The project is co-funded from the European Commission (Grant Agreement reference 690462) |

The five INNOVA hubs all have different issues and challenges related to climate change impacts and adaptation. Past Ezines have already introduced the specific climate related characteristics of the five innovation hubs: Kiel Bay in Germany, Nijmegen in The Netherlands, Valencia in Spain, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French West-Indies, and Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Following Ezines described the implementation of climate services in these hubs.

The French West Indies (Guadeloupe and Martini-que), as one of the INNOVA hubs, are representative for other Small Island States around the globe. Even though Small Island States are distinct in their geographical, biophysical, socio-economic and cultural characteristics, they share common challenges with respect to risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

With this Ezine we want to highlight the need for specific climate services, which are tailored to the needs of Small Island States and account for their specific challenges for climate adaptation.

A case-study example from Zanzibar will present the usage of newest technology to identify areas affected by salt-water intrusion and sea inundation – a challenge, which is common to many Small Island States.

Innova Guadeloupe & Martinique Project Progress


A workshop on “Earth Observation and Coastal Climate Services for Small Islands” was held from 13th to 15th of November 2019 in Pointe-á-Pitre, Guadeloupe. The workshop was jointly organized by the Climate Service Center Germany – Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht and the University of the French Antilles (Université des Antilles) in Guadeloupe. It brought together 35 participants – stakeholders and providers – predominantly from the Caribbean with representatives from the Pacific and Indian Ocean region.

The goals of the workshop were to recognize common challenges and data needs of Small Island States in relation to risk reduction and climate change adaptation; to identify development needs for additional data services; and to identify useful methods for the dissemination of such services. A number of obstacles were identified and recommendations for future research areas and policy-making formulated. More information and outputs from the workshop can be found on the website and in Rölfer et al. 2020.


Despite diverse bio-physical, geographical, cultural and political landscape, Small Island States face shared environmental, economic and socio-political characteristics.

Small Island States comprise completely of coastal zone due to their size and location. This is why they sometimes rather call themselves “Large Ocean States”. The exchange between land and ocean is fast and has mutual impacts on each other. Nutrients from agriculture or industry sewage for example reach the sea faster and might affect marine ecosystems. Oppositely, coastal flooding due to storms can lead to marine inundation and consequently wipe out whole harvests.

Economically, Small Island States are highly dependent on healthy ecosystems for subsistence and income from fishing, aqua- and agriculture and tourism. On the other hand, they are highly import-dependent due to limited local resources on the islands. Competing interests between economic and environmental targets may occur. As in the case of tourism, which on one hand is substantial for income, but on the other hand puts additional pressures on fragile ecosystems.

The special circumstances of Small Island States make them very vulnerable to additional stressors – especially climate change. Guadeloupe and Martinique have been introduced in Ezine 4 ‘Experimenting to reducing the islands’ vulnerability to global change’. Issues in the production of sugarcane and bananas were shown as one example of an impact, which is associated with climate change, on the French West Indies. More generally, Small Island States are already facing a variety of climate change impacts, which are already felt and will be exacerbated by climate change, such as saltwater intrusion or beach erosion.

Almost a third of the population as well as a large portion of economic assets are located in low-lying coastal areas with less than 5 m elevation of mean sea level. This makes them very susceptible to sea-level rise. Additionally, extreme events such as tropical storms, which are likely to increase in intensity, often affect the entire island and cause a huge loss relative to the GDP. The small population size is unfavourable to address climate adaptation challenges. The size of the problems simply does not scale with the size of the countries and their population. Hence, there is a lack of human resources to develop earth observation and climate services as well as climate action plans.


Some observational services for the coastal zone already exist and some are currently under development. One example for a service that is currently being developed is WaveFoRCE (Wave-driven Flood forecasting on Reef-lined Coasts Early warning system ( This service will comprise forecasts out to 7.5 days for every 200 meters along the coasts for all coral reef-lined coasts in the world. The service aims at increasing the resilience of coastal communities. However, it does not include projections on long-term climatic changes.

The special social, economic and environmental challenges of Small Island States and the variety of climate change impacts call for context specific climate and earth observation services. However, there are still various gaps and obstacles in the development of feasible services, which can be disseminated across regions.

There is generally limited interaction, coordination and agreement on scientific procedures and methods. Different scientific communities and disciplines within and between nations and regions lack common ways to communicate. This includes the fields of regional development, climate modelling, earth observation, meteorology, etc. This is problematic, as perspectives are disconnected, and lack a shared holistic and consistent idea surrounding climate change and Small Island States. This delays progress and action to support decision-making.

A substantial technical gap is the availability and accuracy of downscaled climate simulations and earth observations. They are key to gain insight into local climatic changes and subsequent management. The challenge of climate change information for Small Island States lies in the representation of Small Islands as land surface in the land-sea mask of climate models. Simulations at higher resolution (to 3 km grid box length) are available, but to date only for specific areas. They are expected to lead to a better representation of the regional climate over Small Islands. (These simulations will become available within the frame of the EU-Project EUCP).

Climate projections at higher resolution, however, are cost and time extensive and are often conducted by researchers from external institutions. Consequently, finding services that are feasible and can be conducted by untrained staff are needed to make Small Island States more independent from externalities. Environmental report cards are one example for a powerful medium to synthesize science and communicate the current environmental state of the system. Advantages are that they are useful on local scale, transferable and easy to use. Moreover, they are widely perceived to increase public awareness and influence policy.


The INNOVA project is developing a Data and Knowledge Platform (DKP) as a service to the small island of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

The DKP geographic software was conceived as support for climate-service elaboration in the context of the global change impact on given geographic locations.

It is intended for a community of stakeholders who need visual and geographic tools to design services for improving the resilience of society in various domains. The DKP aims at providing visualization functions and a repository of geographically referenced resources that are useful for better understanding and design.


Local island perspectives are essential in understanding the complex climate and environmental dynamics that affect Small Island communities. Climate adaptation and resilience is not possible without a local understanding of economic, social, political and cultural contexts and specific community dynamics and responses. Without seeking the knowledge and inclusion of those affected, there is the danger of important issues and dynamics being missed.

Therefore, context specific responses to these issues should make use of traditional, local and indigenous knowledge, alongside conventional adaptation policies. Local context also includes understanding difficult-to-measure elements such as kinship, hierarchical and patriarchal cultures and communities, coupled with the complex dynamics of such relationships. Because of the unique socio-political composition, there often appears a uniquely local style of bureaucracy and governance.

To understand the local context, the co-development of services and tools between researchers, society and policy is necessary. A balance of indigenous and scientific knowledge should be used to plan adaptation and building resilient communities. The inclusion of actors in the private sector in adaptation and mitigation strategies may have a major positive impact on building favourable political and public opinions and thus advance the uptake of information services. Additionally, framing climate change in a context that people care about will support the uptake of climate services in society as well as in decision making.


Towards Solutions:

Bold and appropriate actions have to be taken to respond to the pending impacts of climate change on Small Island States. Climate issues cut across the social-ecological system and can only be addressed by the integration of multiple scientific disciplines, policy domains and island sectors (public to private, agriculture, water, health etc.). Result-based management can thereby hold politicians more accountable for their decisions regarding climate adaptation policies, when they usually only respond to short-term issues within 5-year election cycles.

Pooling and coordination of regional resources for scientific research is needed. This relates to climate change modelling, earth and ocean observations and the development of scientific services to support climate change adaptation and transformation of Small Island societies. Especially investment in high-resolution regional and local (Small Island scale) downscaling of climate models is crucial. Furthermore, systematic data collection and shared databases across Small Island regions is strongly encouraged, as it can facilitate actions such as the agro-ecological transition.

There is a need to boost research capacities in Small Island States. This can avoid misrepresenting or misunderstanding the Small Island context, when research takes place through external actors or from institutions in mainland developed countries. Further, Small Island States have proportionally less human and financial resources, meaning that the issues and complexities of climate change adaptation do not scale with the size of the country. Human capacity development in all the sciences that support decision-making with relation to climate change adaptation and resilience building should be prioritized.

The media plays a key role in raising the profile and importance of Small Island States. It is the responsibility of the media, and those that work with the media, to ensure that these contents are both scientifically-based and accurate. It is also crucial to portray the views of the local populations affected, not just understandings gained from external perspectives.


Saltwater intrusion is a challenge, which is common to many Small Islands. The Department of Environment and the Zanzibar Environmental Management Authority (ZEMA) have assessed the impacts of climate induced salinization of the coastal zone.

In an interview with Dr. Aboud Jumbe, researcher in Environmental Science and coordinator of the project, we speak about the current progress of this ongoing project.

Small Island States are experiencing a variety of climate challenges. What are the major climatic impacts on Zanzibar?

Aboud: The coastal areas of Zanzibar are already vulnerable to erratic rainfalls, temperature rise, coastal erosion, enhanced flooding, as well as saltwater intrusion. Changing weather patterns on the islands have a critical role in food and water security. Salt Water Intrusion is the largest single environmental threat that has exposed the islands’ vulnerability to sea level rise and inundation of the coastal lowlands.

The Zanzibar Climate Change Action Plan (ZCCAP) calls for the immediate need to identify priority sites affected by saltwater intrusion. How are those sites identified?

Aboud: The current study by the Department of Environment mainly focuses on geographical documentation of sites severely affected by saltwater intrusion. By using EBee Drones, around 150 separate salt-water intrusion and seawater inundation sites have been identified so far. This will help us prioritize our immediate response measures, aimed at supporting local communities to cope with the dynamic impacts of climate change.

You and your team have built an atlas of areas affected by saltwater intrusion. How is this atlas being used and who benefits from it?

Aboud: The idea is to build up a geographic information database that supports our climate adaptation policy action in the implementation of respective strategic development directions in alignment with our resilience objectives. The goals and initiatives of this study are to provide an updated guidance and focus on priority sites for immediate adaptation measures as the country prepares itself for a long process of climate impacts and adaptation options. It is critical to note that policy decisions and planning in the island’s context should be governed by scientific evidence of accurate data that in turn provides logical climate modelling inputs, projections and early warning systems against the impacts of climate change.    

Do you have any indication of how rainfall and saltwater intrusion interact, both in the past and looking forward to the changing climate?

Aboud: Previous climate and water studies had already attempted to establish the linkages between sea level rise, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion into the groundwater aquifers and the lowland cultivation zones adjacent to the sea. A good precipitation year with over 2500 mm of rainfall might help to revitalize the annual acceptable yield and recharge potential. However, in the last 30 years, studies have shown a drastic reduction in total mean annual rainfall level to under 2000 mm. This severely affects our shallow limestone aquifers which are in hydraulic continuity with the adjacent sea. Despite an increasing level of understanding on how the changing precipitation patterns in Zanzibar are influenced by the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) or El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO) systems, very few studies address high resolution linkages between changing precipitation, salinity intrusion, freshwater lens interface and the so-called hydraulic continuity with the sea water.

Have you used climate projections to assess the changes in rainfall over time and the influence this will have on future salt intrusion?

Aboud: A study funded by UK DFID in 2012 titled “Economic Impacts of Climate Change in Zanzibar” used climate projections to assess the existing variability trends and impacts exacerbated by erratic rainfalls. Recent data confirms the overall decline in average precipitations between 1980 and 2010. However, we don’t have a high resolution statistical, temporal or spatial data that can help us develop an early warning system in the islands which can support our efforts to address socio-economic impacts of freshwater insecurity. For an archipelago that doesn’t have perennial rivers and which draws all of its freshwater resources from the shallow coastal aquifers, this inability to build up preventive and response measures against increasing salinity levels of our freshwater aquifers has made us more vulnerable to further climate related shocks.

What are the next steps of the project and what would be necessary to increase the uptake of the report by users?

Aboud: We need to upgrade and enhance our technical approach in developing the local area situational and adaptation issues related to saltwater intrusion. We need more assistance to collect more scientific and stocking data, manage and spread information and knowledge on climate services related to early warning systems. We need to engage users who can synergize with us on how to tackle the saltwater intrusion effects as well as local adaptation and mitigation measures. It is necessary for us to first build a working space to share skills, knowledge, collaborate and provide users with easy access to useful information related to affected geographical areas of Zanzibar. We hope that this approach will help us engage internal and external stakeholders and help spreading best practices while keeping track of the data and information collected regularly.


The participants of the workshop are gratefully acknowledged for their active participation and contribution. Future Earth Coast, and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) made financial contributions to the workshop.

The workshop was financially supported by an ERA4CS INNOVA project (European Commission Grant Agreement Reference 690462), the I2B project CoastalClimateServices@GERICS and the Climate Service Center Germany – Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht. GEO Blue Planet, Global Water Partnership and the Indian Ocean Commission made additional contributions of time and effort.

The support of the World Bank’s Zanzibar Mapping Initiative is highly acknowledged. We thank Mr. Ali I Badui for providing us with images and photos. The full case-study can be accessed under:

Take-away Messages
  • Guadeloupe and Martinique – as an example of Small Island States – have been introduced in Ezine 4: ‘Experimenting to reducing the islands’ vulnerability to global change’.
  • Small Island States share various environmental, economic and socio-political characteri-stics, which set them apart from mainland countries.
  • Small Island States are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and subsequent impacts, which are very likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
  • To date, few climate and earth observation services for Small Island States exist, caused by technical obstacles and lacking human and research capacities of Small Island States.
  • Understanding the local context is highly important in the development of climate services, especially when developed by externalities.
  • There is an urgent need for bold and appropriate actions to respond to the pending impacts of climate change on Small Island societies, with key importance of research, policy and media.
This Ezine has been produced for INNOVA

Lena Rölfer, Louis Celliers & María Mañez (Helmholtz Center Geesthacht, Centre for Materials and Coastal Research, Germany)

Edited for the Ezine format by:

Wim Timmermans & Fokke de Jong (Wageningen Environmental Research)

And additional input was received from:

Aboud Jumbe (Department of Environment and the Zanzibar Environmental Management Authority, Zanzibar)

Martine Collard and Erick Stattner (Universite des Antilles, France)

Harry Ozier-Lafontaine (Inra French Antilles and Guyana)

February 2021