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        Resilience and Ecosystem Adaptation in a Changing Pacific Climate

        In this lesson plan, students explore Pacific Island ecosystems, the threats they face from human activities and climate change, how adaptation strategies can increase ecosystem resilience. They then engage in community-focused activities. High island and coral atoll communities in the Pacific Island region face unique challenges in a changing climate.

        Lesson Summary

        High island and coral atoll communities in the Pacific Island region face unique challenges in a changing climate. In these three lessons, designed for use on Pacific islands, students become familiar with island ecosystems and learn how maintaining the health of these ecosystems makes them more resilient to climate change impacts.

        These lessons feature an interactive activity in which students learn about ecosystems found on high islands and coral atolls, and the threats these ecosystems face from human activities and climate change. Students explore some of the ways in which islanders can plan and act to reduce these threats. The activity provides a context for students to investigate their own island’s ecosystems and engage their community in ways that respond to specific threats and increase resilience to climate change.

        Note that students who have difficulty reading English and taking notes may need additional assistance.


        Time Allotment

        Approximately 2 weeks, including Part III Extension Activity

        Prep for Teachers

        • Review the Climate Change and the Pacific Islands: Vocabulary Document, which includes terms used in the lessons. Decide how you will access students’ prior knowledge about their ecosystems, climate change, and these vocabulary words. Decide which language-building tools (such as a word wall) you will use throughout the lessons.
        • Arrange for computers with Internet access. If your classroom has only one computer, groups will need to take turns during Part II. You may plan related activities or discussion topics for when groups are not using the computer. If you have a local community college or resource center that has computers with an Internet connection, see if you can arrange to do some of the lessons there.
        • If your Internet connection is not reliable, copy the contents of the USB drive or DVD onto your computer and show from there. Print out this plan for your reference.
        • Print copies of the Island Ecosystems Viewing Guide and Worksheet Document for each student or group of students.
        • If such resources are available on your island, contact government agencies, NGOs, or conservation societies to involve them throughout the lessons.


         Supplies for Part III Extension Activity:

        • cardboard or plywood for the base of the model, or poster board for the diagrams
        • colored pens, fabric, or sand/dirt/grass to represent ecosystem zones
        • glue
        • modeling clay or other material for making contours
        • string for making boundaries
        • toothpicks for buildings or vegetation


        Learning Activities

        Part I: Understanding the Changing Climate

        1. Pacific islands are already feeling the effects of climate change, especially impacts from rising sea levels. Climate change can affect the natural environment, and, in turn, homes and buildings, sources of income, and society. These impacts may even threaten cultural traditions.

        Engage the class in a brief discussion of climate change. Ask students if climate change is something they talk about with their friends or family. If so, what are the main issues they discuss? What evidence of climate change do students see in their own community?

        2. Show students the video Micronesia's Changing Climate: The Problem.

        In this video, we learn from fishermen and other island residents that things are “not right” in Micronesia. While the video focuses on Micronesia, many of the issues discussed in the video apply to both high island and coral atoll communities throughout the region. As students watch the video, ask them to focus on how island life and the islands themselves are being affected by the changes described and shown in the video.

        After students watch the video, ask them to provide specific examples from the video that suggest ecosystems and the islanders’ way of life are changing. [Student responses may include: there are fewer fish, the water is muddier, coral reefs are bleaching, storms are more frequent, droughts last longer, there is increased erosion, islands are disappearing underwater.]

        Before moving on, ask students to turn to their neighbor and briefly discuss what they think might be causing these changes.

        3. Now show them the video Micronesia's Changing Climate: The Cause, which explains what is causing the changes that are being felt on and around the islands.

        After watching, ask students to name some of the climate-change-related threats to small-island environments identified in the video.

        The video focuses on climate change. It suggests that humans are, in large part, responsible for climate change. But there is more to the story. Explain to students the important concept of ecosystem resilience. This is what the man in the video is talking about when he refers to how well an island can resist changes and how quickly it can recover from outside disturbances. Resilience is a reflection of health. A healthy island with properly functioning ecosystems is resilient. However, when an ecosystem is under stress because of human activities, it loses its resilience, so the effects of climate change may be worse. Human activities, then, are the other main threat to small-island environments.

        Ask students for some examples of local human activities that they think may harm an island environment and weaken its resilience. [Student responses may include: habitat destruction, pollution from piggeries, introduction of invasive species, overfishing, reef mining.]

        4. Next, show students the video Micronesia's Changing Climate: Adaptation. The term ecosystem-based adaptive strategies is used at the beginning of the video. Before watching, divide the class into smaller groups and have them discuss what they think this term means. Then discuss their ideas as a class. Briefly explain that ecosystem-based adaptive strategies are actions people can take to increase the resilience of ecosystems. By taking these actions, people can help reduce the harmful effects of climate change and human activities on the ecosystems. Examples include replanting native vegetation along the coastline or in upland areas, and preventing the dredging and overfishing of coral reefs.

        As students watch the video, have them look for examples of adaptive strategies.

        After viewing the video, ask students:

        • How could a changing climate impact your environment and your community? [Examples of student responses include: flooding can affect homes and crops, droughts may last longer, there will be more bugs and diseases.] You may also wish to explore the idea of loss of culture.
        • What are some strategies the community can use to adapt to climate change? [Student responses may include: redesign storm-water systems, create emergency action plans, plant different crops.]

        Tell students that during the next few classes, they will examine how different island ecosystems are being affected by a variety of threats and what this might lead to. They will also learn ways in which communities can take action to strengthen an ecosystem so that it can resist the impacts of climate change.

        Part II: Exploring Your Island Ecosystems

        5. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the ecosystems featured in the interactive (terrestrial, coastal, or reef). Be sure to use the ecosystems for your island type (high island or coral atoll). (Note: If necessary, review the meaning of the term "ecosystem.") Explain to students that they will be using an interactive, watching a video, and then preparing a presentation for the class based on what they learn.

        Hand each group a copy of the Island Ecosystems Viewing Guide and Worksheet Document. This handout includes suggestions for what students should be thinking about when viewing the interactive and video. It also includes space for taking notes.

        Lead the class (or small group) through the first screen of the interactive. Next, choose your island type: high island or coral atoll. Then guide students through the first screen for that island type, which contains a short paragraph about it.

        Note: If there is a shortage of computers, you may want to have the students in each group take turns viewing the interactive and discussing key questions or brainstorming ideas for their presentation. One or more students also can be assigned to take notes on what the group has found.

        6. Now have students read the overview of their assigned ecosystem and examine an important resource or feature of that ecosystem to learn the

        • services, or benefits, it provides;
        • threats it faces from human activities;
        • threats it faces due to climate change; and
        • ways in which communities can help restore or build ecosystem resilience. This includes some real-life examples of action being taken in communities within the region.

        Following are each of the ecosystems that appear in the interactive and a link to the video that supports it.

        High Islands

        Terrestrial Ecosystems:

        Conserving a Unique Ecosystem in Micronesia: Learn about the steps that the people of Kosrae, Micronesia, are taking to protect an island watershed, including a unique upland forest.

        Coastal Ecosystems:

        Replanting Mangroves as a Climate Change Adaptation: Discover how climate change is affecting island communities in Papua New Guinea and how replanting programs along the coast may help improve conditions.

        Reef Ecosystems:

        Sustaining Healthy Coral Reefs in Micronesia: Learn how Pacific Island communities can help strengthen coral reefs against bleaching, storms, and other events that may harm their health.

        Coral Atolls

        Terrestrial Ecosystems:

        Sustaining Freshwater Lenses: Explore some threats to the freshwater supply on Majuro Atoll, the capital of the Marshall Islands, and how a community group is helping to improve water quality.

        Coastal Ecosystems: 

        Climate Change Threatens Pacific Paradise: Learn how coastal flooding by “king tides” is affecting both the island and the people of Han, one of the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea.[Note: Have students watch the first 2:10 of the video, until the supply ship appears; the rest of the video focuses on relocation.]

        Reef Ecosystems:

        Sustaining Healthy Coral Reefs in Micronesia: Learn how Pacific Island communities can help strengthen coral reefs against bleaching, storms, and other events that may harm their health.

        7. After students have completed the interactive and watched the video, have them discuss their ideas as a group and prepare their presentation. They may refer back to the interactive or video as needed.

        Next, help students understand the different perspectives that must be considered when trying to build action plans to secure everyone’s future. Have the students draw on their understanding of their community and do some role playing to explain the resources, threats, and adaptations that relate to their assigned ecosystem. For example, some students may play the role of fishermen, others farmers, and others land developers. Have them each explain their activities—some of which may be harmful to the ecosystem—and discuss the effect adaptations may have on their lives and their livelihoods.

        Have the student groups deliver their presentations (or perform their skits) to the rest of the class.

        Part III: Engaging with Your Community—Optional Extension Activity

        8. Tell students they will now complete a class activity designed to demonstrate what they have learned. You may want to draw on the expertise of others in your community who could provide more background knowledge and support as students work through the activity.

        Making models can be an effective way for students to develop awareness of their island. Explain to students that a model is a tool that helps us understand something that may be too large or complex or even dangerous to examine in real life. A model can show what something looks like or how it works, or explain the relationships between its parts. Tell students they will now make a model that shows the connections between the ecosystems they have been studying and the activities that go on within them. You may choose between the following suggestions:

        A. Have the class work together to build a model of their island. They should mark the location of their community and label important features, including ecosystem zones, water bodies, sources of food/agriculture, and developed areas. Depending on available supplies and time, this model can be three dimensional or two dimensional (a map). Using what they learned in the small-group activity, students should also highlight in some way important island resources, such as forests and water supplies, and reflect the threats from human activities and climate change. Any resources under heavy threat should be identified as well. Students will display this model in a public space, so that the rest of the school or the entire community can learn from it.

        Refer to the Materials section above for items you might use to complete this activity. However, you may adapt this list according to what’s available.

        B. If modeling the entire island is too big a task, have each small group from Part II create a detailed diagram of the ecosystem they studied. The diagram should reflect the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem: for example, pictures and names of plant and animal species and where they live in the ecosystem. It should also show how external factors affect these parts. Have the group assign a status to the ecosystem that indicates how healthy or degraded it is, and list the important reasons why. If time allows, discuss as a class some of the connections between the ecosystems, and how the health of one impacts the health of the others.

        9. The following are activities that ask students to take the next step: to raise awareness and inspire others to take action. Tell students they will think of practical ways their community can help make their island more resilient and limit the effects of climate change. First, they will need to consider how islanders can

        protect the local ecosystems for the living things that rely on them; and

        protect natural resources that are important to the economy and human survival.

        Then they will share their ideas with others, using one of the following suggestions:

        A. Have students look for specific evidence of problems caused by human and climate-change threats in their communities. Then discuss how they might address them. For example:

        If the community does not have enough fresh water, students can identify ways residents can conserve what they have by fixing leaking taps and increasing the number of household catchments.

        To protect shorelines or coral reefs, or to promote food security, a community could plant trees. The species of tree planted would depend on the growing environment and the specific problem to be solved. For example, planting mangrove trees would help improve coastal stability, while coconut trees would help with food security.

        Once students have identified a problem and chosen a solution (or solutions), have them create and distribute a poster that explains to community members what actions they should—and should not—take to ensure that the resource will be available for years (and even generations) to come.

        B. Have students write and illustrate a storybook to help educate others on the human and climate-related threats their island faces and what they are trying to do about these threats. The storybook could be directed at the local community or a global audience. You and the students will need to determine a practical way to publish the book and distribute it to your intended audience.

        The video An Ancient Legend Teaches Climate Change Adaptation presents an animated version of an ancient legend. The story has been adapted to mirror what is happening on Palau and applies to other Pacific islands as well. It may inspire students as they prepare to tell their own stories. Speaking with community elders might provide additional ideas.


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