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A Case Study of Climate Change at Akhamb Island, Vanuatu

 

(Matthew Kensen with Prof. Randy Thaman)

By Matthew Kensen

Below is a condensed version of Matthew’s report, for the full version in .pdf format click here.

Introduction

Akhamb Island is low-lying island situated on the south coast of Malekula Island in Vanuatu and is elevated not more than 100 meters above mean sea level (MSL). Due to its location and height above sea level, Akhamb Island has experienced the effects of climate change and to an extent that climate change has had an impact on the people’s livelihood as it disrupts their agricultural productivity due to several climate-related weather patterns such as the occurrence of rainfall, increase in the salinity levels, sea-level rise and the rise in tropical cyclone frequencies.  This earthcaching report serves to portray the locations on Akhamb Island that were affected by global climate change and also the response of the islanders to the current situation on the island.

Study Area

Akhamb Island, due to its location experiences Southeast trade winds and also experiences tropical weather patterns due to its location in the tropics. The climate experienced throughout the year is of a warm, moist and wet tropical oceanic climate where the average temperature ranges from 24˚C to 27˚C all year round. The major substrate is sandy soils (mainly biogenic sand and soil) where coral rubble is also found in some part of the island. The topsoil layer accumulates overtime forming the part of the arable land upon which the islanders cultivate their crops on. The flora and fauna on the island resembles the ones found on the mainland Malekula due to its location relative to the mainland where endemism is less on the island. People’s housing on the island is mainly local housing apart from the schools, church and the dispensary which reflects the level of vulnerability their houses are to natural disasters.


View Matthew's Map in a larger map

Objectives

Aim:  To identify, locate and discuss the impacts of climate change on agricultural expansion on Akhamb Island.

Objectives

  •  To identify the main agricultural practices and/or activities done on Akhamb Island
  • To state the effects of climate change on the agricultural practices and agricultural expansion on Akhamb Island
  • To state and discuss ways of overcoming the effects of climate change

Methods

These are the methods used in carrying out the EarthCaching project:

  • Appropriate information on the topic is first obtained from the library from journals, articles, books and the internet
  • Interviews and surveys are carried out on Akhamb Island where some islanders from Akhamb Island are interviewed.
  • Using GPS receiver to store points of interest where climate is seen affecting most.
  • Digital camera is used to capture picture evidence of areas affected by climate change.

Results

From the results obtained, it can be seen that climate change also has an impact on the sources of income on Akhamb Island. People on small and isolated islands rely heavily on the available resources and also on certain natural products so to earn an income to sustain their living on a relatively small land area with limited resources. The bar graph on figure 1 shows the different income sources for the people on Akhamb Island and that the main sources of income for the people were mainly from coconut (copra), kava, cocoa, pigs, root crops and  others which includes carving, fishing and the operation of small shops on the island. In the year 2000, it can be seen that people rely on kava, coconut (copra) and root crops as the major sources of income. The selling of pigs, cocoa, fishing, carving and other artefacts were seen as not so important sources of income.

Fig. 1 Sources of income for the people of Akhamb Island in 2000.

However, within a period of ten years later, figure 2 shows the bar graph of the main sources of income where there is a decline in the production of kava, copra and root crops and there is a rise in the other sources of income. This shows that as climate is changing and becoming more unpredictable where planting seasons are being distorted, the people on Akhamb Island tend to rely on other sources of income such as fishing, carving, weaving mats and baskets, and also rearing of pigs for commercial use. As the climate is changing and weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable and where tropical cyclones are more predictable in the country, farmers are not motivated since the results of their harvest is not so promising. Thus, farmers and people on Akhamb Island switch to other means of income sources so to provide them with an income so to sustain their living on the island.

Fig. 2 Sources of income for the people of Akhamb Island in 2010

People living on Akhamb Island are now experiencing one of the most upsetting moments of their life’s and that to escape from the effects of climate change, they should consider moving or migrating to the mainland and also seeking aid and assistance from the government so to aid them to settle down in a new environment. By changing the way to earn an income or change the ways in which to cultivate the land to produce more food is of no use since the effects of climate change will keep on accumulating and that there is less chance to be a successful farmer by living on Akhamb Island. As the population on Akhamb Island is increasing, there is a need for more food production so to gather for the feeding needs for the population. To increase food production, more space is required and it is seen that there is only limited space for agricultural expansion. Further expansion will result in failure of crop production since sea-level rise had caused certain areas of the flat and fertile land to become salinated which is not fit for agricultural production.

Conclusion

In conclusion to the project, it can be seen that all countries of the world are under threat of the effects of climate change but the effects were more prevalent in small island states and small island countries of the Pacific. Akhamb Island is an island that is currently under the threat of global climate change and that there are evidences that prove that Akhamb Island is experiencing the impacts of climate change on the expansion of agricultural activities. Results have shown that there is a reduction to the number and amount of cultivated crops on the island and that the main sources of income on the island are also affected by the negative impacts of climate change. Thus, due to the impacts of climate change on agricultural expansion as seen through observation, people on Akhamb Island should start migrating to the mainland so to ensure that their livelihoods is secured since by moving on to the mainland, they can effectively expand their agricultural activities so to maintain enhanced income levels and also a desirable standard of living.

Man standing where coastline was 25 years ago.
Coastal erosion showing exposed tree roots at Lefras.
Costal erosion at Lefras resulting from rising sea levels.
Exposed tree root system resulting from rising sea levels at Ramiong.


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