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  • Pacific islands to map coastal hazards

[APIA, Samoa] Pacific Island researchers will be trained in skills such as coastal hazard mapping as part of a programme to use science to make coastal communities safer and more resilient.

The US$1.3-million programme is part of an expansion of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Storms Program (CSP) into US-affiliated Pacific Islands, beginning next month (October) and led by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program.

Dolan Eversole, regional coordinator of the CSP, told SciDev.Net that the programme is intended to support the development of tools, services and products to improve coastal hazard preparedness.

An intensive two-week training course in the Marshall Islands has already taught local researchers to map hazards facing their communities, such as inundation from storm surges and tsunamis.

One of the core missions is to provide a scientific basis for more effective decision-making on disaster management, Eversole said.

"We hope to give decision-makers access to scientific information that will assist them in making decisions — for example, whether the decision-makers understand the current science behind sea level rise projections and the uncertainty associated with that. What is the science telling us, what does it mean, and what are the implications locally?"

One example is research on coastal erosion indicating that rates and trends in erosion are directly related to sea level rise.

This will help the authorities decide how to respond to the erosion, he said.

"There is currently work going on in Guam on storm surge modelling and tsunami inundation modelling in American Samoa to understand what the vulnerabilities are to inundation events; from that they develop evacuation plans. That's another example of how research can help inform emergency managers and decision-makers."

The CSP will be implemented in the next 2–3 years, with those involved setting up partnerships with other agencies to ensure the programme's long-term sustainability.

Paul Anderson, marine conservation analyst for the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, said the initiative should include Pacific islands that are not associated with the United States.

"Perhaps as a part of existing NOAA initiatives in the region, NOAA could look to provide this type of training to those other countries, since they all have similar coastal vulnerabilities," said Anderson.

"Underserved" village communities should also be included, rather than focusing on cities such as Fiji's capital Suva, Port Vila in Vanuatu and Pago Pago in American Samoa, he added.