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Fiji’s environment needs Fijian attention

Fiji’s environment needs Fijian attention
November 11
11:00 2017

Our Prime Minister has gone to Bonn to take the lead in the COP23 meetings to be held in an effort to ensure that the decisions taken by world leaders in Paris are implemented.

While the success of these discussions is important to Fiji and all other small island states, it is critical to the whole world that solutions are found to mitigate Climate Change.

As a leader in the Climate Change discussions, Fiji also needs to lead in the activities at home.

 

Climate change

Many things contribute to climate change and the issues that need to be tackled, not the results but the causes, because if we can correct the factors causing climate change we will stop the impacts.

Some of the contributing factors are obvious, particularly air pollution and pollution from rubbish but some factors are more subtle.

The contributing issues are greatest in the highly industrialised nations, but the results of climate change on the environment are felt throughout the world.

No country will be spared the impact and no country can ignore their contribution to the problem.

There is no doubt that almost everyone is aware of the issues and of the need to mitigate the causes so that future damage can be limited.

Fiji is at the forefront of the campaign and will be deeply involved in the meetings and decisions from the international body will directly impact on Fiji, so we will be watching to see what is achieved.

 

Actions taken

Fiji is one of the countries most impacted by the changes that are already happening and needs to take action unilaterally to protect itself.

We have been proactive in this area and a great many activities are being undertaken by various government departments, relevant NGOs and even by individual villages, aimed at protecting our way of life, environment and general safety.

Fiji is lucky that we have a strong and widespread coral reef system that does much to reduce the impact of rising sea levels, but that system is also very vulnerable to the effects of climate change and needs to get special attention.

Just recently, the results of a very wide study of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the world, showed that in the last two years over sixty per cent of the total reef area was subject to severe bleaching.

In itself, coral bleaching will not kill a reef, but it does make it vulnerable to the possibility of infections and reduced growth because the volume of fresh live polyps is reduced.

There are reports of increased bleaching in the Fiji reefs and anyone who spends time on the coastal waters will have observed the issue.

 

Other challenges faced

Outside climate change, there is a separate activity that is causing real damage, not only to the coral reefs, but to the amount and quality of the fish life in the inshore reef environment and particularly in the important spawning locations.

This is the use of mineral based fertilisers in commercial agriculture.

The issue of food security in Fiji is a critical one (as in almost every country in the world) and fertilisers and insecticides are some of the most powerful tools in the battle for food security.

Without fertilisers agricultural production would be significantly reduced, with lower yields, reduction in overall quality and risk of crop loss through disease, so the use of fertilisers in commercial farming is an essential tool.

But the use of fertiliser comes with a cost, one that can be avoided and certainly mitigated.

In Fiji, the vast bulk of the fertilisers used are mineral based and every commercial agricultural operation uses significant volumes of these products.

The danger comes when the fertiliser is distributed on the farm. Not all the chemicals are used by the crops but are held in the soil and are washed away when it rains, flowing into streams and rivers and eventually into the inshore sea, where it does great damage.

The reason is that mineral fertilisers are heavy in nitrogen, which travels in the runoff that eventually reaches the sea.

The fertilisers work on algae in the same way they work on other plants, promoting growth and in the case of algae they increase the volume greatly.

The algae eventually dies and sinks to the bottom where it decomposes, releasing more nitrogen and limiting the available oxygen. The algae cover also limits the penetration of sunlight, an important element in coral growth.

This, added to the nitrogen washed directly into the sea from fertiliser residue, creates a thin oxygen environment (sometimes creating a forty per cent reduction in this life sustaining element) which will only carry a reduced number of fish and the fish are not healthy because they are also pick up harmful chemicals in the residue.

The mineral fertiliser directly hits marine food supplies and is a continuing threat to the inshore species, reducing the fish population available to local fishing.

Any village fisherman will tell you that inshore fish populations are is serious decline.

There is also a serious negative impact on the inshore breeding areas.

There is an answer, but it seems that the agricultural industry is very bound by habit and will not easily change from the mineral based products being used for nearly a century and avoid moving to the modern organic products that are fully tested in local field trials and proven to perform at least as well as the old fashioned fertilisers.

Government action such as price incentives, accreditation for organically compliant farmers and increased training and awareness programs are all missing at this time.

Organic fertilisers are readily available internationally, could be competitively priced if imported in volume, can easily be produced locally and have been proven in testing in Fiji, with yield volumes and quality positively affected.

The damage caused by fertiliser runoff is Fiji’s problem alone (unlike the broader climate change effects) and the solution to the issue is totally in Fijian hands.

If Fiji is to be recognised as a serious player in the Climate Change game there is a need to move away from mineral based fertilisers to the organics.

When you have a wide range of research determining that a very high percentage of ocean pollution is caused by fertiliser runoff, it is time to cretae a shift in habit.

The degradation of our inshore oceans and the risk to our protective coral reefs is surely reason enough to act.

Ultimately, the impacts are minimising the production levels of seafood in the affected waters which are a main source of both food and income for the island populations and destroying protective reefs.

The solution is simple, but for Fiji only Fijians can achieve it. Let’s do it for Fiji.

Feedback:  selita.bolanavanua@fijisun.com.fj

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