Building a Model Future in Melanesia

The Nature Conservancy has been working with AusAID, Australia’s overseas aid program, on the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (ICCAI), a program that seeks to help communities in Asia Pacific respond to the impacts of climate change. The ICCAI has made possible a vast array of development and conservation projects, which are boosting the resilience of communities throughout Melanesia. Cool Green Science recently spoke to Trish Kas, the Conservancy’s conservation program manager in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Province, about her involvement in the work and how a giant 3D model of the province will help make a huge difference for local people.

CGS: So we know that this project involves a lot of different places throughout the Pacific. Why did Manus Province get involved with the AusAID-supported climate change adaptation project activities?

Trish: Manus is the northern-most province in PNG—it’s a big series of islands and atolls, with Manus Island being the biggest. Manus Island has 50,000 people and the province’s capital, Lorengau, which is the region’s one point of administrative contact. The province covers both land and marine areas and has one of the world’s highest concentrations of biodiversity, but it’s been severely affected by climate change impacts like sea level rise—perhaps more than any other province in PNG. Six of Manus’s smaller atolls have been lost to the sea, and people here are faced with other climate change issues as well, including lack of access to clean water and food as well as hotter temperatures. So local people have to develop adaptation measures that are both culturally and physically appropriate for them. That’s where the Conservancy can help.

CGS: How do you go about figuring out which adaptation measures work best in the local context?

Trish: It’s simple: by talking to the people that live there. I helped facilitate one workshop with local people on potential climate change measures and worked with local leaders to take stock of local resources like freshwater and assess how communities use those resources. I also helped launch the P3D [participatory 3D] modeling process, which took place in Lorengau. Through P3D, communities build a scale model of their region—it reveals not just natural landmarks but how people relate to the environment as well. By building a giant map of Manus, we learned a lot more about how people interact with nature.

CGS: Were people excited about the P3D process? Or did you have to win them over?

Trish: People were very enthusiastic. This was the first time a province-scale model had been created, so it was definitely a new thing for them. The workshop was supposed to last for 10 days, but after starting the process, we quickly realized that building the model alone would take maybe 15 days. As a result, villagers worked nights and weekends to complete the map, which ended up looking great and allowed us to have a successful workshop.

CGS: Wow, that’s incredible.

Trish: Many of the participants were also mothers and fathers from outlying islands, and they spent roughly two weeks away from their families in order to build the model. It really showed how important these adaptation efforts are to these communities.

CGS: What did people take away from the P3D process?

Trish: We realized that mapping must be one of the tools communities use to do management planning for their marine and terrestrial resources. Without a map, it’s impossible to visualize the state of Manus’s resources, which is key to guiding the region toward sustainability and establishing best practices that will ensure the long-term health of local resources. I think they learned that it will take solid plans to establish agriculture, fishery and forestry practices that preserve local resources for future generations.

CGS: So that’s what Manus took away from this. How about the Conservancy?

Trish: This whole process was another really striking example of the good that comes from letting local people take the lead. By facilitating community efforts and helping them to gather traditional knowledge, we can complement their conservation projects with our science and planning expertise, but the impetus for our involvement has to come from them.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. As I am here this week in Mauritius (April 20-25) for the regional Policy briefing # 7, Ken Mondiai, our partner with PWM, made the presentation on P3D mapping as a tool to assist planning for impacts of CC and to assist communities build reislience… was a very interesting case study, and it will soon to replicated to other Pacific islands, and Cariibeans (ie- the SIDS) countries. Very useful tool indeed..

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