Fiji’s vanishing shores – villagers battle against coastal erosion

 
Sea erosion biting into Fiji’s major highway – Queens Road. Picture: SALOTE ESIRA

By SALOTE ESIRA

Nestled along the central coast of Serua Province, the village of Qarasarau has always been a picturesque haven blessed with stunning coastal views and a thriving marine ecosystem. For generations, the villagers lived in harmony with the sea, drawing their sustenance from its abundant resources.

However, the serenity of this coastal paradise has been shattered by an insidious threat – coastal erosion – driven by the relentless forces of climate change and rising sea levels. Elders recount tales of a time when the shores were stable, and the fishermen could easily catch fish close to the village.

Eseta Seavula , the eldest person in Qarasarau Village, recounts her experience on the changes in the shores throughout the years due to climate change. “The change in weather brought in by climate change has truly affected our shores,” she says, adding, “if you take a walk along the roadside, you could find seashells and sands on roads. This has also affected medicinal herbs”.

“It has become endangered. These medicinal herbs help treat wounded curves and even fever. Due to the rise in sea levels and also strong tidal waves, the herbs are being uprooted and are getting extinct,” Eseta says sadly.

Even the fishermen could no longer catch fish for their families on the near river. They had to go out in the open. The village headman, with a voice tinged with sorrow, explains how the community has been forced to adapt.

“I was born here in Qarasarau. My parents were born here and my grandparents have been living here for the past 70 years. Over the years, we’ve seen the coastal lake has been eroded,” says Lorosio Seavula, the headman of  Qarasarau Village.

“And it’s been diminishing. It’s been taken away by the wind. Before, a lot of coastal trees used to grow along the coastline, but because of the erosion, these trees have been taken away by the sea.

“The main effect of the coastal erosion is some of the native trees that used to grow along the coastline is no longer there. And even some of the herbal medicine that we use that grows along the coastline, it’s no longer there because of this coastal erosion,” says Lorosio, shaking his head.

“So that’s the main effect of coastal erosion affecting Qarasarau Village. And we can also see it’s coming closer to the Queens Road. So very soon it will affect the Queens Road.”

Queens Road is the main highway that circles Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu.

Villagers during a beach clean-up. To address the issue of coastal erosion, the villages of Qarasarau implemented local solutions. Picture: SALOTE ESIRA

To address the issue of coastal erosion, the villages of Qarasarau implemented local solutions.

“There was one project we undertook back 10 years ago. It was putting sand, bags of sand, along the coastline. And I think there is also discussion with the government to put rocks along the coastline to minimise the impact of high tides and waves taking with coastal soil,” headman Lorosio told Wansolwara.

The villagers also approached the government, resulting in the initiation of a rock placement project carried out by the Hot Spring Road Construction Company. Asaeli Vosayaco, the project leader explained the project to Wansolwara.

“This is the initiative from the infrastructure survey. So with any coastal erosion, the only thing that we have is to do with this repair job. We’re putting on boulders to protect government assets, especially the road network, on the Queen’s highway,” said Vosayaco.

“We understand the environment of the area and climate change. Climate change, it keeps on increasing everyday, it keeps on rising on the sea, with the high water level,” explained Vosayaco. “ As it rises, so all what we do is to protect the (government) assets.”

The help which the villagers received were not enough. The villagers feel that insufficient efforts have been made to combat the impacts brought by climate change on their environment. They feel they are being victimised by the activities of other nations that have caused a major stir in climate change.

The village has yet to try several options to survive the growing problem that has affected their source of livelihood, which is fishing.

Leaving the village, one feels sad and feel for the villagers who see their ancestral land and heritage washed away from rising sea levels that they have had no role in creating.

“It is time to stand up for ourselves and take action and responsibility in saving our number one source of livelihood,” says village elder Imeri Gavidi.

  • Salote Esira is a journalism student at the University of the South Pacific.
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