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Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00289

Lessons from the Pacific Islands – Adapting to climate change by supporting social and ecological resilience

 Elizabeth Mcleod1*, Mae Bruton-Adams2, Johannes Förster3, Chiara Franco2, Graham Gaines1, Berna Gorong2, Robyn James4, Gabriel Posing-Kulwaum5, Magdalene Tara5 and Elizabeth Terk2
  • 1The Nature Conservancy (United States), United States
  • 2Nature Conservancy (Micronesia), Micronesia
  • 3Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany
  • 4The Nature Conservancy (Australia), Australia
  • 5Nature Conservancy, Manus, Papua New Guinea

By necessity Pacific Islands have become hubs of innovation, where climate strategies are piloted and refined to inform adaptation efforts globally. Pacific Island communities face increasingly severe climate impacts including sea-level rise, changing temperature and rainfall patterns, changes in food and water security, and social, cultural, and political impacts including loss of identity, climate-induced migration and threats to sovereignty. In response, communities in the region are leading climate adaptation strategies, often combining traditional practices and cutting-edge science, to build the resilience of their communities and ecosystems in the face of increasing climate risk. For example, communities are implementing resilient networks of marine protected areas using the best available science and strengthening tribal governance to manage these networks, experimenting with salt and drought tolerant crops, revegetating coastlines with native salt-tolerant plants, revitalizing traditional wells, and implementing climate-smart development plans. Often these efforts contribute to local development priorities and create co-benefits for multiple sustainable development goals (SDGs). These community efforts are being scaled up through provincial and national policies that reinforce the critical role that ecosystems play in climate adaptation and provide a model for the rest of the world. While adaptation efforts are critical to help communities cope with climate impacts, in some cases, they will be insufficient to address the magnitude of climate impacts and local development needs. Thus, there are inherent trade-offs and limitations to climate adaptation with migration being the last resort for some island communities.

Keywords: Small island developing states (SIDS), Climate Change, Pacific Islands, Vulnerability, adaptation, Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA)

Received: 15 Jan 2019; Accepted: 17 May 2019.

Edited by:

Emanuele Di Lorenzo, Georgia Institute of Technology, United States

Reviewed by:

Donald F. Boesch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), United States
Bregje K. Van Wesenbeeck, Deltares, Netherlands  

Copyright: © 2019 Mcleod, Bruton-Adams, Förster, Franco, Gaines, Gorong, James, Posing-Kulwaum, Tara and Terk. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Elizabeth Mcleod, The Nature Conservancy (United States), Arlington, United States,