Sustainability Endures at CIS2024

By Jessica Wong

Climate Adaptation Communications Fellow, Jessica Wong, shares her experience as an attendee at the University of Guam’s 15th Conference on Island Sustainability.

The Conference on Island Sustainability (CIS) 2024, held this year from April 8 to 13, provided a valuable platform for peoples of the Pacific to connect across islands and oceans, to collaborate and share science for climate action, and to hear the empowered voices of native island youth who are urging us to act to preserve the health of our ecosystems. The theme of this year’s conference was “Sustainability Endures,” and it began with the opportunity to explore Guam’s natural, cultural, and economic environments. 

Understanding climate and coral reef challenges

With beautiful weather on the morning of April 9, we dived into our first experience at CIS 2024 on a snorkel excursion led by the Guam Coral Reef Initiative at Ypao Beach—part of the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve. Swimming among the many colorful coral mounds, blue starfish, and camouflage clams, we could observe the various levels of coral health throughout the reef system. We learned that Guam’s coral reefs had experienced four separate bleaching events from 2013 to 2017 but that reefs island-wide were affected differently, and recovery varied. In addition to the effects of climate change and warming ocean temperatures, corals are also at risk from invasive species, pollution, and overfishing.

Group of people at a beach posing in front of a structural art sign that says, “I love Ypao”.
CIS 2024 attendees participate in a pre-conference snorkel excursion at Ypao Beach on April 9, 2024.

Like others around the world, Guam’s corals are critical providers of food, coastal community protection, economic opportunity, and cultural value. Local researchers collect data on coral bleaching, allowing coral reef managers to understand better which of Guam’s reefs may be most resilient to the impacts of climate change. The Guam Coral Reef Response Team tracks and removes invasive algae and aids in the restoration of coral reefs damaged by vessel groundings, marine debris (such as fishing nets), pollution, and other physical impacts. With continued efforts, Guam and other Pacific Island communities can collaborate to share ideas on building coral reef resilience.






Looking to the past to inform the future

Histories and stories rooted in the collective hearts and minds of Indigenous cultures give insight into the relationships held between the people and the land. On a

People exploring museum exhibits
A half-day tour of Hagåtña included a visit to the Guam Museum on April 10, 2024.

visit to the Guam Museum in Hagåtña on April 10, our impassioned tour guide led us on a journey of CHamoru life, their stories, and pre-colonial ways of living. The ancestral peoples of Guam were part of a society based on fishing, agriculture, and sea trade with the Marianas and Caroline Islanders. Like other Pacific Island groups, they built canoes, weaved objects from pandanus, and had their own stories, song, and dance. 

We also listened to a familiar narrative heard throughout Polynesia of a time when things rapidly started to change for the CHamoru people, beginning with the first encounters with people from the West. Cultural, spiritual, and societal norms and beliefs couldn’t be more different between these groups, and after hundreds of years of colonization, war, and influence from the Western world, the consequence for the CHamoru people was a disconnection from each other: their traditions, language, and relationship with the land.

Despite generations of hardship and change, present-day Guam offers an uplifting perspective of the CHamoru renaissance. Not only have cultural practices been revived and celebrated, but traditional ecological knowledge is being utilized to restore balance to ecosystems and support sustainability and resilience strategies based on future climate projections. Scientists and researchers will ideally continue to work alongside community members and organizations to collaborate and create bridges between diverse knowledge networks from modern science to Indigenous ecological systems.


A glimpse into Guam’s emerging green economy

A group of guides at a community garden
Members from Guåhan Sustainable Culture (GSC) and AmeriCorps GSC led a guided tour of Hagåtña’s community garden on April 10, 2024.

Across from the Guam Museum is a 1,400-square-foot community garden designed by Guåhan Sustainable Culture (GSC), where students and residents can learn how to grow and cultivate local food plants. The garden is a project through the Guam Green Growth (G3) Initiative and was built by the G3 Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps GSC members, and Pacific Federal Management Inc. The garden also offers place-based engagement to learn about agriculture, nutrition, and food security. The hope is to provide a demonstration for other villages and show the potential for Guam to decrease its dependence on imported foods and goods.

Just down the street from the Hagåtña community garden is the G3 Circular Economy Makerspace and Innovation Hub. Designed to bolster Guam’s burgeoning green economy, this space provides a platform for entrepreneurs to repurpose discarded materials into marketable goods using advanced tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, and equipment from Precious Plastic—a recycling project that uses machines to grind, melt, and mold recycled plastic into new products such as furniture, jewelry, and more. Entrepreneurs can test the market with their products at the G3 Green Store. At the same time, the hub offers business guidance, creative workshops, and equipment training, aligning with the broader mission of establishing sustainable cottage industries and promoting regional economic development.


Young voices speak loud and clear on climate action

From grade school art contests and youth-led programming to spoken word poetry and “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals,” the youth presence at CIS 2024 was evident

A panel of students standing on stage with a moderator
CIS 2024 attendees and final plenary panelists applaud emerging youth leaders on April 12, 2024.

and inspiring to all. Presenters of the “CIS Seed Talks: Ideas Worth Cultivating” series spoke of diversity in climate science, effective communication to reach younger and wider audiences, and maintaining data sovereignty of Indigenous knowledge holders. Climate justice warrior and spoken word performer from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Salina Neirok Leem, struck an emotional chord as she recited her poem, “I Grew, Giant,” which touched on the devastation to Marshallese lands and people from past US nuclear testing, as well as the present and future threat of sea-level rise and loss of coastal protection from impacted coral reefs. Students from Hawaiʻi and Guam shared their “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” (B-HAGs) from a youth workshop they attended, such as helping to increase Gen Z voter turnout and implementing cultural education within public school systems.

The closing panel recognized and praised the energy of the conference brought by the youth, the connections made across the Pacific Islands and as far away as Puerto Rico, and the incorporation of Indigenous ecological knowledge in shared climate research. There was an emphasis on keeping strong connections to cultural identity, and young folks realized how much they and their island communities have in common. 

Sustainability endures through connection and collaboration among our small island nations, states, community leaders, and young climate activists, who work together to preserve and restore our natural ecosystems. Join the effort and save the date for CIS 2025, April 7-12, 2025.