Nature’s defence

Natures best... mangroves protect our shoreline and provide fish with the perfect breeding ground. Picture: Lice Movono

Natures best... mangroves protect our shoreline and provide fish with the perfect breeding ground. Picture: Lice Movono

MAN-MADE sea walls are not the best form of coastal protection and local conservation organisations have asked that people use mangroves to protect their shoreline.

As communities work on protecting their coastlines and private sector developers reclaim beachfronts for business interests, many look to man-made structures to prevent the erosion of shorelines.

Popular to Fijian communities and municipal councils are bags of sand and tyres filled with sand.

During the weekend, WWF Pacific reiterated a call for more mangrove planting initiatives after evidence showed up on Lami beach that artificial alternatives were counterproductive.

Speaking at the end of a WWF-led clean-up campaign to commemorate Earth Hour, the organisation’s conservation director Frances Areki said tyres and sacks of sand used to protect the coast had instead become collectors of rubbish.

“Man-made sea walls are not really the best solution for coastal protection,” Mr Areki said.

“You need to protect mangroves because they are the best natural sea walls and they’re cost-effective and also very effective in maintaining the coastline.”

More than 100 volunteers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, ANZ Bank, Bank South Pacific, Pacific Energy, Fiji Navy, Fiji Locally Managed Marine Protected Areas Network, Reserve Bank of Fiji and the Ministry of Fisheries helped the WWF to collect more than 1200 kilograms of rubbish.

The majority of waste items collected were clothes, plastics and glass bottles, and many were single-use items mostly from food and drink products.

Also sticking out from the piles of garbage bags were large suitcases, cooking pots and parts of white household goods.

“We need better awareness, trying to get people to affiliate with mangroves rather than looking at them in a negative light,” Mr Areki added.

On the beach in Lami were tyres and remnants of sacks which once held together sand and acted as a wall, a form of coastal shoreline protection which was popular several years ago.

Now an eyesore, the large tyres which were meant to buffer the effects of the waves on the sandy shoreline had instead captured smaller plastic rubbish, especially straws, beer cans and PET bottles popular with soft drink and water companies.

Mangroves do not create the same problems as their artificial counterparts. These plants make some of the strongest timber and hold the silt and marsh together well.

It protects the integrity of the shoreline against erosion and buffers the effect that king tides, and some may go on to say even tsunamis, may have on the human population.

The nature of mangrove forests though is a strong odour it can sometimes give off and that has made it synonymous with rubbish.

“People forget this stinky environment is a very important ecosystem, especially as breeding grounds for fish. The majority of fish you find on the reefs actually start their life cycle in mangroves,” Mr Areki said.

“There’s a general perception that mangroves are not a very clean place. In the past, it’s always been the main place for dumping rubbish”

In Fiji, organisations such as the WWF, International Union for Conservation, World Conservation Society of Nature and the University of the South Pacific aid the work of the Ministry of Fisheries to raise awareness about the importance of mangroves.

Mr Areki believes most people still do not realise the essential role that mangroves have in ensuring a health supply of fish.

“But there are still people out there who will cut down these mangroves to make way for development but what we are saying is, you don’t have to. You can factor in mangroves into development,” he said.

“We need awareness that explains why it is we have mangroves and its link to our foods,” he said.

Pleased with their relationship with the Government, the WWF says they are constantly consulted by the state on matters which affect the mangrove population in Fiji.

What they hope is that ordinary people will take on the responsibility of protecting the environment and confront fellow citizens when they see rubbish being thrown carelessly or mangroves cut down.

“I think there’s a need for a movement in the country for us to all be proactive,” Mr Areki said. “If you see other citizens not doing the right thing, confront them and tell them they’re not doing the right thing and that it’ll be someone else that has to do that for them.”