Pacific Islands colleges partner in key workshop on climate change science

UH Mānoa supports NSF-ATE advanced marine and environmental science training program

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Lauren Wetzell, (808) 539-7321
Education & Communication Specialist, Kewalo Marine Laboratory
Robert Richmond
Director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory
Posted: Jul 11, 2014

Participants of the NSF-ATE footlocker workshop, "Climate Science."
Participants of the NSF-ATE footlocker workshop, "Climate Science."
Coral reefs are especially vulnerable to ocean acidification (Palau).
Coral reefs are especially vulnerable to ocean acidification (Palau).
Peltin Pelep, Marine Science faculty at COM-FSM deploys a CAU.
Peltin Pelep, Marine Science faculty at COM-FSM deploys a CAU.

Marine science faculty from Palau Community College and research staff from the Palau International Coral Reef Center hosted faculty from American Samoa Community College, the College of the Marshall Islands, the College of Micronesia - FSM, and Northern Marianas College to discuss climate change science, develop new curriculum, and learn how to use new technological tools with guidance from world-renowned coral reef experts Dr. Robert Richmond (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Kewalo Marine Laboratory) and Dr. Robert Dunbar (Stanford University) from June 25 – 27 in Palau.

This workshop was part of an eight-year effort to build Pacific Islanders’ capacity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – or STEM fields – funded by the National Science Foundation under the Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) Program.

This workshop focused on tools to monitor the impacts of climate change on the islands’ coral reefs. Recent scientific research warns that ocean acidification, in combination with sea surface warming, will cause mortality in 60 percent of the world’s coral reefs and increase the vulnerability of island nations to the impacts of sea level rise.  The effects already being experienced include seawater intrusion into limited freshwater aquifers, damage to low-lying taro fields and coastal flooding.

“Coral reefs are an integral part of the culture, economy, and life for island nations. They have a lot to lose,” UH Mānoa’s Richmond said. “Culturally connected, indigenous individuals working with local governments and communities are the best positioned to help manage coral reef stressors and to inspire local stakeholders to adapt and become more resilient in the face of our changing climate.”

The NSF-ATE program aims to help community colleges to strengthen their curriculum and hands-on training in STEM fields. The Pacific Regional NSF-ATE program has increased STEM enrollment, helped achieve higher levels of retention and graduation, and promoted indigenous Pacific Islander student success through entry into STEM-related careers and/or pursuit of 4-year and post-graduate degrees.

“The University of Hawai‘i is taking a leadership role in the Pacific in helping to educate and train indigenous students for key STEM jobs in their regions“ said UH Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple. “We see this as part of our mandate as a Hawaiian place of learning. With our partner institutions, we are helping to equip local students to address the ever-increasing environmental challenges faced by island nations, and to reduce their reliance on expatriate and outside expertise.”

Already, many students involved in the NSF-ATE program have earned advanced degrees and occupy professional careers such as Palauan born, Yimnang Golbuu, who earned his PhD, is a Research Affiliate at UH’s Pacific Biosciences Research Center, and now serves as the CEO of Palau International Coral Reef Center.  He has been an important mentor and role model for students in this program.

In addition to the geographically relevant climate change curriculum shared at the workshop, participants also received new tools to help train students in coral reef health assessments. Participants received five Hobo temperature and light sensors, six calcium carbonate rate units (provided by NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division), hardware, and software.

The institutions will share these tools with their students and collaborate with researchers and graduate students from UH, Stanford, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center and the other community colleges which comprise a region reaching north and south of the equator and east and west of the international dateline.

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