Pacific Islanders weave traditional knowledge to modern science during a virtual journey on Pacific currents

The Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS) recently convened a virtual event titled Vaka Moana – Weaving Traditional and Modern Science to Understand Current and Future Ocean Conditions. Participants were invited to sail across the region, from the heart of Polynesia, going West through Melanesia, then turning fast eastward along the equator, following Pacific current systems. Seventeen Pacific Islanders shared their experiences and the value of using both traditional knowledge and modern science in their day-to-day life.

“The Pacific Ocean covers about one third of the entire planet’s surface. It is so large that it is a major player of the global climate of the planet. Pacific Islanders, who live by this Pacific Ocean, are front-row witnesses of climate change and are actively working to adapt to its impacts”, highlighted Michelle Tevita-Singh, the moderator for the event.

From pearl farming in the Cook Islands to surfing in Fiji, oceanography in the Solomon Islands to wave buoys in Kiribati, several concrete examples were shared by the speakers.

This even was also an opportunity for Mr. Terry Atalifo, Acting Director from the Fiji Meteorological Service, to launch a new coastal inundation forecast system:

“We have managed to localise information, meaning we managed to downscale global information to local information, and this is one of the big achievements of this particular project” Atalifo said, emphasising the importance of accessing information at the scale that Pacific Island countries need for reliable forecasts.

A panel with young ocean professionals and activists took place involving Hannah Bennett from the Fiji Surfing Association and Save the Waves Coalition, Judith Giblin from the Pacific Community (SPC) and Stephen Meke from the Fiji Meteorological Service. The panel stressed out the importance of ocean observation and the use of traditional knowledge while calling for action at local, national and international levels.

“As a surfer, I think we need to bridge the gap between science and information and application, which can be done at the local level driven by tradition”, said Hannah Bennett.

This whole journey through the Pacific currents was also interactive – participants shared their ideas, through interactive polls, on what a predicted Pacific Ocean means to them and what actions are needed to realise this vision. Potential solutions around communications, partnership and inclusion, the use of traditional knowledge, and the future of Pacific Ocean scientists were discussed.

“These labs will help us design the future we want and the actions we need to implement in the next ten years. All the information collected is being used to tailor the Ocean Decade activities for the Pacific and to plan PCCOS’ priorities”, commented Dr Jerome Aucan, Head of PCCOS.

If you missed this inspiring and innovative journey, or if you would like to re-live it again, you can watch the video on the PCCOS website:

About PCCOS:  
The Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS) is the platform for coordination and integration of ocean science, knowledge and information at SPC and in the Pacific, partnering with international and regional stakeholders. 

This event was made possible with the support of the New Zealand Government.