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Bishop Museum & PSA Involved in Study on Climate Change Threats to Biodiversity and Island Ecosystems in Melanesia

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded Bishop Museum with a $290,000 grant over eighteen months to study climate change planning and mitigation to help stem the threats of global warming. Bishop Museum is one of eight institutions worldwide to receive part of the Foundation’s $5 million investment in studying how species and habitats are impacted as a result of climate change and ocean acidification, both the result of rising global carbon dioxide levels.

Allen Allison, Ph.D, Vice President of Science at Bishop Museum, said the grant will be used to fund an assessment report on the vulnerability of biodiversity and island ecosystems in Melanesia to climate change. All data gathered during the survey will be organized in an environmental information system for climate change in Melanesia and made available via the Internet for access by conservation groups worldwide. This work will be carried out in coordination with the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) based in Apia, Samoa; and the Pacific Science Association (PSA) and Indo-Pacific Conservation Alliance (IPCA), both based in Honolulu.

“The tropics offer some of the most biologically diverse environments in the world and are also among the most vulnerable to climate changes,” said Dr. Allison. He notes that, “Our work in Melanesia will help identify the level of threat and support steps needed to adapt to the impact of climate change in the region.”

“The planet is already committed to some level of global warming as a result of man-made carbon dioxide and coral reefs in particular are likely to be stressed hard as a result,” said John Burke Burnett, Executive Director of PSA and IPCA. He notes that warming is likely to contribute to more frequent coral bleaching events, leading to increased mortality of reef ecosystems and species. In addition, sea level rise and other factors will make it harder for reefs to adapt to other changes.

Burnett pointed to another looming potential problem, known as ocean acidification. “The natural absorption of man-made carbon dioxide by the world’s oceans is causing the pH of surface waters to drop. From pre-industrial times to 2004, surface ocean pH has dropped by about 8.25 to 8.14, and this is expected to drop another 0.3 pH units. This is going to be an additional stress on marine species and ecosystems.” [End Page 433]

With Melanesia’s preeminent position as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, the-socio-economic and health implications of climate change on Melanesia’s ecosystems are potentially grave. The impact of change on regional marine ecosystems is a particular concern as scientists have already noted a strong correlation between most mass coral mortality events and global temperature rise.

Climate change is also likely to alter terrestrial habitats, re-distributing biodiversity in Melanesia and significantly impacting the population who is largely poor and dependent on agriculture, fisheries, and other natural resources. “Conservation organizations in the Pacific need to know how to design and manage field projects that account for and adjust to the changes that are coming, but exactly what those changes are going to look like, we just don’t have a good enough grasp on yet.” Burnett said. “This study will assemble the experts and make available the best knowledge on how conservation efforts will need to adjust for these changes.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent grant making institution dedicated to helping groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. With assets of more that $6 billion, the Foundation makes approximately $225 million in grants annually. More information about the Foundation may be found at

For more information about the Melanesian biodiversity study, call (808) 847-3511 or (808) 848-4124.


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