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Earthwatch Australia announces new partnership

24 July 2023

Earthwatch Australia announces new partnership

24 July 2023

Earthwatch Australia partners with the Vanuatu Meteorology & Geohazard Department (VMGD), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Victoria University to deliver ClimateWatch Vanuatu.   

Earthwatch Australia is expanding its citizen science program ClimateWatch beyond Australia.  ClimateWatch Vanuatu will provide an innovative opportunity to scale biodiversity data collection, and contribute to climate forecasts based on both contemporary and traditional knowledge.   

Vanuatu has been ranked as the world’s most at-risk to natural disasters and extreme weather events, and these threats are expected to increase with climate change. Trusted and meaningful weather forecasts are critical for communities to respond to the increasing threat of natural disasters and extreme weather. Ecosystems are also under threat, yet little is known about the impacts of climate change on Vanuatu plants and animals. This information is vital to help monitor overall ecosystem health, which will in turn enhance community climate resilience. 

ClimateWatch was developed in Australia 13 years ago to address critical gaps in our understanding of the way changes in temperature and rainfall are affecting the seasonal patterns of Australia's plants and animals (phenology). Now, ClimateWatch Vanuatu will support projects in Vanuatu to monitor the phenology of traditional indicator species using the ClimateWatch App and website. 

“Over 130,000 observations of plants and animals have been recorded in Australia since ClimateWatch began,” said Dr. Scott Wilson, Earthwatch Chief Scientist. “We are proud to build on our experience as one of the leading citizen science organisations in Australia, to collaborate with Pacific communities in responding to the impacts of climate change.” 

Support from the Climate and Oceans Support Program for the Pacific (COSPPac) and the Global EbA Fund has allowed the existing ClimateWatch App to be modified for use in the Pacific region to collect data on traditional indicator species.  

Pacific communities have long used traditional knowledge of plants and animals as indicators of storm surges, droughts and other seasonal variations such as the onset of the wet and dry seasons.  However, circulation and inter-generational transfer of knowledge is decreasing. 

“Traditional knowledge plays a central role in community resilience in the Pacific islands,” said Mr. Sunny Kamuta Seuseu, Climate Information Services Officer, SPREP. “For future generations to continue to employ traditional knowledge in managing current and future climate risks, it is essential to record traditional knowledge.”  

Meanwhile, there is a reluctance in many ni-Vanuatu communities to acknowledge and respond to contemporary climate forecasts. Biodiversity data collected by ClimateWatch Vanuatu will contribute to an initiative to make climate information better, more relevant, and accessible for people in Vanuatu (Van-KIRAP – Vanuatu Klaemet Infomesen blong redy, adapt mo protect project).   

“The data will be used to develop hybrid climate forecast products (i.e. forecasts developed using both contemporary and traditional knowledge systems) to provide more meaningful forecast information to ni-Vanuatu communities and to better understand how climate change may be impacting on traditional forecasting processes.” said Dr. Lynda Chambers, Van-KIRAP Project. 

Previously, paper forms were used for the collection of data. ClimateWatch Vanuatu will allow the project to increase its scale and reach across the nation.   

Critical to the success of ClimateWatch Vanuatu will be engaging with communities across Vanuatu. The project was recently awarded $US249,725 from the Global EbA Fund for training workshops, an education campaign, and the development of local ClimateWatch Trails. 

Traditional Knowledge Coordinator, VMGD, Mr. Albert Willy looks forward to using the ClimateWatch App. “The app will be used for citizen science application to involve the community in six community climate centres we have established under Van-KIRAP; and valuable in the monitoring and reporting of traditional knowledge data throughout the year,” he said.  

Victoria University’s Dr. Roan Plotz will supervise a local Masters student in Vanuatu to measure the impact of the project.  

“We see this as an opportunity for both indigenous local knowledge to marry up with the science-based meteorological services to improve relevance and uptake of forecasts more generally, which will also enhance the communities’ resilience to climate change.” said Dr. Plotz. 

In addition to climate forecasting, ClimateWatch Vanuatu will form an important long-term phenology dataset.  Phenology refers to the timing of seasonal events such as flowering and breeding in the lives of animals and plants, and it is highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall. 

“Climate change is altering the phenology of plants and animals and this can have dramatic impacts on the functioning of ecosystems.” said Anna McCallum, ClimateWatch Manager. “Compared to Europe and northern America, there is a lack of long-term data on phenology in the southern hemisphere. ClimateWatch was established to address this gap and ClimateWatch Vanuatu will build on these efforts in the region.”


Thanks to the Global EbA Fund for their support of this project.