Tag Archives: Fiji

Bauxite mine visit ’empowers’ group

FLMMA executive Margaret Tabunakawai (back, second from right) with staff members and conservation partners during the FLMMA AGM in Bua last week. Picture: LUKE RAWALAI

Luke Rawalai | The Fiji Times | November 30, 2017

MEMBERS of the Yaubula Management Committee who toured the Nawailevu bauxite mine on Vanua Levu described it as an eye-opener.

Organised by the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas, its executive officer Margaret Tabunakawai said last Friday this was done after they acknowledged that some provinces were going heavily into development that encroached on natural resources.

Ms Tabunakawai said to hear from the people themselves what transpired and went wrong was a learning opportunity for YMC representatives.

“One of the lessons they learned was agreements and the need to empower one as a resource owner, empowering them to ask the right questions and things like having an agreement with the relevant stakeholders,” she said.

“Most important is the need to have the appropriate stakeholders at the very beginning of the development project, be it mining or any other project.

“Another issue relayed to us by Nawailevu landowners was that different organisations that came in at different times during the project created a sense of confusion because they were never together from the beginning.”

Ms Tabunakawai said FLAMMA could help bring partners and stakeholders and facilitate platforms for talks with landowners, but she stressed that they would not influence the processes of decision making.

“Our concern and focus is more on the resource owners and ensuring that they are well informed,” she said. “In Nawailevu we were told that they did not have advisers and whatever the mataqali heads agreed to was taken as gospel truth. This year we have communities that have not been working with us at all but we are assisting them by facilitating talks and discussions, for instance the Vio and Nacula electrification projects considering that they are not our member sites.

“Landowners can access our assistance to facilitate talks and we are ready to give them help.”

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Fiji farmers’ claims of waste spillage refuted

Luke Rawalai | The Fiji Times | November 28, 2017

THE Mineral Resources Department has refuted claims by livestock farmers in Naibulu, Dreketi of bauxite waste water spillage.

Naibulu livestock farmer Deo Chand told this newspaper that livestock in the area had nowhere to drink since drains were flooded with excessive waste water from the mining site, which spilled into waterways. Mr Chand said livestock farmers normally relied on rainwater that filled the drains to quench their animals’ thirst.

“However, when it rains this becomes a problem because the water in these drains turn reddish and we believe this is water from the mine site’s collection pond,” he said.

Another livestock farmer, Anup Kumar, said they did not face the problem before mining started in the area.

Responding to these concerns, Mineral Resources Department director Raijeli Taga said in the last inspection report by the team, the runoffs from stockpiles and mining area had been taken care of.

Ms Taga said sediment traps had been installed to cater for runoffs.

“These are closely monitored by the mine manager and the inspection team to avoid stream sedimentation,” she said.

“The wet season is being accounted for in the monitoring plans because of the protection of the downstream communities’ livelihood, which also includes the ecosystem in the area of mining.

“Evidence received so far from the mine site manager has shown that such plans and management strategies and plans indicated that it is working, hence the need to continue to monitor for improvements.

“An inspection team sent out included a (Ministry of) Lands officer from our northern office and an officer from the Department of Environment.”

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Why is Fiji selling out its coastlines?

The Sigatoka River Valley. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A mining project at the mouth of Fiji’s second biggest river undermines the government’s stated commitment to green development.

Kate Wheeling | Pacific Standard | 21 November 2017

Some years back, Angie Lalabalavu’s grandson dipped a fishing net into a hidden pool he discovered in the stretch of shoreline in front of her house on Fiji’s Viti Levu island, right where the Sigatoka River meets the Pacific Ocean. When he pulled it out, the net was crawling with hundreds of mud crabs. They picked out the very biggest and threw the rest back, and the family frequently harvested dinners from the pool.

Now the pool is gone, and the crabs with it, and Lalabalavu doesn’t think they’ll ever come back.”This place was full of fish, crabs, and prawns,” the 60-year-old says, gesturing to the break in the tree line. In earlier years, she would sit on a wooden bench beneath an arch of branches, where she would watch the waves meet the river’s mouth across a vast swath of sandy beach; now the grass of her lawn drops steeply down to a swampy area. “Everything has disappeared,” she says.

Six months ago, a company called China Railway First Group began dredging at the mouth of the Sigatoka River, pulling silt and sand up from its shallow bottom and dumping it along the eastern bank in front of Lalabalavu’s home. The crab-stocked pool her grandson discovered was buried by the project, and the sandy shoreline in front of her home was replaced with mud. The area is now largely devoid of life, save for the mosquitoes and sandflies that gravitate to the still waters and now torment her family like never before.

By the time the Sigatoka River Dredging Project is done, China Railway will have pulled over 1.2 million cubic meters of silt from the river bottom between its mouth and the Sigatoka Bridge, just over two miles upstream—all in the name of flood prevention. But development along the Sigatoka River won’t end there.

Dome Gold Mines, an Australian mining company, has an exploration license to mine the river mouth for sand laced with magnetite—a source of iron. If the company ultimately receives a full permit to begin dredge-mining in the region, they’ll pull even more material from the bottom of the river and its banks, and from sand deposits on Koroua Island, a tract of incredibly valuable agricultural land for the village of Vunavutu.

The company has promised that the dredge-mining will both create jobs and further help to prevent flooding. Framed as a win-win, support for the projects was initially very high. It’s a scenario that’s all too common around the world: Questionable projects are sold to locals through a mix of misinformation and foreign investment.

But now, the indigenous communities, known in Fiji as the I-Taukei, don’t want either the dredging or the mining projects to move forward. Their connection to the land and their desire to protect it, they say, is far more important than any potential income mining might bring to the communities, and they no longer believe that dredging alone will prevent future floods.

“People have to remember, the river has always flooded,” says Tristen Pearce, a geographer at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast, and co-author of a recent report that looked at the human impact of development on the Sigatoka River. “That’s why it’s such fertile land.” Some 80 percent of Fiji’s vegetables are produced within the fertile river valley, which is known as the “Salad Bowl” of Fiji. But thanks to climate change, flooding has been getting worse. Long bouts of heavy rain and the floods that have always followed are becoming both more frequent and more severe.

And dredging is one of Fiji’s top flood-mitigation strategies, according to Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s minister for Agriculture, Rural & Maritime Development, and National Disaster Management. “Over the years, [dredging] has proved to be a sound investment in disaster mitigation through the reduction in impact of flooding in the low lying areas of Fiji,” he wrote in February of 2017.

The initial Environmental Impact Assessment, which was finalized in 2012, stated that dredging would benefit the communities along the river by reducing flooding, and that any impacts to the river or the marine life inside it would be “minimal or temporary in nature.” According to community surveys conducted as part of the EIA, support for the dredging project was “overwhelming.” But today, many members of the indigenous community say that they were not properly consulted at best, and purposefully misled at worst.

“When the dredging came, with the information we were given, we had to say yes,” says Lanieta Matavesi, the spirited 72-year-old head of the indigenous women’s association for the province of Nadroga-Navosa, where Sigatoka is located, which has some 10,000 members. “We were told, ‘This will help with all the flooding.'”

The trouble is, according to Pearce, the idea that dredging can solve flooding is false. Even if a river is widened and deepened through dredging, its capacity will never match that of its catchment—the land area where rain or meltwater collects and drains into the river. It’s like trying to squeeze a swimming pool’s worth of water into a bathtub; a slightly bigger bathtub still won’t hold it all. What dredging will do, Pearce says, is devastate the ecosystem that the indigenous communities in Sigatoka depend on for both subsistence and income.

“All the scientific literature has clearly documented the negative effects of dredging in a river estuary on the ecosystem as well as the ecosystem services,” Pearce says. “If you dredge an estuary, you’re looking at between 100 and 200 years before it recovers.”

If officials in Fiji were really concerned about mitigating future flooding in Sigatoka, they should be looking upriver, Pearce says. Poor land-management practices—like cultivating crops right up against the river bank—have increased the amount of sediment in its waters, which builds up at the river mouth and increases the risk of flooding. Indeed, a 2016 study found that, in Fiji, “green” flood management techniques such as replanting along rivers and in flood zones were more cost-effective in preventing flood damage than dredging.

Pearce and his colleagues interviewed 31 villagers from five villages and one settlement along the river. They found that the Sigatoka River was a critical source of diet staples like fish, crabs, and freshwater mussels for every single one of them. Over half of those surveyed had their primary agricultural land on Koroua Island.

A group of young boys hanging out near the Sigatoka River. (Photo: John Trif/Flickr)

Government officials have tried to assure the communities that the EIA shows that dredging will have no significant effects on the river ecosystems or marine life, but Matavesi says that the indigenous community members are not convinced that an EIA was even completed. “Even if they did it, we have not been shown,” she says.

And already Lalabalavu has seen the negative impacts that dredging can have on her family’s primary food source. “I put my net out here and not one fish, not even one crab stuck in the net,” she says. “They’re all gone, they were all sucked out.” Saltwater is creeping farther up the river now, driving out the freshwater clams that the villagers upriver have long harvested. The river mouth has always been a nursery for bull sharks, but tiger sharks have been spotted further up the river than ever before, Lalabalavu says; she won’t let her grandchildren into the water anymore because of them.

Pearce and his colleagues found that dredging threatens more than just food security. “What we see is that this river is a mosaic of human uses,” Pearce says. “We all knew that people were fishing and getting shellfish from it, but what I didn’t know was the spirituality that’s connected to the river.” There’s a pond on the eastern side of the river mouth, for example, where the water is always clear. This sacred site is called Wai Ni Kutu, and it’s where the spirits of those who have died stop to bath themselves before crossing over to the next world.

None of these threats were discussed with the community, according to Matavesi. “There was no consultation, there was no awareness,” Matavesi says. “They have to tell us why they’re doing dredging; what are the advantages and what are the disadvantages? But many times, when they come for mining or dredging, they just talk about the advantages, to them and to us.”

The damage that’s been done by the dredging so far, Pearce says, is small compared to the damage that could be done if dredge-mining begins in earnest. “There is still the opportunity to have an alternative future,” he says—as long as Fiji’s government fulfills its promise not to allow development at the expense of the environment.

Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister and the current president of COP23, has repeatedly declared his country’s dedication to “green growth.”

“We do not believe that putting the health of our environment first in any way jeopardizes our development. On the contrary, maintaining the pristine quality of our natural surroundings is front and center of every development decision we make,” Bainimarama said at the Ocean’s Conference in June.

“[N]o development on land or at sea in Fiji takes place if there is any risk to the environment,” he went on. “It is a central tenet of our Green Growth Framework and national development plans. And we are very proud to have drawn this responsible line in the sand.”

In the Fiji pavilion at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Pearce says that he marveled at a massive photo of the pristine Sigatoka River estuary, before the dredging began. “It could be stopped,” he says of the dredging and mining projects. “This could be an example where the rights of the indigenous people prevail … this could be the precedent setter.”

The village of Vunavutu, where Matavesi is from, has the rights to the land on Koroua Island, and the village has never consented to mining activities—exploratory or otherwise—on the island, which is home to three ancestral sites. They even sent a letter saying as much to Fiji’s prime minister. “We the landowning unit of Korea Island hereby close all mining operations on Koroua Island,” the letter begins. “The decision was hard as this mining venture would have been a source of wealth for our landowning unit. However we believe that these sites are of great significance to us and preserving them would benefit our future descendants as they will be able to understand their ancestral roots.”

(Photo: Vunavutu Village)

All Matavesi is asking for now is that the government consult properly with the indigenous community before any more damage is done.

“When we met with everybody, they did not understand dredging, they were confused about what dredging meant,” Pearce says of his conversations with the community. “When they fully grasped what the outcomes would be, they unanimously said, ‘This cannot happen.'”

The exploration permit, Pearce says, snuck through “under the nose” of the indigenous community and their representatives in Fiji’s government. “But,” he says, “when that mining company files the full permit, they’ll feel the full power of I-Taukei. If it’s going to destroy the environment … it’s a no-go.”

Lalabalavu’s ancestors have lived on this land for millennia, and she has lived in this house overlooking the river mouth for all 60 years of her life. Her father built this modest home for her mother, who used to sleep on the beach right in front of it as a little girl. Her mother, now 87, runs a motel in a nearby town along Fiji’s Coral Coast.

“You know what she told me? ‘I will never come and see the river mouth like this,'” Lalabalavu says. Choking up, she pauses briefly, lifting a hand up to her mouth as she braces to continue. “‘I want to see it and recognize it as it was when I was born and grew up here.’ She is so brokenhearted.”

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Fiji: New mill, processing site to create 200 local jobs

Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Faiyaz Koya (centre) officiates at the groundbreaking ceremony of Tuvatu Gold Mine processing plant civil works in Sabeto, Nadi last Friday. Picture: REINAL CHAND

Kalesi Mele | The Fiji Times | November 20, 2017

LION One Ltd Mines will soon have a new mill and processing site after a groundbreaking ceremony at Tuvatu, Sabeto in Nadi.

The new development is set to create employment for about 200 locals.

The company had set up in Fiji eight years ago and was only issued a special mining lease in January 2016.

Acting Prime Minister Faiyaz Koya, who officiated at the event on Friday, said the development was set to have direct contributions to the economy.

“It is evident how the company has forged ahead in meeting its exploration targets and is now advancing into the next stage of finalising its deposits for mine production,” he said.

“This is a positive sign as it portrays the commitment of Tuvatu Gold Mine to produce to its full capacity by the second quarter of 2019.

“This expansion work will contribute to the economy directly and indirectly in many forms, such as the employment of the local community.”

Lion One Metals chief executive officer Walter Berukoff said ore body of the rocks found at the mine was one of the best and believed to be in the top 10 in the world.

“Our goal is also to provide job opportunities for locals for generations to come,” he said.

“We made the promise to build an environmentally sustainable mine and our mandate has not changed. That was the promise I made to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama years ago and it is a promise we will keep.”

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Construction to begin on Fiji gold mine

Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism Faiyaz Koya breaks ground marking the beginning of the civil works on November 17, 2017. Photo: DEPTFO

Talebula Kate | The Fiji Times | November 18, 2017

TUVATU Gold Mines which was given mining license for 21 years beginning in 2014 had its ground breaking ceremony of its Mines processing plant civil works yesterday.

The beginning of the construction of the mill and processing plant is a positive sign, as it portrays the commitment of Tuvatu Gold Mine to produce to its full capacity by the second quarter of 2019.

This expansion work will contribute to the economy directly and indirectly in many forms such as the employment of the local community.

Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism Faiyaz Siddiq Koya officiated at the event.

$100 Million Invested Into New Tuvatu Gold Mine: Lion One

Lusiana Banuve | Fiji Sun | 19 November 2017

A gold mining company in Sabeto, Northeast of Nadi International Airport, says it has invested over $100 million in projects leading up to its new operations opening this weekend.

And Minister for Trade, Industry, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources Faiyaz Koya has congratulated the Lion One Ltd Mines for their ongoing belief in the government of the day and the people of Fiji.

Mr Koya, the acting prime minister,  said :

“Finances committed by the company to date has amounted to approximately $100 million in various forms of operations such as the exploration work, mine preparatory plans, environmental management measures and of course contributing to the economy through employment of its skilled Fijian workforce.

“Currently the company employs 50 locals and about 3 expatriates and this will surely increase in the near future.” Mr Koya said.

The Minister said the new employment business opportunities would go well for the people of Sabeto and particularly acknowledged the landowners and the people.

“I would like to acknowledge the support given by the 20 mataqalis whose land is the centre of this exploration and mining works.

“To all the Turaga ni Mataqali, thank you and vinaka vakalevu for your continued support and belief.

“Your unwavering commitment is truly commendable and I am certain that today’s ground breaking ceremony will benefit your communities in many, many ways.

“Not only for this generation, but for generations to come.” Mr Koya said.

“This work will open up the Sabeto corridor, bringing in the much needed business in the area.

“This is one of the plans of the Fiji First government, in which the decentralisation of services and business is encouraged for rural communities.

“Consequent to this, will be the improvement of health and educational facilities, infrastructure and business which will boost the economy and the livelihoods of these Sabeto communities,” he said.

For a relatively new company, Mr Koya commended Lion One Ltd Mines for its vision and determination.

“In January 2016, our Honourable Prime Minister issued Lion One Tuvatu, its Special Mining Lease.

“This was a 21 years surface lease which commenced from May 2014 and it is evident how the company has forged ahead in meeting its exploration targets, now advancing into the next stage of finalising its deposits for mine production,” he said.

The Miinster also urged everyone present to continue looking after the environment even while business investors grew.

“With the Honourable Prime Minister leading the global charge to combat climate change by taking up the Presidency of COP 23 and this being the first time ever in the history of Fiji, we have a monumental task.

“We must get behind our Prime Minister and ensure we tell the world that we are doing our part, despite being the smallest contributors to global warming.

“And yes, we would not wish to see that day when we are not able to breathe fresh air or drink clean water, things we take for granted in Fiji.

“Thus, I urge you all to work together in protecting our environment and learn our lessons from previous climate events, to help us build resilience and promote a culture of caring and protection what surrounds us – our environment, our beautiful country and the world,” he said.

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Villagers fret over river gravel extraction

A digger works on the bank of Nakorotari River yesterday.

Luke Rawalai | The Fiji Times | July 04, 2017

VILLAGERS of Matalolo outside Labasa Town raised their concerns on the procedures for gravel extraction being carried out along the Nakorotari River bank.

A member of the public, Ropate Rakuro, told this newspaper that villagers were concerned with gravel extraction procedures because machines were digging soil along the river banks, instead of extracting rocks from the riverbed.

“It is a worry because this can cause soil erosion on the river banks during the wet season,” he said. “This is the problem when we do not have enough monitoring done on companies working along the river banks and they take advantage of their licence conditions because there is no one to monitor them. Something needs to be done to address this issue and authorities need to look into the concerns raised.”

Suweni district representative Po­a­sa Vocea said there were more than six companies extracting gravel along the Nakorotari River.

Responding to Mr Vocea’s concerns during Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s tour of the Northern Division recently, Lands and Mineral Resources Ministry’s permanent secretary Malakai Finau admitted there was not enough done to monitor gravel extraction.

Mr Finau said they recently set up an environment section within their department that would monitor these extraction and mining works.

The ministry’s director Mineral Department, Dr Raijeli Ta­ga, said it was not mandatory for gravel to be extracted from the riverbed but from where a proper licence had been given. Dr Taga said the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources issued licences only for any extraction on State land or from the river.

“TLTB gives licences for extraction on Native land and communities near rivers that have gravel deposits need to know that they can assist to monitor and that they should have been consulted during the EIA process,” she said.

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Fiji: No plans for deep sea mining

Felix Chaudhary | The Fiji Times |  June 28, 2017

SEABED deep sea mineral mining will not be conducted in waters around Fiji in the near future, says Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources permanent secretary Malakai Finau.

“The costs involved are absolutely huge,” he said.

“Current exploration interest is in its very early or preliminary stages, we haven’t even reached the advanced stages as yet.

“Seabed resource exploration requires a lot of resources. One of the biggest costs is the need to engage a state-of-the-art marine research vessel.

“Getting exploratory work done on land is very expensive, so you can imagine what it’s like when you are attempting to do this out at sea.”

Meanwhile, a report by the World Bank released in April last year titled “Precautionary Management of Deep Sea Mining Potential”, called on Pacific Island countries to be extra vigilant and cautious over any plans for seabed mining.

The report said any Pacific country supporting or considering deep sea mining activities must proceed with a high degree of caution to avoid irreversible damage to ecosystems.

The World Bank report also emphasised the need for strong governance measures to ensure that appropriate social and environmental safeguards were in place.

Pacific Island countries that have granted permits for deep sea mining exploration include Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. The Cook Islands has advanced its efforts and done a minerals exploration tender process.

Mr Finau is chairing the Science Technology and Resources (STAR) Network’s 2017 conference at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi.

The conference is supported by the Geoscience Division of the Pacific Community and sponsored by Standard Concrete Industries (Fiji), XINFA Mines (Fiji) and the UNDP neglected development minerals project with support also from the Circum-Pacific Council.

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