Cook Islands

A new climate-resilient harbour launched in the Cook Islands

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For residents on Mangaia, the ceremony to launch the Mangaia Harbour or 'Avarua Landing', as locals call it, was more than just a ribbon cutting event. It was the start of a new life for residents of the most southern island of the Cook Islands. The improved harbour allows for easier transfer of cargo, a vital service for the people of Mangaia.

This dream was made real with support from the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Project, an initiative that involves 14 small island developing states of the Pacific. The project focuses on addressing climate change adaptation through improved coastal zone management, food security and food production, or water resources management.

The PACC project brought engineers, climate scientists and the community together to discuss the design and construction of the harbour with long term sustainability in mind. It analysed climate sensitive areas of the harbour and the coastline and assessed costs and benefits to the community now and over the next 10 to 15 years.

In 2005, the Mangaia harbour was destroyed by two tropical cyclones, Meena and Nancy, leaving the island residents with only one option for bringing goods into the island - by highly expensive air freight. This changed in April this year, with the new and improved Mangaia Harbour commissioned for use.

"The idea of reducing risks from cyclones and rough seas was trialed in the design of the new Mangaia Harbour. Our team of engineers worked with climate scientists to improve not only the strength and durability of the harbour structure, but to improve on its operational features," said Hon. Mark Brown, the Cook Islands Minister for Infrastructure.

"As a result, our boats and canoes can sail into and out of the harbour safely, even in rough conditions where the wind speed is above 15 knots. In the coming years, we will learn more from the Mangaia Harbour, with the aim of improving our outer island harbours and adapting these for climate change."

With guidance from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the implementing agency of the PACC project, the harbour is now expected to withstand rough weather and longer term climate changes.

SPREP and the Government of Cook Islands also carried out a number of other activities during the harbour design and development period, with assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

A Coastal Island Calculator was developed to provide input to the design of the harbour taking into account cyclone and storm surge. A Cost Benefit Analysis was also conducted to determine whether the renovated harbour could bring lasting benefits for the community, taking into account the goal of building resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Plans are now underway to ensure continued upkeep of the Avarua Landing. The Mangaia Island Government is looking at a coastal management policy that will support climate-resilient efforts for now and the future. There has also been interest from neighbouring Pacific island countries to use the Coastal Island Calculator to help identify and select the best coastal practice to adapt their coast and shorelines to climate change.

"Focus on the coastal sector for small and relatively remote islands such as Mangaia, is essential for sustainable development of communities," said Mr. Kosi Latu, Deputy Director-General of SPREP, who attended the launch.

"The construction of a resilient harbour able to respond to the impacts of cyclones and to longer term impacts of climate change, is an important part of ensuring a safer and prosperous island long into the future."

Beyond 2014, the legacy of the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Project will remain. The harbour will result in strengthened economic development and livelihood systems on the island of Mangaia benefiting men, women, and the future generations. Lessons learnt from this project will inform similar work on Manihiki and Penrhyn, in the Cook Islands. Lessons and experiences will also be shared regionally and globally with other small island developing states.

The PACC Programme is a partnership between several key regional agencies and national agencies and communities in 14 Pacific island countries. It is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Australian Government, with UNDP as its implementing agency and the SPREP as implementing partner. The Project is supported by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) C3D+programme.

For more information please contact Mr. Peniamina Leavai, SPREP's PACC Project Manager.