Pacific EcoAdapt is a 5-year research project coordinated by Griffith University’s Climate Change Response Program in collaboration with Griffith University’s Centre for Coastal ManagementSchool of EnvironmentSchool of EngineeringSchool of Business, and Institute for Tourism.

Our research is focussed on three primary research questions:

1. What constitutes an ecosystem based approach to adaptation in the coastal zone in Pacific island states and territories?

2. In the Pacific context, in what circumstances are ecosystem based approaches an appropriate climate change adaptation intervention in the coastal zone, when are ‘soft engineering’ solutions that work with natural processes needed, and when are conventional capital works necessary?

3. What information and decision support processes are required by stakeholders to evaluate adaptation intervention options?

The aim of the Pacific EcoAdapt Project therefore is to identify appropriate adaptation interventions in the coastal zone in the face of a rapidly changing climate and ongoing capital intensive developments. Coastal adaptations should as much as possible protect ecosystems and biodiversity, and minimise disruption to natural processes for both their intrinsic value and the benefits they provide to the sustainable livelihoods of local communities.

A key objective of our research is to ensure that we produce information that can be helpful to government decision makers and planners, communities, and developers, when considering adaptation interventions in the coastal zones. We will ensure that all relevant and useful data and information generated by the project, such as the ocean circulation and coastal process modelling, are shared with government authorities and, where appropriate, to the Pacific community through national portals and the Pacific Climate Change Portal.

We are taking a multi-disciplinary approach encompassing oceanographic & coastal process modelling, terrestrial and marine ecosystem analysis, micro-economic cost benefit analysis, social science, integrated coastal planning & management, and decision-support.

Multi-scaled hierarchical modelling is being undertaken: a variable resolution ocean circulation model is being calibrated for the entire region complemented by finer scaled case studies where coastal inundation models are calibrated to take into account local conditions including contrasting 2 ocean settings, coastal processes and development pressures. These case studies will be located in (1) the Samoa archipelago with the focal sites to be identified in consultation with government agencies and partners and (2) Vanuatu where focal sites have been identified at Mele Bay and Tanna Island.

Standard engineering intervention for coastal defences focus on hard engineered solutions like sea walls (so called ‘capital work’). These can disrupt natural processes, cause erosion, and destroy and degrade ecosystems. Inappropriate adaptation responses to a rapidly changing climate are becoming a major threat to marine and coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity. Failure to consider ecosystem-based adaptation approaches and the role of natural processes that regulate coastal erosion and accretion can lead to inappropriate capital intensive infrastructure and environmental degradation. Our investigations will help Pacific island territories and states make better use of natural processes and ecosystems as they respond to growing climate-related and other stressors.

Acknowledgments: Pacific EcoAdapt is funded by a generous donation from an anonymous charitable trust.

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