Responding to multiple climate-linked stressors in a remote island context: The example of Yadua Island, Fiji

Island societies are being disproportionately affected by climate change, a situation likely to continue for some decades. Using an example of an island affected by multiple climate-linked stressors, a situation likely to become more common in the future, this paper examines the nature of these, the ways they are perceived and responded to by local residents, and how these people believe environmental changes might unfold in the future. Yadua Island has one settlement (Denimanu), where most of the 170 residents sustain themselves largely by fishing and farming. Like most Pacific Island settlements, Denimanu is coastal and has experienced progressive shoreline erosion that, a decade ago, washed away a row of houses. In 2012, a storm surge (during Tropical Cyclone Evan) demolished most of the remaining bure (traditional dwellings) in the village. The Fiji Government relocated the affected families to a new upslope location (Korovou), 80–230 m from the beach, and up to 20 m above mean sea level. In March 2017, heavy rain caused a landslide at the back of Denimanu that endangered the primary school, forcing its abandonment. Some questionnaires were given to representative members of the community in an attempt to understand and quantify the pressures that Yadua Island people are subject to, and how they plan to manage them. All respondents believed that climate change has affected their livelihoods and will continue to do so in the future. Clear majorities stated that climate change – especially higher temperatures and increased frequency/magnitudes of heavy-rain events – had negatively affected the supply of marine and terrestrial foods. Most respondents noted increased temperature and decreased precipitation. Clear majorities stated they would eventually relocate their homes further inland, and would consider planting mangroves. Most participants were contemplating the effects of climate change (especially sea-level rise) on food supply, prompting them to consider relocating lowland crop production further inland and planting crops that are more tolerant of saline groundwater and/or periodic wave over-wash. The people of Denimanu recognise how the environment has been changing but debate the ultimate cause of this and therefore how best to respond. It is likely that Yadua will become impacted more by tropical cyclones and sea-level rise (in particular) in the future. To be effective and sustainable, adaptation strategies should acknowledge residents’ worldviews and beliefs rather than try to uncritically substitute them.

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