SOPAC Director Russell Howorth Delivers the Opening Address at GIS Conference in Fiji

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Nabua, Fiji – During the opening address at the GIS Conference Dr. Russell Howorth said every effort would be made to ensure that Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing are adequately resourced to serve the needs of the Pacific region.
Howorth is the Director of the SOPAC Division of the Secretariat of the South Pacific Community (SPC). He spoke at the 2011 Pacific Islands Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing Conference on Monday [28 November] in Nabua Fiji.

“The goal of SOPAC is to apply geoscience and technology to realize new opportunities for improving the livelihoods of Pacific communities. GIS and Remote Sensing is clearly a technology which can contribute to realizing improving livelihoods,” said Howorth.

GIS is a computer-based tool used to collect, combine and overlay information in the form of easily understood maps constructed from up-to-date satellite images and field data, while Remote Sensing is the collection of information about the earth from a distance.

The five-day conference is being held at SPC in Suva, Fiji, and will provide a platform for Government representatives from Pacific Island Countries and Territories, donor partner representatives and other stakeholders in the NGO and private sector to meet with scientists and GIS/Remote Sensing experts from around the world, and discuss new tools and options for collecting and applying data.

Dr Howorth said the conference, the largest of its kind in the region, would hold a special discussion session on methods of GIS and Remote Sensing that have to be adapted to Pacific standards, and will include elements such as open source software and web applications, utility applications, vegetation mapping and applications to climate change adaptation.

He explained how GIS and Remote Sensing contribute to building the resilience of Small Island Developing States in the Pacific and assist in managing the risk to their vulnerabilities.

For example, it is now possible to count the number of coconut palms per hectare using very high-resolution image data, in the interest of assessing coconut palms as a resource, whether for food security, biofuel, or copra, as has been done in Kiribati and Tuvalu.

A very recent image of shipping vessels in Suva Harbour also demonstrates the potential of radar data, with a resolution of one metre, for the particularly important issue of monitoring tuna fishing vessels in the region.

Increasingly, very high-resolution image data of high accuracy is also used in the delineation of maritime boundaries, for example, in Kiribati and Cook Islands. And in Fiji, the Agriculture Department is also monitoring deforestation by mapping non-forest area with image data at SOPAC.

Dr Howorth assured the participants that SOPAC would work from within SPC to build an even better regional platform that supports, at national level, the opportunities offered by GIS and Remote Sensing tools.

Member Countries: American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji Islands, France, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna