CORDIO at UNU-INWEH seminar on climate change and water, Ottawa, Canada

Dr. Melita Samoilys, on the Advisory Board of the United Nations University – Institute for Water Environment and Health, was on the expert panel at its Public Seminar on Climate Change & Water held in Ottawa, Canada, on 5th April 2016.



The topic of the panel was WATER: THE NEXUS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT & CLIMATE CHANGE. Other panel members included:
• Dr. Dustin Garrick, Assistant Professor and Philomathia Chair of Water Policy, McMaster University
• Dr. Roberto L. Lenton, Founding Executive Director, Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, University of Nebraska
• Mr. Robert Sandford, EPCOR Chair for Water
and Climate Security at UNU-INWEH
• Ms. Dimple Roy, Director Water, International
Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

The text for Dr. Samoilys speech is below:

Finally we have global acceptance of global warming and climate change exemplified in the agreement at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. It is clear that for industrial developed countries cleaning up at home on greenhouse gas emissions is paramount. But it’s too late to only do that. We need to work at all levels and this means wealthy nations must also support climate change mitigation in developing countries to minimise climate change impacts and to help the poor and vulnerable.

I’m going to talk about the Oceans, the other big water issue (70% of the globe) captured in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, and I’m going to give you perspectives from Eastern Africa where I come from.

Africa as a continent represents some of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, because it has the highest poverty levels and people with some of the highest levels of dependence on natural resources for food and income. These people are therefore the most vulnerable and least able to adapt to climate change.

I’m from Kenya but I work in the western Indian Ocean (WIO), a marine region that laps against the coastlines of 10 countries, ranging from Madagascar to Somalia. The coastal ecosystems of this region are as vulnerable as any other equatorial marine system to climate change and they have already and continue to show impacts from climate change.

Corals are the canary in the coal mine for climate change – they are highly sensitive to rise in temperature of the sea water. If the water gets too hot the microscopic algae that live in their tissues leave, the corals lose their colour and if this lasts longer than ~3 weeks they die. I’m sure you will have all been watching what is unfolding on the Great Barrier Reef right now – massive coral mortality on a scale that has never been seen before.

Prior to 2016 we have experienced 3 major coral bleaching events – in 1984, 1998 and 2010 linked to the El Niño weather patterns across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The 1998 El Niño was the first big warning bell for us, in fact what triggered the formation of CORDIO, and was when we started monitoring coral bleaching – it was unprecedented in the Indian Ocean, with mortality levels of up to 90% on some reefs in Seychelles and Maldives. But in many areas reefs have either resisted or recovered well from these seawater warming events, demonstrating high resilience and that is the key to the solutions.

As a marine ecologist I’m more comfortable talking about natural systems but I must touch on the social context of our region if we are to discuss the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change: we need to understand levels of poverty, education and dependence on marine resources.

The WIO region has countries with some of the highest poverty and lowest human development indices in the world. Mozambique, Comoros and Madagascar are “least developed” countries. This is combined with extremely inequitable economic growth – Kenya as you know is one of the more developed of the developing countries in eastern Africa yet the percentage of rural poor has remained largely unchanged over the last 20 years. Further, almost 20% of the coastal adult population has never attended school and these are disproportionately women (63%).

Birth rates in the WIO region are still incredibly high with >50% of national populations below 15 years of age. We are going to see a population bulge rise up the age pyramid over the next 50 years. Women’s reproductive health, combined with female child education are critical issues.

The coastal people I work with are still highly dependent on these marine systems for their livelihoods – for food and for cash. For example in Kenya fishers are living on average daily catches of seafood of around 3kg, equivalent to about US$ 3. In northern Mozambique levels of dependence on seafood for subsistence and cash are in the order of 70-90% in some villages.

At these levels of poverty and dependence on marine resources there is no room for slippage. Climate change impacts are frightening for these people.

These coastal fishers are very aware of climate change, they want solutions and they are part of the solutions. Despite their illiteracy the fishers I am working with at the moment in Mozambique, are all talking about climate change and they are hungry for and, significantly, open to new solutions.

Is it all curtains for corals? The news from the Great Barrier Reef implies that it is. However, climate change impacts on coral reefs depends on where you are – some reefs are more resilient than others, depending on local oceanography, geology and topography (depth, access to cool upwellings, etc).. thank goodness!

So the good news is that:
Biodiversity is a key factor in resilience to climate change And Lack of development and high poverty generally equates with less degraded coastal ecosystems. (bad for people, good for ecosystems)

We now know based on our own research in the last 5 years that we have in the WIO the second highest peak in coral reef biodiversity in the world.
Fishing methods are still traditional (paddle canoes) and therefore our fisheries are less exploited.

We are therefore starting from a strong position, if we act now.

So we can focus our efforts on protecting and managing those reefs that are resilient to mitigate climate change.

There are key management strategies for helping reefs resist and recover.
Such “resilience – based management” involves protected areas and protecting herbivorous fishes such as parrot fishes because they play a key functional role in keeping reefs free of macro-algae – corals’ main competitor, so corals can continue to grow, reproduce and settle new young.

But parrotfish are also a target species in the local fisheries. So we are talking with fishers to protect the most healthy and biodiverse areas of reef near their villages and not to fish the parrotfish in these areas.

In discussions with Mozambique fishermen and women last month they said it was one major point they would be taking home to discuss in their respective villages – they want to try and change their inshore reefs so that they are more like the ones offshore where they don’t fish because they can’t get there in their dug out canoes.

In our region we need support climate change mitigation or Climate-smart solutions

Support for these locally led solutions, and we need science education.
Community led solutions are most likely to work. Fishers have the most to gain and the most to lose.

There has been a ground swell of communities establishing their own protected areas – what we call Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs). In Kenya there was 1 in 2006 now there are 18. In Madagascar we have seen the same. Communities are taking action with NGOs providing support and the science. These are success stories and they use resilience based management approaches and climate – smart fisheries management.

We also need University level education in marine science
For example through twinning Canadian universities with universities in WIO countries, building that knowledge base and the next generation of scientists. IDRC’s model of twinned research projects which foster capacity building in local research institutions is excellent…

African marine scientists are needed to find the solutions and local actors are needed to implement the solutions. We need to help these scientists get out of the office and into the wetsuit. This requires a cultural change.

Biodiversity expertise is needed urgently and ecologists and taxonomists are still rare but fundamental to understanding and then tackling climate change and its mitigation in the marine environment.

We need the science to find the solutions and evidence based approaches and then to track successes (or not).

I’d like to stress the importance of local leaders in civil society and NGOs – these with academia and the private sector must be given space to be part of the solutions.

The success of LMMAs is a perfect illustration of community leadership catalysed by NGOs and the uptake of science in climate – smart or resilience based approaches to mitigating climate change in the western Indian Ocean.