by NZ CATHOLIC staff
Pacific Islanders are scrambling to build seawalls out of sticks, stones, shells and coral, to protect their lands and homes from erosion and rising sea levels, while global talks continue about climate change.
This is one of the findings of a Caritas report, Small Yet Strong — Voices
From Oceania on the Environment, which was launched at St Peter Chanel Catholic Church, Clover Park, Auckland on October 4 (St Francis Day).
The director of Caritas Aotearoa, Julianne Hickey, said that vulnerable
people throughout Oceania live every day with environmental changes and
challenges. “They are actively striving to overcome environmental problems
not of their making and beyond their control,” she said. “We need to support their efforts. All of us living in this region need to protect the precious environment of Oceania for present and future generations.”
Mrs Hickey said the people most affected must be part of those discussions.
The report draws from interviews conducted by Caritas with people across Oceania at grassroots and coastal edge level on the environmental challenges they face. It explores what people are experiencing, how they are responding and what they want to happen.
Keynote speakers at the launch included Amelia Ma’afu from Caritas Tonga, who has seen firsthand rising sea levels eating away at homes and coconut palms on the low-lying islands of Ha’apai. She spoke about innovative climate change adaptation in Tonga that combines traditional local knowledge of plants and weather warnings with scientific observations.
Mrs Hickey said the report is a people’s voice perspective — not a scientific or economic assessment. It also touches on environmental experiences in Australia and New Zealand.
Speaker Tihikura Hohaia talked about how the Parihaka community in Taranaki struggled to exercise its kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) to protect traditional food sources and waterways from resource management decisions.
Other stories and experiences in the report show people in Oceania facing large-scale industrial mining, forestry and commercial plantations, and the loss of food crops, water supplies and stunning landscapes.
“Oceania is a priority region for our work to promote justice, peace and
truly human development,” said Mrs Hickey, “and environmental issues are
at the forefront of people’s concerns in the communities with whom we work — in advocacy, development and humanitarian aid programmes.”
The report recommends action by local and central governments, communities
and individuals, including: ensuring resources are available for the most poor and vulnerable communities, their participation in decisionmaking about their future; limiting the impact of extractive industries, while encouraging investment in renewable sources of energy; and promoting integrated thinking and
action for a comprehensive response.


  1. Thank you for highlighting current impacts of climate change in Oceania. Real stories by real people help move hearts and minds. We will highlight your story this week in our e-mail blast to the 12,000 supporters in the U.S. and around the world who have taken the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor: