Community led climate change resilience in Vanuatu

Photo of Rowan Dixon

Dr Rowan Dixon, Senior Environmental Consultant, WSP Opus, explains how collaboration between business, communities, government and NGOs is delivering positive outcomes and reducing the vulnerability of communities and ecosystems to the effects of climate change.

Many of us know Vanuatu through the cosmopolitan town Port Vila, which is where most hotels, businesses and tourist activities are found. But 130km north is North Efate, with a population of 8,000 people spread across 36 villages, from Mangaliliu to Pang Pang and nearshore islands.

These communities are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, relying on family-run agricultural plots and near shore fishing. They already see the impacts of climate change and expect the health and productivity of their reefs, oceans, forests and agricultural areas to further decline. At the same time, damage to their homes, schools, roads, and tourism services from increased sea-level rise and storm surge is getting worse.

Enter Vanuatu RESCCUE, with its focus on community resilience to climate change by protecting and enhancing the key ecosystems that communities rely on for food and income. The lessons from this pilot will inform and drive future efforts across Vanuatu and the Pacific. Our initial assessments found that coral reefs were highly degraded and fish stocks low, agriculture was impacted by drought and invasive pests, and communities faced frequent water shortages and reduced water quality.

Photo montage of Vanuatu

About the project:
The Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Adaptation to Climate Change (RESCCUE) project is led by WSP Opus in collaboration with Live and Learn Vanuatu, C2O, Development Services, OceansWatch and Landcare Research. Vanuatu RESCCUE is a pilot project and part of a Pacific wide project led by The Pacific Community.

Four years on, positive change is happening. RESCCUE has partnered with communities to support their development and resilience of food and income sources, such as ecotourism, agroforestry and local reef and fisheries management. Crucial to the success of these actions is community empowerment and leadership, with RESCCUE in support. This has seen the strengthening of the community led Tasi Vanua and Nguna Pele environmental networks, which work closely with RESCCUE to lead programmes within their communities across North Efate.

Conservation and resilience efforts need a sustainable source of finance, so in partnership with RESCCUE the communities of North Efate decided to establish the North Efate Conservation Management Trust. The Trust brings together Tasi Vanua and Nguna Pele with local tourism associations and a local NGO, Live and Learn Vanuatu, to collaborate and fund conservation activities of common interest. These efforts are supported by a voluntarily tourism levy collected by tourism association members. The arrangement is mutually beneficial; environmental improvements benefit community food and livelihood resources while improving the quality of visitor experience, growing the tourism market and opportunities for local business.

The project in Vanuatu is vast; covering 50km2 of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrass meadows, lagoons, mangroves and beaches, and 180km2 of terrestrial ecosystems, including forests, with a total population of approximately 8,000 people spread across the 36 villages of North Efate, from Mangaliliu to Pang Pang and nearshore islands.

School in Vanuatu

Another key innovation is the Community Marine Monitoring Toolkit. The Toolkit is championed by local leaders and resource monitors who survey their marine environment and analyse their findings to anticipate declining marine health and identify appropriate adaptive management strategies in response. Part of this response is the existing tradition of tabu or protected marine areas, and their improved monitoring, local management and enforcement.

Onshore, the Shefa Provincial Council and Vaturisu Council of Chiefs are attempting to establish the Efate Land Management Area (ELMA) to protect indigenous forest and the freshwater rivers it supplies to communities. RESCCUE led a rapid biodiversity survey – a Bioblitz – to establish a biodiversity baseline in part of the ELMA. The forest was found to be healthy with high biodiversity but remains vulnerable to cyclones, invasive species and the human activities that are increasingly encroaching. Protection of the ELMA is necessary to secure freshwater supply and healthy communities, and presents an opportunity to expand North Efate’s tourist offering from the reefs and into the forests. This will further contribute to their tourism livelihoods, the income of the Conservation Trust and conservation activities.

Similarly, RESCCUE assisted Tasi Vanua, Nguna Pele and the Government of Vanuatu to develop tools and programmes to raise community awareness of the 2018 single-use plastic ban law. This is a significant step in the international effort to stem the detrimental effects that plastic waste is having on the health of the marine environment and the communities that depend upon it. This work partners broader community waste management and recycling efforts to improve village health and protect their tourism economy and livelihoods.

Illustration for article Rubberised Cycleways

Rubberised Cycleways

Cycleways are big news right now, with many new urban and off-road projects either installed or underway across the country. These cycleways could become even more attractive for users thanks to an innovative pavement material delivered by WSP Opus Research.

Our pavement materials and behavioural sciences teams are in
the final phase of a three-year project to trial an exciting alternative pavement material made from rubberised asphalt made from recycled tyres.

The asphalt is mixed with bitumen that has devulcanised tyre-rubber added to it, resulting in numerous benefits including increased resistance to fatigue and oxidation – factors that traditionally undermine asphalt pavement durability over time.

Each year New Zealand creates five million waste tyres, so finding a way to recycle tyres is a highly sustainable approach and takes care of an abundant waste material that would otherwise languish in landfills.

Finding a way to recycle tyres is a highly sustainable approach and takes care of an abundant waste material that would otherwise languish in landfills.

When the rubber hits the road

Since the rubberised asphalt surface was laid down, our behavioural scientists have been collecting data by way of intercept surveys to capture feedback from the local community. The response so far has been extremely positive.

We’ve also been using an instrumented bike as a quantitative tool to demonstrate that not only is ride quality for the rubberised pavement comparable to that for standard asphalts, it is also far superior to the ride quality experienced on chip seal and gravel alternatives. Our researchers are currently quantifying the levels of chemical compounds that are emitted as gases under manufacturing conditions with assistance from AsureQuality. We’re hoping to confirm that there will be no unintended negative side-effects from using rubber waste in this useful way.

This project was funded by the Ministry for the Environment via the Waste Minimisation Fund and the NZ Transport Agency, with contracting assistance from Fulton Hogan and PCL. The cycleway for the project in Upper Hutt was provided by the Upper Hutt City Council.

See more exciting innovations in our InTouch magazine:

Famous WSP Opus projects Montage

Glocal Pioneers

Thinking global, knowing local

Early in 2018 WSP and Opus joined forces as the New Zealand operation of WSP providing a rare opportunity to tell our compelling story.

Our history dates back to colonial New Zealand, when the Public Works Department was opening up the country’s notoriously difficult terrain through the combination of national road and rail networks. Innovation, future readiness, collaboration and local knowledge has always been at the forefront of what we do.

Together as WSP Opus we bring something unique to the market. Combining 48,000 global experts with 148 years of unrivalled local knowledge. We call this combination of thinking global and knowing local – glocal.

Combining 48,000 global experts with 148 years of unrivalled local knowledge

As Glocal Pioneers we pride ourselves on bringing our clients a richness of local and global expertise, pushing the boundaries and being future ready. Our people are located across the country in the communities that we serve ensuring we are truly invested in the outcomes for New Zealand both for society and environment.

We are now at a defining moment where we can collaborate with leading expertise from around the world on transformational projects that will redefine New Zealand for generations to come.

We are the advisors, engineers, scientists, architects and innovators that with our clients pioneer the infrastructure and environments that matter to Kiwis.