Cutting mangroves for fuel

Written By : Alumeci Nakeke. THE high cost of fuel experienced around the country as a result of inflating world market prices has prompted more people to buy firewood for
18 Jul 2008 12:00

image Written By : Alumeci Nakeke. THE high cost of fuel experienced around the country as a result of inflating world market prices has prompted more people to buy firewood for their cooking.
In Fiji two of the most frequently bought wood used to light fire’s are left over timber from sawmills and mangroves.
While timber is good fuel, mangrove is better because not only it is a huge source of heat but it takes longer before it is burnt up which is the reason most people buy it.
With the current demand from consumers, licensed mangrove harvesters are making money from such trade and also illegal harvesters not detected by the law.
The Forestry Department say they are monitoring the harvesting of mangroves around the country but their work is questionable with the amount of mangroves being harvested each day.
While the mangrove harvesters justify their actions by saying that mangroves can grow back quickly replacing the ones cut, it has been noted that the harvesting rate is much faster than rate at which they grow.
Many people see the mangrove trees as just another tree standing by the shoreline but in fact it is more than just that – it is the habitat and feeding ground for million of marine species. It is also where fish spawn and other marine organism reproduce.
Resort Support Coordinator Helen Skyes said Mangrove forests have important functions in the marine environment, forming nurseries and feeding grounds for many species of reef fish and invertebrates.
She said the clearance has the potential to severely reduce reef populations, an effect that reduces fisheries resources and biodiversity permanently.
“Coastal mangroves have an important function in protecting the land from erosion. In some areas severe wave-related erosion has been experienced after clearance has taken place, and mangrove seedlings are being replanted to restore this function under projects run by organisations such as the Japanese NGO, the Organisation for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA),” Ms Sykes stated in the Global Coral Reef Monitoring network report published last year titled Status of Coral Reefs in the Fiji Islands 2007.
A report by the Lands and Survey department Forestry for their 1999 Annual Report, gave an estimate of 42,464ha of mangroves Fiji wide.It is not clear as to whether any recent survey has been done to indicate the amount of mangrove trees left standing or how much area has been cleared.
Last year, the province of Rewa year was concerned on the effects of mangrove harvesting done in their area so they asked the Forestry department to stop giving out licences to mangrove harvesters in the province.
Rewa had the highest number of mangrove licences issued in Fiji and in its provincial meeting last year agreed that after the existing licenses expired, no more will be issued.
Divisional Forest Officer Southern Ratu Tomasi Kubuabola said less than 10 licences were given to mangrove harvesters in the Rewa Province and the licences were valid until December 2007.
“This year we did not give out any licences as we were asked by the province to cease giving out licences,” he said.
He said most of the communities in Rewa said that they relied on those mangrove forests for their livelihood and they were concerned that its harvest was causing decline in the number of mud crabs and fish in the area.
Mohammed Hussein, a self-employed mangrove harvester of Laqere in Nasinu said he applied for a new licence to the Naitasiri province after his Rewa licence expired.
“I was able to get a licence with Naitasiri and I think there are now only two of us harvesting under this licence,” said Hussein.
“But the funny thing is why the mangroves belong to the State and not to the province of Rewa. “The people of Rewa are complaining that fish and crabs breed in those mangroves and it was also slow to grow back.But we were told by Forestry that it is not true because mangroves grow faster.”
Rate Tomasi agreed and said mangroves regenerate rapidly but that it had to be managed sustainably.
Harvesters in their application for consent with the Lands Department have to agree that they will harvest sustainably. But he said if it is used for commercial purposes it will not be sustainable so that is why they have a certain quota given to the harvesters.
Furthermore, he said before a licence is given the applicant should have the permission of the Lands Department and then it is the Forestry department that does the evaluation and the assessment of the land and also its demarcation.
The licence is free but the harvesters will work according to the map and demarcated area and the Forestry department will carry out the assessment on the mangroves at times to see that it is harvested sustainably.
“Rewa had the highest number of licenses given to people for commercial purposes,” he said. “At the moment only three people had been issued licences for the province of Naitasiri and three in Navua.
The licencee pays $2.20 a cubic metre to the State and $1 to Forestry for service fee.
However, Ratu Tomasi said there could be an increase in the demand for firewood but there were other choices like wastes from mills that use mahogany and other wood.
Hussein also said there was not much difference in the demand for firewood and could be because of “people were too lazy to light the fire”.
Four boys harvest the mangroves and the amount harvested depends on the order which he said could be six boatloads a week or more according to the demand or three a week.
He supplies firewood to five service stations as he is the sole distributor in his area. Firewood is sold for $1 a bundle and $10 a heap for logs. He also supplies wood for cremation and tom posts for buildings.
Cremation firewood is sold to a distributor who buys from him for $300 for five piles to cremate five people. To cremate a person they would need 14 long and 24 short posts and 40 smaller ones for starters that would cost about $125.
Hussein said when harvesting they would have to leave some trees because that is part of sustainable management they had agreed to. Forestry visits the site about four times a year.
Ratu Tomasi said harvesters could lie about the amount of mangrove harvested but anyone caught doing so would be committing a crime and would be charged with the offence.
And those harvesting without a licence if caught would be charged according to the amount of mangrove cuttings found in their possession. He said a number of people have been charged with similar offences.
Ms Sykes further stated in her report that one of the difficulties in monitoring and controlling mangrove clearance has been the lack of communication between government departments, with the Department of Environment advising the Department of Town and Country Planning
regarding environmental impacts of development, while the stewardship of mangrove forests rests with the Department of Lands, which sometimes result in permits to clear being given without environmental advice.
She said a proposed mangrove management plan is being developed as a guideline for sustainable use of mangrove areas within tourism developments.
Ms Nakeke is a Ocean Science Reporter with SeaWeb. SeaWeb is a non government organization that helps the media to promote a healthy ocean.

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