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.