Climate Change

A Mix of Adventure With a Purpose

“The same respect you give to the moana of the ocean, the same respect they will give you. So, if you take care of the ocean, the ocean will take care of you.”
11 May 2022 11:13
A Mix of  Adventure With a  Purpose
Epeli Lalagavesi colleting rubbish on his Stand-up paddle board.

While many will enjoy a morning walk along the Nasese seawall in Suva, Epeli Lalagavesi, 24, will be out at sea on his inflatable stand-up paddle board collecting bags of rubbish from the Suva seafront.

Mr Lalagavesi normally collects three bags of rubbish per day.

The Wainiika villager of Saqani, Cakaudrove, is a passionate advocate for oceans stewardship, traditional knowledge, reviving traditional navigation and disability.With rubbish pollution becoming a growing issue in the country, Mr Lalagavesi uses social media to create public awareness on the eyesore habit.

He called on people to be responsible citizens, saying: “The same respect you give to the moana of the ocean, the same respect they will give you. So, if you take care of the ocean, the ocean will take care of you.”

He said marine life was a habitat for many organisms and a vital essence on the growing ecosystem, but sadly, it’s been disturbed by the careless dumping of rubbish on our beaches, mangroves and coast.

“Almost every day I paddle out and I see rubbish and household goods floating in our mangroves swamps and by the shorelines and I’m trying to understand what the underlying issue is,” he said.  

“Whether people don’t have proper garbage disposals, or they missed the garbage dates, or what really puts them in a situation to literally dump household trash into our oceans.”

WOWS  KIDS  CHALLENGE

Mr Lalagavesi is always keen to take on challenges or initiatives to help give back to the community.

WOWS Kids Fiji, in partnership with the Suva Stand-up Paddlers (SUP), launched its WOWS-SUP initiative earlier this month to paddle more than 1000 kilometres to raise funds for children living with cancer.

Mr Lalagavesi was among those who took up the 14-day challenge and decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Apart from covering 40 kilometres of paddling distance for the WOWS Kids challenge, he decided to challenge himself by collecting as much rubbish as he could while paddling.

“So, it’s a mix of adventuring with a purpose,” he said.

“On Day 3 (on Wednesday), I completed my 40km, but I’m going to continue as much as possible to contribute to the 1000km challenge.”

Epeli Lalagavesi collecting rubbish on his Stand-up paddle board.

Epeli Lalagavesi collecting rubbish on his Stand-up paddle board.

THINGS   COLLECTED

He usually starts paddling from Vatuwaqa, through the mangrove plantations, down the Bailey Bridge River side to the Cunningham bridge.

This route of collecting rubbish started last year. Since then, it has been a spot familiar to him.

And this week, on Wednesday morning, among his rubbish treasures found were a baby cot, old TV set, broken washing machine and an empty gas cylinder.

He jokingly shared that he could easily have a home setup from these unwanted items.

Day 4 of his WOWS SUP challenge, he did not need any bag to put trash in because he found a cooler floating and used it as a bin to put in all the rubbish he found.

On Day 5, he was joined by a friend, Sivendra Michael, who was inspired by Mr Lalagavesi’s social media updates.

A toilet seat, fridge door, styrofoams and an old laundry basket which they used to fill up plastic bottles were some of the trash found.

Moreover, plastics have been the number one trash found during Mr Lalagavesi’s quest.

Many who have been encouraged by this have reached out to Mr Lalagavesi to donate funds for the WOWS Kids SUP challenge, which ends on May 14.

Rubbish collected onboard standup paddle board. Photo: Epeli Lalagavesi

Rubbish collected onboard the standup-paddle board. Photo: Epeli Lalagavesi

HASHTAG   ADVENTURE   WITH   A PURPOSE

Among his many hikes up Mount Korobaba in Lami, Mr Lalagavesi noticed trails of rubbish left behind by hikers.

And he is trying to create awareness on the hashtag #AdventureWithAPurpose, meaning, wherever you go make sure you don’t leave any rubbish.

It was in January this year when he hiked up Mount Korobaba and was irritated by the sight of rubbish left scattered by hikers.

Using a garbage bag he found, he started collecting rubbish he saw.

“I didn’t go prepared on that day so apart from that one garbage bag, I had to use a wrap-around sulu that I had with me to collect a bit more rubbish. 

“Sometimes you have to be innovative and use whatever resources you can to collect the trash.”

He said he had witnessed hikers throw rubbish from the top of the mountain, without any regard for the damage it would have on the environment.

Note: A zero-waste lifestyle not only keeps material out of our landfills, but it reduces carbon footprint.

“Mount Korobaba is sort of a public space because everyone goes up there. Leave nature as you found it so people need to keep in mind not to disturb nature by throwing rubbish anywhere you feel like it.”

He is encouraging people to use the power of social media to influence and make a positive ripple effect.

Bags of rubbish collected on top of Mount Korobaba.  Photo: Epeli Lalagavesi

Bags of rubbish collected on top of Mount Korobaba. Photo: Epeli Lalagavesi

CLIMATE   CHANGE   GAP

Mr Lalagavesi has attended two United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) – COP23 in Bonn, Germany when Fiji had Presidency and COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

He feels young people are making an impact in negotiating and lobbying for change. 

“They’re already making their presence known to world leaders in these international spaces.

In the Pacific, when a natural disaster occurs, we see young people rushing to the forefront to become humanitarian workers, actively assisting in aid and in other logistics in whatever ways possible.”

He said there were many national and international level conversations happening, and there was a need for more representation of indigenous people, people from vulnerable groups to share their untold stories of the impacts of climate change in their daily lives.

ABOUT   HIM

‘Abel’ as he is more fondly known, has quite the zeal for nature and its protection.

  • He is a graduate of the University of the South Pacific with a bachelor’s degree majoring in Journalism and Linguistics.
  • He will soon be joining the University of Flinders in Adelaide, Australia in June to pursue a Masters in Disability programme.
  • He has been involved in both mainstream and public relations work in communications, logistics and volunteer work with Alliances for future generations.
  • He has also been a volunteer crew member with the Uto Ni Yalo since September 1, 2017.

“The first captain, the late Jonathan Smith and Master sail, the late Colin Philip have been my motivators.

“They left a legacy in terms of environmentalism, ocean stewardship, ocean protection and just trying to fill in those shoes and knowing what they left behind does not go in vain that we continue to pick up rubbish, we continue to protect our oceans and our marine ecosystems.”

He also worked with USP’s Disability Resource Centre for three years as a student buddy, helping students with disabilities around the university.

As a sign language user, Mr Lalagavesi is passionate about interrelated issues of climate change and disability, hence his Master’s programme choice.

“We cannot talk about climate change without recognising the impact it has on human rights on persons with disabilities

“It is important that when we are trying to negotiate in those spaces, we get Disability Rights at the forefront, their voices heard as well.”

Epeli Lalagavesi and his friend Shivendra Michael as they begin another morning  of rubbish collecting with their SUP boards. Photo: Epeli Lalagavesi

Epeli Lalagavesi and his friend Shivendra Michael as they begin another morning
of rubbish collecting with their SUP boards. Photo: Epeli Lalagavesi

SOME INFO ON EFFECTS OF OCEAN DUMPING

  • Dumping of plastics or rubbish in rivers, creeks, oceans generate some toxic and greenhouse gases, which may in due course contribute to global warming activities or more severe environmental threats.
  • According to a review made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on marine pollution, consumers and society must shift to more sustainable consumption patterns. 
  • The review said two third of the world’s marine lives have been threatened with chemicals we throw down the drain every day such as household cleaners. These toxins not only affect marine life, but they affect humans as well.
  • If garbage is dumped into the ocean, oxygen in the water could be depleted resulting in poor health for marine life. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for action to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources’ (Goal 14) and ‘By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution’.

Feedback: adi.sovasiga@fijisun.com.fj



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