the interactions between these two. We had a Post-doc working on ecology,
we had three PhD students – some of them working on social science aspects and
one on ecolog. We also have master students that we involved in the project
and besides this core team of scientists we had local and
international partners that helped us in carrying out this program. So we had in-country partners from NGOs, from universities and from government
institutions but we also had external academic partners who were either strong
in the particular scientific disciplines that we are including in this project
and/or that had been working in this part of the world for a very long time and thus were really experienced in some of the things that we wanted to
study and some of the challenges that we’re facing here. So, that really helped
us to build a strong project and implemented in a very locally grounded
way if you want. Coral reef ecosystems are currently under huge amount of stress from both local activities, increasing rates of fishing, increasing
local pollution for example, and also from climate change where storms are
increasing in intensity and there’s increasingly elevated sea surface
temperatures. I’m a coral reef ecologist and my role
within the REPICORE project was to look at how human activities influence the
adjacent coral reefs in terms of their state but also in terms of their
resilience. So, resilience means their reefs ability to resist and to recover
from disturbances, for example those associated with climate change. I
looked at both how humans negatively influence reefs through overfishing of
key species and through for example sewage input but I also looked at how
humans have the potential to positively influence reef systems through local
management. And I approached my work from a variety of different angles both from
small-scale underwater surveys and also through using pre-collected data that
spanned the Pacific region which allowed me to ask a variety of different
questions and to approach them from a variety of different scales. One of the
main findings of my work was that benthic cyanobacteria mats are becoming more of
a problem in the Pacific. So, not many people are talking about these mats at
the moment but they are becoming increasingly reported from around the
world. These are basically a mat of bacteria that grow over reefs. They can
grow very quickly over different organisms and they have a multitude of
different effects on the system through stopping coral babies from settling,
through directly killing mature corals and the growth is increasing due to a
variety of different stressors such as sewage input and land-runoff
also from over-exploitation or removal of some key species in the ecosystem,
such as sea cucumbers. And these mats as well as having negative effects on reef
ecosystems can potentially harm or be harmful for human health. Recent studies
have shown that if people ingest fish that have fed on these mats than they
can exhibit sickness it’s quite similar to ciguatera (fish poisening). An analysis of a large pre-collected
data set across the Pacific showed us also that reefs that are exposed to
higher densities of human populations start to react very unpredictably to
climate change related stressors. Whilst we can predict relatively well how reefs
that are less impacted by humans are going to respond to climate change as
human populations and their associated activities increase this predictability
decreases. So, it becomes very challenging for us to predict how reefs close to
humans are going to look in 10, 20, 30 years. Another pertinent finding of my
work is that we can really improve the usefulness of the information being
conveyed by reef surveys by incorporating some additional metrics
into our protocol. Instead of just understanding the state of your
ecosystem – how is it looking right now – you can start to understand: “Is the
ecosystem recovering or is it deteriorating?” by measuring metrics such
as algal turf height. Algal turf they’re these filamentous algae that
basically cover every non-living substrate on a reef. Just by
understanding how much of it is there doesn’t give us so much information but
by understanding the heights of the algal turf canopy you can start to
interpret how successful coral recruitment is going to be. So, how many
baby corals are going to be able to settle and grow. Longer turfs inhibit
this.You can also start to understand how competitive these turfs are against
neighboring corals. The longer the turf height the more competitive it is
and the more mortality of tissue in the neighboring corals it will cause. And
turf hight reflects environmental conditions and also grazing by
herbivorous fish. So, this very simple metric can provide very useful
information for researchers and for managers. While communities on small Pacific islands have a very small impact on climate change and thus can’t
do much about climate change themselves there’s still things that they can do
locally that can improve the ability of the reefs to survive into the future:
managing certain species, restricting fishing at certain times of the year,
reducing sewage input through installing composting toilets, reducing harvesting
of species such as sea cucumbers … These kind of steps can make a significant
difference in the health of reefs and their ability to be resilient in the
face of ongoing climate change Within the REPICORE project I was mainly
responsible for the governance part which means I look at the local level at
community based marine resource management approaches looking at how
communities locally manage their resources, what kind of setups they have
developed, what are the processes to reaching these setups and the rules that
have been established. But I also looked at how these local management approaches
interlink and interconnect to the national level marine governance
framework. So, this is mainly fisheries and environmental legislation that
affects coastal fisheries. Basically, I have two local case study
sites – one in Solomon Islands, here in Western Province in Roviana Lagoon and
one in Fiji on the island of Ovalau. And I spent a couple of weeks in both sites
living with local communities and doing a lot of interviews with villagers. That
is with fishermen, fisherwomen, with young people, people who are involved in
the local management which is often the chiefs or members of the council of
elders and I also conducted focus groups – a sort of small workshop type of
discussions around different topics regarding the local marine management to
get their local perspective and to see also how things have changed over time
and what are currently the main factors or drivers of local marine management. I think one of the main points I would like to highlight is about the role of
women. So, women in most of the coastal communities have really a crucial role
to play when it comes to contributing to household food security and also income. They really actively participate in fishing activities but they are much
less involved in the management of local marine resources. So, there’s sort of a
discrepancy and one of my studies actually showed that involving women
would make the local management even stronger because women – due to the fact
that they have an active role in the fishery – also have a potential ecological
role to play. That means if women do not accept local management rules they
can also contribute to overharvesting. Oftentimes women have different
fishing activities: they fish in different areas than male fishermen, they
collect invertebrates whereas men might rather do spearfishing. So, they have
different fishing gear and different fishing areas and local marine
management plans should definitely also consider these female fishing activities. The second point I would like to
highlight is the Pacific region and then in the Solomon Islands and Fiji it’s
really – in terms of the governance – it’s really a unique situation because you
have sort of the dual governance system. You have these really strong customary
governance systems based on customary fishing rights local communities really
have a lot of autonomy and say on how they manage their resources locally
while at the same time you have the national level with fisheries
legislation, environmental legislation that also affects coastal and marine
areas. So, this is basically a challenge to get these two systems to work
together and to be mutually supportive but if it works well it can really be
also an opportunity because it’s a great trend that local communities have a
long tradition and a lot of knowledge on how to locally manage resources. My name is Akuila Cakacaka and I’m from Fiji.
I’m a social scientist in this project. My interest is on looking at how climate
change and changes in reef resources affects the livelihoods of people and
how will this in turn affect the income sources within communities. And
the first objective of my study was to see what were the main drivers of
reef resource use within these coastal communities. The next one was
characterizing different communities and different households looking at how
vulnerable were they or are they to changes in resources and also climate
change. The third question that I tried to answer was to look at adaptation and
adaptive measures and strengths that these communities have that would enable
them to mitigate and fight climate change and also changes in reef
resources which they rely upon many as a source of livelihood for income and for
food. I believe that this study had evidence, concrete evidence of the
importance of people to understand what is happening in the oceans, the dynamics
of coral reefs and link it to people that rely on them and then having to
understand how this results our governed make this project super
special and I would like to thank Dr. Sebastian Ferse mainly for bringing this doc out and having this project being tested in the region here in the Pacific.
Which I would commend him for that. I think when you’re studying tropical
coastal systems it’s not possible to do so by separating ecology and social
science. You have to understand and study both if you want to make meaningful
science and if you want to really understand the dynamics of these systems. You could separate and focus on individual parts but you’re not
really going to see the big picture . There are very strong interactions
between humans and the ecosystems that they depend on for their livelihoods in
the tropics and tropical coasts. So, these are by nature integrated strongly linked
coupled social ecological systems and that necessitates in studying them that
you’re looking at both the social side and the ecological side. Some of the key outcomes for me of
this project is one that we could show really clearly in many examples, in
several examples the impact that people are having one coral reef ecosystems. And
another key outcome for me is to show what individual species that are
economically important to people important for livelihood and food
security what kind of ecological role they have. So we have key species identified and this is really relevant for management
and can make a real difference, not just the scientific outcome. I hope that the findings that we and
produced with this project are not just good scientific outcomes and findings – we
have our papers and so on – but also that the findings are useful for improved
management and for a more sustainable use of marine resource and ultimately for a
better life of the people in the places where we work.




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