POLLUTION A GROWING CONCERN IN FIJI WATERS

Commentary

By Akisi Bolabola

SUVA, Fiji (April 16) - There was once a time when the Suva Harbour was a sparkling azure sea with numerous and abundant varieties of fish flitting around vibrant coral reefs.

At that time, the only lights would have been from wood fires stoked continuously through the night to lend warmth to the home.

Inevitably, development reached our shores and along with its wonders, came some negative baggage.

An expected outcome of most, if not all development activities is the pollution it creates in the wake of making our surroundings more aesthetic or life a little bit more convenient.

Development has taken us into the age of canned coconut cream where before there was no easy way out of coconut scraping duties early on a Sunday morning.

Plastic bags have replaced the once common basket or cloth bag simply because it is a more convenient option.

Thus, one can determine that most of our actions have accompanying polluting consequences.

In a small island nation like ours, where we are largely maritime in nature, dealing with pollution is a growing concern.

This is even more so when considering that a large proportion of the population and tourist-based activities are situated along coastal areas.

It is thus imperative that Fiji and her citizens address this issue now.

A majority of Fiji's communities rely heavily on the marine environment for meeting their subsistence, economical and social needs.

It has provided and secured livelihoods for many generations, and on the international scene has been dubbed as one of the world's more pristine ecosystems, bringing into the country much needed foreign investment and income.

The introduction of pollutants into this ecosystem has affected and continues to affect those who are heavily dependant on these resources.

The ocean is likened to a sink where waste of all sorts end up. One does not have to conduct extensive research to prove this.

It's obvious at popular picnic spots and beaches where you share the environment with discarded plastic bags, empty containers, aerosol cans, snack packs and the list goes on.

Amongst all the diversity of human activities and sources of pollution, land-based activities such as direct dumping of waste account for about 70 per cent of the pollution in the marine environment.

The second source is the atmospheric fallout of pollutants, followed by discharges from shipping, offshore oil and gas production.

Direct dumping of household garbage in our aquatic systems is a common practice in both rural and urban centers.

Urban centers should be taken to task as there really is no excuse for dumping in the oceans as garbage collection services are made available by town and city councils.

For many rural coastal dwellers, due to an absence of this service and no proper waste disposal plans, dumping in the oceans is thus the more convenient option. For inland communities, garbage is dumped in the river with the perception that with the heavy rainfall, the current will take it away.

Therefore it becomes the "out of sight, out of mind" habit with the idea that water clears waste.

Another significant threat to the marine environment is the agricultural runoff of fertilizers and pesticides used to increase productivity.

This runoff contains nitrate and phosphate that contribute to the rampant algae growth that robs coastal waters of oxygen leading to the disturbance of the natural food-web.

Similarly, having piggeries near aquatic bodies (as this makes it more convenient to clean) have devastating impacts on the streams, rivers and marine environment.

Most dumping areas in both rural and urban areas are found in the mangrove areas.

These areas are vital components of the marine environment in that they provide a nursery for resources like fish, which we rely on as a source of protein.

An example of this was the old Lami Rubbish Dump that was located in a natural mangrove forest.

Fiji's ever increasing population creates an urgent need to improve our sewage treatment capacity, solid waste disposal and agricultural land run-off mitigation.

With about 80 percent of Fiji's population depending on the marine environment for their livelihood, it leaves no room for irresponsibility of individuals, or groups alike in combating marine pollution.

In summary, our marine environment is subject to our activities that pose threats to its well-being and sustainability.

The impact of marine pollution in Fiji is similar to those faced in other parts of the world but is sadly amplified due to our small size, insularity and development status.

The ocean is a single body with connectivity to other parts of the environment.

This concept must prompt an individual to minimize his or her negative impact upon it. Over time it will contribute to a healthier society one which can enjoy the benefits of a healthy ocean.

Akisi Bolabola is the Macuata project officer with World Wildlife Fund’s Fiji Program

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yeah its all true

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