Establishing relative sea level trends where a coast lacks a long term tide gauge

  • Joanna Ellison
  • Pippa Strickland
Original Article


Vulnerability assessment of coastal areas to projected sea level rise requires incorporation of historic trends in relative sea level change as an exposure factor. Most shorelines of developing countries lack long term tide gauges, such as the Pacific Islands region, which are especially vulnerable to climate change impacts. This study has the objective of demonstrating how long-term relative sea level trends can be derived from proxy records, on the tectonically unstable main island of Fiji. At Tikina Wai on the western coast, while elevations of present mangrove zones of Rhizophora stylosa, Rhizophora samoensis and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza were <1.2 m around mean sea level, sediment cores down to 3 m showed mangrove occurrence meters lower than they can grow today. Pollen analysis identified past locations of these mangrove species zones, and the present day elevations of the species were used to reconstruct past sea levels. Results of this study showed that relative sea-level has been slowly rising for the last several centuries at about 2.1 mm a−1, yet mangrove communities have remained resilient with nearly equivalent net sedimentation rates, though with some zone retreat landwards. With such local subsidence, the Tikina Wai district is more exposed to future sea level rise projections than stable coastal areas elsewhere, with additional exposure in having a micro-tidal range. Adaptation actions identified to address this risk include enhancement of sedimentation under mangrove communities through coastal and catchment planning to remove obstructions to sediment supply, reducing non-climate stresses to increase organic production, and replanting of degraded areas. Such information on relative sea level trends can be used to identify where adaptation resources are best concentrated.


Adaptation Climate change Mangrove communities Pacific Islands Sea level rise Vulnerability assessment 



This research was funded the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) project “Coastal resilience to climate change: Developing a generalizable method for assessing vulnerability and adaptation of mangroves and associated ecosystems” awarded to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF US). Research was facilitated by Monifa Fiu and Francis Areki of the WWF South Pacific Program Office, and we thank the communities of Tikina Wai villages for their hospitality, assistance during fieldwork and support of the research. Brigid Morrison and Rob Anders of the University of Tasmania also helped during fieldwork, Kesho Sharma of the Fiji Lands Department assisted with surveys to benchmarks, and Michael Helman drew the Figures. We are grateful for the comments of two anonymous reviewers who allowed improvements to the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia

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