By Chris Leong
Below is a condensed version of Chris' report, for the full version in .pdf format click here.
Ovalau is the island located to the East of Fiji and accommodates the history of modern development in Fiji. This is because Fiji's initial capital, Levuka, is located on the North Eastern part of the island. What makes Ovalau special to Fiji is the relocation of the capital of Fiji from Levuka to Suva. The rocky terrain and elevated relief made it impossible to expand the capital although relationships between the locals and foreigners were much healthier than other places in Fiji.
But with modern development more focused on the economic gain rather than the destruction of the environment, one could say that Ovalau is lucky that this important piece of relocation history to its new capital Suva had occurred; otherwise there probably would be a lot to write on in terms of environmental destruction.
The new and possibly most effective environmental damage nowadays on the island; particularly in Rukuruku Village is Coastal Erosion. Nevertheless, Ovalau is a beautiful Island that I find worth reporting on, so as to protect it from becoming a coastal disaster in future.
When looking at the Fiji map, one will notice that Ovalau is the centre of the Fiji Islands. It is located in the Lomaiviti archipelago and the absolute location can be read as 17.70° South and 178.8° East. The island is approximately 11-13 kilometers long and about 9-11 kilometers long and the total area of Ovalau is approximately 180.3 square kilometers.
As seen from the photographs it is clear that coastal erosion is evident in Rukuruku Village on Ovalau.
Problems of Coastal Erosion in Rukuruku
A problem that has being point of discussion in the village is the claim of land that is lost to coastal erosion. The issue is between two Freehold Estate owners and neither party has settled on an agreement, most probably because neither knows the full scope of the law when dealing land loss to coastal erosion. This is evident when one of the owners mentioned that his land cannot be claimed for compensation because the coastal erosion is natural and not man-made. However, according to Ken Chambers (USP- Land Management) the Fiji laws classify coastal erosion on Freehold Land as Tolerant Law. This states that the affected party cannot claim for land compensation inland but on the coast itself. For example, if the affected party loses 10meter of land to the sea, he still owns that 10 meters land lost in the sea- regardless of the law that states state ownership on sea.
Effect on Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are also in danger of bleaching because of global warming, this is a global issue but because Ovalau is in the warmer of the hemispheres and the reefs are smaller, the reefs have become steno topic in nature. It is these incidents that threaten the survival of the coral reefs around Ovalau.
This ecosystem is common to the Rukuruku village and it is one that is seen to be loosing this particular natural habitat. This is partly because of coastal erosion but mainly due to the dredging of the beach front in the early 90’s to build roads around the island. The sea grass bed in the old days used to have a lot of sand, today the water is murky and the sand is mixed with soil causing a sludge type beach front (notice the brown colored reefs on the Map of Rukuruku). Most of the biodiversity is beginning to loose its identity in these areas; sea shells have being lost in these areas as have other marine species. This has drastically affected the tourism industry on Ovalau forcing one of its resorts to retire. But this has also seen more emphasis on the protection of the environment simply because one cannot alter nature but adapt to it, so most of the tourist destinations and attractions on Ovalau are eco-tourism and based inland from the shore.
Problems to the Villagers
Apart from affecting the food source on the reefs. The coastal vegetation is also affected- most farmers have farms a distance from the shore to protect the crops from pests. A little sea breeze is what keeps pests away. However, it has being noted that the coast is moving more in land and the increase in salinity of the surrounding area is killing the crops.
The common problem is coastal erosion itself- chunking towards the houses. Temporary measures like building seawalls have being done but according to the owners it is the third sea wall built in 5 years. Other attempts like stone walls put in the shallow waters to break the force of the waves on the shore- which again will only work as long as the area is shallow; unfortunately this is not the case.
Overall the project was very educational in terms of studying coastal erosion and using a GPS. The Garmin GPS system was used in this project and though at times it was difficult to know its functions; it served its purpose well by giving us an experience of a GPS tool and its capabilities.
Climate change is affecting all aspects of life. There is the environmental problem to the social problem. In this project it talks about the coastal erosion that is possibly due to climate change. The people of Rukuruku have come to realize this problem even though most are uneducated. They have tried in their own ways to protect the coast by; however, this is evidently seen that it will not hold out in future.
Throughout Fiji coastal erosion is now a common problem. Food source is affected, land boundaries will be disputed; the social and economic life of the country will be affected slowly and thus gradually increasing. Therefore it is my recommendation that climate change to be educated to every person in the country because it is the little help that we do individually that can slowly protect our coasts even though we may be fighting a losing battle.