Climate Watch

The Garbage Flow: Stuck Among the Mangroves

She says: “Most of us who live nearby depend on these mangroves for food. It’s our source of food that could last us for a day or two.”
10 Sep 2022 16:44
The Garbage  Flow: Stuck  Among the  Mangroves
Teresia Kanadola (right), with her son 15-year-old son Miliano Yavala (left), and 10-year-old nephew, Lasaro Yavala. (R)Plastic waste and other materials getting caught among the mangroves up the Bailey Bridge river at Laucala Beach, Suva. Photo: Kelera SovasigaTuisawau

“What people fail to realise is, these rubbish that are being dumped causes a risk not only to people who try and survive out here but also it diminishes the lives of these marine organisms,” says 55-year-old Lina Waqa.

About 10 minutes through the mangrove river canal towards Laqere Bridge, Ms Waqa can be seen in her small canoe, fishing with two of her companions.

She says: “Most of us who live nearby depend on these mangroves for food. It’s our source of food that could last us for a day or two.”

 

What has become an eyesore is the visibility of rubbish trapped in mangroves upstream from Bailey Bridge in Laucala Beach, Suva.

The blame game of civic response as tonnes of rubbish continue to be caught inside these mangrove forests.

Travelling upstream in a fibre-glass boat fitted with a 15-horse-power engine, one’s heart sinks realising that Fiji’s marine life are at risk, within these mangroves.

Many also question a trash net catchment that was installed two years ago near Bailey Bridge by the Department of Environment to filter rubbish.

And to date, these questions remain unanswered as the catchment is no longer there.

Plastic waste and other materials getting caught among the mangroves up the Bailey Bridge river at Laucala Beach, Suva. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga Tuisawau

Plastic waste and other materials getting caught among the mangroves up the Bailey Bridge river at Laucala Beach, Suva. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga Tuisawau

RUBBISH AMOUNG MANGROVES

According to the Department of Environment, Fiji has 43,650 hectares of mangroves making it one of the most unique stands in the Pacific region.

Mangroves are versatile and have multiple benefits and ecosystem services. Among its many benefits, mangroves have provided nurseries for fish and other marine species, shelter and protection from storms.

However, it has not stopped the careless public from irresponsibly dumping rubbish into waterways that end up in oceans and in this case, the mangroves.

MANGROVE

LIVELIHOODS

Travelling about 10 minutes through the mangrove river canal towards Laqere Bridge, 55-year-old Lina Waqa was seen in her small canoe fishing with two others of her companions.

Her face lit up as she was approached, and she openly shared the daily struggles and impacts of rubbish ending up in mangroves.

A mother and grandmother, Ms Waqa goes out fishing twice a week to look for crabs, fishes, anything for her family to eat. She has been living in Vunisaleka settlement for about 10 years.

HOUSE

“Some of us do not work and we do our best to keep these mangroves protected because they supply us with food too,” she said.

“Back in the days, we hardly saw plastics around these mangrove swamps, but now, plastics are everywhere. We see it inside the mangrove swamps and floating in the water and that is just to name a few of the common rubbish we see around here.”

Ms Waqa pleads with the public to rethink their actions about dumping rubbish in the ocean because it ended up in mangroves.

 

Over the years, she has also noticed the drop in size of fish, and less marine organisms being seen, probably caused by the careless dumping of rubbish.

“Please be considerate of those that depend on these mangroves for their livelihoods too,” she said.

About 10 minutes away from her, Teresia Kanadola was seen with her 15-year-old son, Miliano Yavala and 10-year-old nephew, Lasaro Yavala, paddling back home.

ROW

“You will see rubbish right from Laqere bridge and upstream. There have been times when it’s raining, we see people boldly dump their rubbish from the bridge. Some come right behind the Laqere market,” Ms Kanadola said.

“For me, I am mindful that even though I’m trying to get something back to my family, I also keep in mind the fish I catch is not undersized. If it is, I put it back because we want to also conserve the future of these marine life.”

 

She said people should understand that rubbish in mangroves also stresses marine life and its habitats. She added that debris could also be lethal and jeopardise marine life.

Rubbish in these waters has even caught the boat driver by surprise when an old flip flop got caught in the engine propellers as we headed back to the mainland.

 

IS THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT DOING ITS JOB?

In June of 2020, the Department of Environment installed a net trash catchment near Bailey Bridge that would enable the capture of waste from rivers and creeks before it ends up in the ocean.

This initiative was part of the Ocean Trash Audit Programme launched by Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on World Oceans Day – the same day the catchment was installed.

CW21

It was said that every day at 4pm, department staff would pull up the net, remove the litter, and do an audit.

On that day, Minister for Waterways and Environment Mahendra Reddy said the audit would enable the ministry to sharpen its policies.

However, questions sent to the Department of Environment on the raw data collected these past two years, what other stations these catchments were installed, and other details have remained unanswered when this story went to press.

 

Mr Reddy confirmed at an event in Koronivia that there was data, but he could not comment further on its details.

A fisherman near Bailey Bridge at Laucala Beach explained that he would accompany the Department of Environment team to assess the catchment.

Wishing to remain anonymous he said: “I would take the team in my boat, and they would haul the net every day, but I believe we were doing this for about two months only since its installation.”

 

He said they would pull out tons of rubbish from the net and see the different types of rubbish around the area.

However, towards the end of the two months, he said the team had said they were leaving for Labasa and would return.

“But that was the last I heard from them,” he said. Mangroves near Bailey Bridge have housed tons of rubbish including broken TVs, washing machines, stoves and loads of plastic bottles.

Plastic waste and other materials getting caught among the mangroves up the Bailey Bridge river at Laucala Beach, Suva. Photo: Kelera SovasigaTuisaw

Plastic waste and other materials getting caught among the mangroves up the Bailey Bridge riverat Laucala Beach, Suva.Photo: Kelera Sovasiga Tuisawau

Another fisherman, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned the monitoring of these breaches from the public who continue to throw rubbish at the Bailey bridge.

“There have been days where private vehicles would stop by the bridge and throw garbage bags,” he said.

“One in particular, we had to shout at them after they disposed of a sack full of pig guts. It’s disgusting. “We already have environmental laws that are strict but it’s a different story when it comes to who is responsible for monitoring those that breach it.”

 

IMPORTANCE OF MANGROVES FOR CLIMATE ADVOCATES

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, mangroves are vital in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

An improved understanding of both the scale and drivers of mangrove loss in Fiji can underpin sustainable management strategies and achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.

Pacific climate warrior, Shivendra Michael, is among a handful of advocates in Fiji who uses a stand-up paddle board to collect rubbish along the same mangrove swamp canal.

M2

“We can have as many policies on climate change and laws on illegal dumping of rubbish into waterways, but if there is no one to seriously monitor and take people to task, then all efforts will be useless,” Mr Michael said.

During one of his many rubbish collection trips, Mr Michael was involved with the WOWS Kids Fiji, in partnership with the Suva Stand-up Paddlers (SUP), in its WOWSSUP initiative earlier in May.

The initiative was to paddle more than 1000 kilometres to raise funds for children living with cancer.

 

Mr Michael was encouraged to take up the challenge with a friend, Abel Lalagavesi, who took the opportunity to collect rubbish while paddling.

“We collected about 80 kilograms of rubbish. One can only do so much, the rest is up to other individuals to take it upon themselves and realise how rubbish has an effect on marine life and people,” Mr Michael said.

He added that research was done by University of the South Pacific (USP) Marine Science Program masters research assistant Andrew Paris on microplastics found in fish and seafood around Fiji.

CW21

“This should be a moment of realisation for us in Fiji because despite having a ban on single use plastics, we still are picking up plastics in all sizes from these mangroves and beaches,” he said.

“Research says that 80 per cent of marine pollution are plastics and for that there is a need to change and strengthen policies concerning this like a ban on plastics microbeads to begin with.”

A father to an eight-year-old, Mr Michael said it all should start from home, and we needed to teach our young ones the right way to take care of the environment.

 

Feedback: kelera.sovasiga@fijisun.com.fj



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