Embargo Monday 7th November 2011, 4:30pm New Caledonian Time

Climate change and food security in the Pacific

Pacific nations face many pressures to sustain their fish resources and maintain a vital source of food, with climate change posing a fresh challenge.

A new book Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change claims there will be winners and losers from climate change, and the way Pacific governments react and adapt will be vital.

The book is published by Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and will be launched at the Conference of the Pacific Community in Noumea today (Monday 7 November) by James Batley, Deputy Director General of AusAID.

Dr Johann Bell, a Principal Fisheries Scientist with SPC’s Strategic Engagement, Policy and Planning Facility and one of the book’s three editors, says the losers include people who will continue to depend on coral reef fisheries.

“Higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and loss of important habitats like coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and intertidal flats are expected to have a dramatic impact on the fish and shellfish that support many coastal communities,” Dr Bell says.

“Coral reefs are very likely to suffer a lot of damage under the changing climate, and coastal communities will have to find new sources of food.”

He says that the communities will need to transfer their fishing effort from coral reef fisheries to the rich tuna resources of the region.

A winner under climate change will be the freshwater fisheries that are so important to the inland population of Papua New Guinea. The book also outlines the expected improvement of conditions for freshwater pond aquaculture.

But this will not be enough to feed the rapidly increasing populations of Pacific islands, and they will need to rely more on tuna as a source of food.

Dr Jimmie Rogers, Director-General of SPC, says book is the most comprehensive analysis of the impact of climate change on Pacific fisheries and aquaculture, and the ecosystems that underpin these vital activities.

“The reality is that there will be countries in the Pacific with increased populations and fewer fish to eat. We ignore the book at our peril because it comes up with sound scientific analyses, hard-hitting key messages and policy options,” he says.

“It gives Pacific leaders the opportunity to look 20 years ahead and plan for the future.”

Dr Bell says the final chapter in the book sets out ways that the Pacific nations can adapt to the new circumstances. Solutions range from installing more fish aggregating devices (FADs) to attract tuna closer to shore, to encouraging some communities to grow fish in freshwater ponds; and improving management of mining and forestry industries to prevent sediments and nutrients spoiling fish habitat.

The book includes contributions from 88 international scientists and fisheries specialists and took three and a half years to bring together. It was written with the support of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change was edited by Johann Bell, Johanna Johnson and Alistair Hobday.

For interview: Dr Johann Bell (687) 26 67 87 johannb@spc.int

For information: Anne Lefeuvre (687) 26 01 93 annel@spc.int

For HD video, audio and images go to econnect.com.au/client_download/

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