Koro Island Boy Leads Adaptation
He doesn’t necessarily say this because he is in the business of climate change adaptation, and is supposed to sound strong and optimistic and not be a gloom and doom prophet.
He says it because it’s something he truly believes in.
“We might be from different communities and belong to different races but we all face a common challenge called climate change,” he said.
“And in the face of this challenge we must stand together, and stand strong in adapting.
“We are a resilient people, it’s in our blood.”
Twenty five year old Apolosa Robaigau aka Bai is a Climate Change Field Officer for WWF South Pacific. As his job title implies, he is often out in the fields, working with communities of Macuata and Ba provinces to build their resilience to climate change.
Things like massive riverbank erosion, sea level rise, unexpected and extreme weather events can be scary and confusing. Bai’s job is to unravel the science behind these natural ‘mysteries’ and empower communities with knowledge so that they better understand and deal with a changing climate.
Sometimes he finds that climate change has been made a scapegoat for changes to the environment largely caused by human activity.
For example, the clearing of vegetation near riverbanks and coastlines is a major factor contributing to the washing away of riverbanks threatening the security of nearby settlements.
“Climate change is a reality but most times we also play a big role in worsening its effects on our communities and lives,” he said.
“My work gives me a close interaction with communities that are often the most vulnerable to climate change and nothing pleases me more than helping them build their resilience and adapting to a changing climate.
“And taking responsibility for the damages that we cause to the environment is part and parcel of that adaptation process.”
Robaigau can closely indentify with coastal communities as he grew up in one himself.
A child of Nabuni Village on Koro Island in the Lomaiviti province, Bai enjoyed most his childhood out and about in nature, either at sea, on the plantation, at the river, exploring.
And every now and then he questioned the origin of life.
How did the tiniest fish that he spotted in the mangrove swamps come about? Insects, leaves, trees, wave action, to the kings of the marine food chain. Life intrigued the boy Bai and embedded a gnawing curiosity that shaped his education path.
“A Christian boy I am continually reminded that God is the author of all life,” he said.
“All life is His handiwork but I wondered how the fish grows, and there are thousands of different kinds of insects and animals and thought ‘this is a real smart God!”
So naturally he loved the sciences and many years later at the Fiji National University the ‘blueprint’ of God literally blew him out of the water.
“It was amazing to learn about how life began from a single cell and multiplied into gigantic trees and filled the ocean with life,” he said.
“But somehow learning all these you feel that you are only getting a glimpse of something much bigger.
“The way things just work in sync, the complex biological and ecological processes and the interdependence of life, you know for sure there is a master planner.”
Now when he looks back to that young boy from Nabuni, he realises that studying science has opened up a world he could hardly envisage as a child. It’s helped him appreciate the natural environment that he enjoyed so much even more and developed a passion for protecting it.
At a turning point in global history when the world is faced with the enormity of climate change, Bai says he is glad that his passion for nature is helping him help others deal with these changes.
“I’ve learnt so much over the years from school, workshops and field activities and what I am primarily eager about is using all this knowledge to help Fijians build their resilience and adapt to climate change,” he said.
One of the things that he focuses on is defining the differences between climate and weather and what influences it, the climate systems, what’s happening in the atmosphere, what’s happening in the ocean currents and what’s the situation in Fiji.
From there he talks about how the climate affects our food supply, water supply, health and different sectors of the country’s economy.
Climate change is not always bad, there are opportunities for the economy progress but we have to adapt to it.
Bai also works with communities to determine their vulnerability to climate change for instance a community location maybe more prone to landslides, so once that is determined, together with the community an action plan for adaption is drawn up and implemented.
“We have different callings in life and life takes us different paths, this is the path I have chosen because I get to work with both communities and in nature.
“I enjoy working for both and it leaves me happy knowing that I am helping communities help themselves at a critical time in the history of the world.”