Our current knowledge of how climate change affects the terrestrial environment is relatively well-developed. But when it comes to the oceans and coastal areas, information is still inadequate. For more than 20 years Sida has supported WIOMSA that works with research projects to address problems associated with climate change and environmental degradation in the Western Indian Ocean region.
For more than 20 years, WIOMSA (the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association) has contributed to a better understanding of the region's marine and coastal environment; a region covering Africa's entire East Coast, as well as five of the Western Indian Ocean's island nations. Climate research however, is a relatively new area. WIOMSA is studying how climate change affects the seas and coastal zones, and what adaptation measures will be most beneficial at different levels.
WIOMSA also supports the application of research results in the region, translating them into management plans for marine protected areas and for environment in general. One important milestone is the publishing of the first ever Regional State of the Coast Report together with UNEP, highlighting coastal challenges such as overpopulation, pollution and an increased number of storms and floods. The report is aimed at decision makers that have the mandate to take measures to protect the coastal areas of East Africa.
"All countries in the region have their priorities, but many of the climate change challenges are of transboundary nature. In 2015 the countries of the region approved a common regional strategy for climate change covering the oceans and coastal environments in the region," says Julius Francis, executive secretary at WIOMSA's secretariat on Zanzibar, Tanzania.
The Climate Change Strategy for the Nairobi Convention is a partnership between governments, civil society and the private sector in the region working to protect their shared marine environment.
WIOMSA has signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN's Nairobi Convention to provide technical support. WIOMSA together with UNEP and the Nairobi Convention has identified several priority issues that require urgent actions, such as climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, sustainable use of marine resources, aquaculture development, and pollution from land-based sources.
"Through the Sida-funded MASMA Programme, WIOMSA is addressing the first four in different ways including providing research grants for research and capacity building, as well as by the different partnerships that WIOMSA is engaged in", says Julius Francis.
The mangrove trees' ability to cope with floods or increased sedimentation is an example of a research project. This is aimed at identifying which species of mangrove have the greatest resilience to being planted in the most sensitive and vulnerable areas.
WIOMSA has also studied the short-term fluctuations of the climate, and see how they relate to long-term change. The people in the poor coastal villages are more focused on how to cope with tomorrow than the situation in five years' time, according to Julius Francis.
"Researchers have studied how the changed rainfall patterns are linked to the rising sea temperatures. Based on that, they will develop a model that can inform farmers if the rains will arrive on time. The impact of sea temperatures on monsoon winds is also being studied as many fishermen say that the periods with strong winds increase, reducing the number of days to go fishing."
In order for climate change research to make a real difference, a long-term perspective is required. And ensuring improved cooperation between researchers and policymakers, so that the knowledge generated informs decision-making.
"We say to the scientists receiving funding, that they must think further ahead than simply having their results published in a magazine. In some of our projects we have been successful in doing this, and we receive recognition for being the region's leading research council with the largest portfolio of climate change-related projects", says Julius Francis.