by Esther Ririmae and Jake Cohen
As 74-year-old Ellen Taqevala studied the model of Boe Boe village, the past came alive.
Her voice trembled as she told the story of how, as a young girl during World War II, she had relocated with her family and the rest of her village from the hills to the coastal plain Boe Boe now occupies in Choiseul, a province of the Solomon Islands.
The 3D model in front of her conjured decades-old emotions. But — for Ellen and the rest of Boe Boe — the model was also about planning for the future and uniting the community around a shared mission of keeping their natural resources healthy.
In Choiseul and throughout the Coral Triangle, the impacts of climate change are having increasingly devastating effects: rising sea levels could even force many villages to relocate. But the 3D modeling activities, carried out by The Nature Conservancy in concert with a number of partners, are helping the people of Boe Boe better understand and adapt to those impacts.
“This model was made by the community and is owned by all the people of Boe Boe,” says the Conservancy’s Jimmy Kereseka, who lives in Choiseul. “It is up to us Lauru people to take the initiative on community issues and ensure our traditions and customs are not compromised by development pressures or outside forces such as climate change.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, island communities are especially vulnerable to sea level rises and fierce, increasingly frequent storms. Boe Boe is no exception.
The modeling process — which aims to guide environmental protection in the face of these new threats — took three days. Teams of young students and community volunteers took a topographical map of their region, prepared by Conservancy staff, and traced its contour lines onto carton sheets.
Then, they cut out the resulting shapes, gluing each layer onto a large table in their village’s community hall before covering it with papier-mâché. The result: a miniature Boe Boe.
The model’s construction was organized by the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community and facilitated by Partners with Melanesians and the Conservancy’s James Hardcastle, a senior policy advisor in the Asia-Pacific region.
“For this project, the Conservancy partnered with Australia’s International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, an effort to help its neighboring island countries adapt to the impacts of climate change,” Hardcastle says. “We hope to continue to collaborate with AusAID on a range of other adaptation projects throughout the Pacific islands, such as conservation planning and community workshops to share best practices."
The finished model was instantly recognizable to the members of the Boe Boe community who gathered around the finished product. They found themselves staring at tiny versions of the hills, valleys, forests and waters that were visible from the community hall’s windows.
As they stood in front of the model, the community members discussed the physical features that defined their shared world. They began to label rivers, streams and paths before marking out the buildings and houses. Then came the areas that are tambu, or protected: swathes of forests and reefs that have been declared off-limits to gathering.
“I am adding the route we women use to paddle to the garden areas in the islands and across the bay,” said Jean Vakaele, leaning over the map. Jean, a local mother, spends every day canoeing out to the mangroves and gardens that contain the shellfish and other resources she needs to feed her family.
By the time they were finished, the villagers had compiled a painstakingly detailed map of their surroundings, one that pointed out mangrove and coconut plantations, plane wrecks dating from World War II and even crocodile nesting sites.
A recent household survey of the Boe Boe community found that many local people are relatively unaware of the risks posed by accelerating climate change. But the physical model made the potential ramifications of sea level rise — one of the most direct impacts of climate change for island communities — worryingly clear.
Jean saw that saltwater intrusion could spoil nearby gardens, forcing her and other Boe Boe resource gatherers to paddle an additional hour to other suitable sites. Villagers also took into account predicted models of sea level rise and realized just how damaging encroaching tides could become.
The community is now discussing possible adaptation efforts that could help the region’s people adjust to climate change. These efforts include including ecosystem-based approaches such as establishing protected areas for key resources, like watershed forests, reefs and mangroves; relocating garden areas farther inland; and strengthening traditional tambu sites.
“Climate change impacts are already evident,” says Gideon Solo, the provincial climate change officer who helped conduct the recent studies. Communities are starting to react, he says; but, “We need to find ways to support them in their efforts.”
Help provide that support. Join The Nature Conservancy.
Esther Ririmae is a Conservancy project officer from the Asia-Pacific region. Jake Cohen is a conservation writer for the Asia-Pacific region.September 17, 2012