Dec 14, 2017 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Dec 12, 2017

Team covers activity costs with workload

Many eyes will be focused on the Pacific Islands Forum and the upcoming Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. But there are also smaller happenings that should grab the attention of Pacific Island leaders. One such is the winning of two awards by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (AGTD, previously SOPAC) from the world’s leading provider of satellite imagery, DigitalGlobe Inc. based in Colorado, USA. This should be of interest to Pacific Island countries because they currently receive the highest-resolution satellite image data commercially available at some of the lowest prices on the planet. Cost-effective delivery of service by SPC, the only authorised reseller of DigitalGlobe products in the Pacific Island region (not including Australia and New Zealand), has driven increased sales of satellite imagery.

This has led to SPC receiving a DigitalGlobe Reseller Excellence Award 2014 for the highest sales volume in the Asia-Pacific region. SPC purchases satellite imagery data from DigitalGlobe at around one-third of the average global price. This price, along with the additional reseller discount received by SPC, is passed on directly to Pacific Island countries. The result is an exceptional deal for Pacific Island governments accessing state-of-the-art satellite imaging technology. This type of imaging has a variety of applications across different government ministries and sectors, including forestry, land planning, agriculture, geology, fisheries, port operations, disaster management, infrastructure and urban planning, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, and education.

At the very least, it allows Pacific Island countries to replace long-outdated aerial maps and cartographic data. Another factor influencing the region’s demand for satellite imagery has been an innovation at SPC that improves satellite image quality. Prevailing weather conditions can affect the quality of images captured by satellites. This is a major challenge in the Pacific, where humid, tropical conditions drive cloud cover and other disturbances in the imaging process. Wolf Forstreuter, a GIS specialist who leads the GIS and remote sensing team at SPC, explains that, while the fringing reef of an island may be in full sun, there is often cloud cover hovering over parts of the island. And with elevated islands, the different sides of a hill will often have different levels of atmospheric moisture.

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Airship for the islands?

I first began paying close attention to the Aeroscraft project at the start of 2012 during a stint of research for a long-term aviation project with Ben Lucas, a young physicist based in Los Angeles, along the beach just south of Santa Monica’s airport, north of the airfields of Playa Del Rey where Los Angeles International Airport is located. Often cycling along this stretch of the Southern California coast, where helicopters shudder along the coastline and hang gliders hop off the dunes of the South Bay beneath an endless thrust of commercial airliners out over the Pacific, we discussed the scale of air travel and ways to better utilise the airspace.

It was here where we filmed Ride the Sky, a short documentary entrant to the GE Focus Forward campaign regarding man-powered aviation research and more environmentally sustainable modes of air transportation, both for the individual and large-scale logistical purposes. This led to greater familiarisation with the Aeroscraft project as it was coming into the last round of prototype development and beginning to garner a lot of anticipatory press from science and aviation media.

It was one of the more exciting developments in the corridors of aerospace firms operating along the California coast. The founder of Aeros Corp., CEO Igor Pasternak, has been developing airships for over 25 years. Since the launch of the DARPA-funded WALRUS programme nearly a decade ago, the support awarded for his company’s development of the Aeroscraft has evolved to redefine everything an airship can accomplish.

As most people understand, the conventional airship, commercial blimps used for advertising and broadcasting might come to mind, or maybe images of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, in which the poorly designed zeppelin, coated in flammable metallic thermite and filled with highly volatile hydrogen for buoyancy, came to a spectacular and not unlikely demise.

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Aerial unmanned vehicles to monitor EEZ

Australian-provided patrol boats, aerial surveillance is the key to effective fisheries enforcement. One or even two patrol boats in a vast exclusive economic zone—such as Kiribati or the Federated States of Micronesia—are only marginally useful for fisheries enforcement without airplanes spotting potential illegal fishing activity. But most islands countries can’t afford the cost of aerial surveillance, so it only happens a couple of times a year during joint operations involving the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency member islands nations and the United States, Australia and New Zealand that provide navy and air force planes to direct patrol vessels for vessel boardings.

A monitoring, control and surveillance technical meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission held in Pohnpei in October discussed the fact that earlier this year, aerial surveillance discovered 19 Taiwan long-liners violating WCPFC rules by not reporting their positions in waters near the Marshall Islands. “If there were 19 vessels, regardless of flag, out there not doing the right thing,” says Marshall Islands fisheries Director Glen Joseph, “imagine what is happening with 3,000 long-liners and 300 purse seiners in the region.”

In mid-October, the Albacora Uno, a Spanish purse seiner, was fined US$1 million for illegally fishing in Nauru waters. Fishing companies know there is minimal enforcement capability in the islands so the odds of being caught may be worth breaking the rules. A two-prong move by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) member Palau could be a game changer for fisheries enforcement. Palau is set to close its entire EEZ to commercial fishing and begin the regular use of unmanned aerial vehicles—drones —to enforce the closure.

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New tsunami computer model

Helps Tonga handle disaster

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community(SPC) has developed a world-leading computer model to help the government of Tonga understand how Tongatapu would be impacted by a tsunami created by a magnitude 8.7 earthquake. The model was developed together with Geoscience Australia with funding from AusAID and it includes data from the tsunamis that devastated Samoa in 2009 and Japan in 2011. Leveni ‘Aho, Director of Tonga’s National Disaster Management Office, says the ‘Tsunami Wave Inundation Model’ is helping the Tongan government to determine evacuation zones, design emergency response measures and improve long-term urban planning for Nuku’alofa and surrounding villages.

“The tsunami computer model has provided the government with a wonderful tool to help us really understand the risks of different scenarios and to prepare in the best ways we can,” he says. Mosese Sikivou, deputy director of SPC’s Disaster Reduction Programme, says the project is part of the SPC’s assistance to Tonga in connection with its Joint National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management which was approved by cabinet in July 2010. “At community level, there is little practical difference between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

“Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction both aim to reduce the vulnerability of communities and contribute to sustainable development,” he says. Sikivou says the work to develop a tsunami inundation model for Tongatapu is part of a more integrated approach the SPC and other partners are taking right across the Pacific to try and maximise scarce resources and minimise duplication of effort and potential conflicts in policy development.

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