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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Solomon Islands study: how local communities are being impacted by climate change and coastal hazards

Published: 13 December 2019
Fanalei Island
Fanalei Island

Marie Schlenker  a PhD student within the Energy and Climate Change Research Group at the University of Southampton is researching the impact of climate change and coastal hazards on the Solomon Islands. Marie’s project is jointly supervised by Prof. Robert NichollsProf. David Sear and Dr. Ivan Haigh and supported by the Melanesian Mission UK, the Anglican Church of Melanesia and the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute. Marie has just returned from a two months long fieldtrip to the Solomon Islands.

Marie Schlenker’s project about climate change impacts in the Solomon Islands. Her research focuses on the analysis of physical data to gain insights into climate change impacts in the Solomon Islands. She uses satellite images, aerial photographs and beach surveys to understand how shorelines of small islands have changed in the past and how they might evolve in a changing climate. However, Marie also added a significant social science component to her work. During her two-months long fieldtrip to the Solomon Islands, she conducted interviews and participatory workshops with local people to learn more about their perceptions of climate change and its impacts on coastal areas in the country.

Many coastal communities in the Solomon Islands are already experiencing adverse impacts of environmental change, including severe shoreline erosion and increased flooding frequency. The villages of Walande and Fanalei in South Malaita are two examples that show how coastal change might result in community relocations, associated with severe social implications. Low cash income, strong dependence on natural resources and disputes over land ownership have complicated relocation for the communities of Walande and Fanalei. One finding of Marie’s research is that climate change impacts in the Solomon Islands can only be understood within the unique cultural context, encompassing tribal land tenure, traditional customs and the wantok system.

Any kind of support from outside is greatly appreciated by the communities and can go a long way. The Melanesian Mission UK currently supports the development of an environment observatory within the Anglican Church of Melanesia, which will empower local people to create their own scientific evidence of climate change and shoreline erosion, increase environmental knowledge within communities and facilitate the design of effective adaptation strategies.

Marie Schlenker said "If we want to study climate change impacts and adaptation in the Pacific, we need to understand the culture of the people who are being affected by it."

More information about the communities of Fanalei and Walande and the ACoM Environment Observatory can be found in Marie Schlenker’s travel blog.

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