FOR the people of Waiqanake, a village just outside Lami, the New Year seems to have been accompanied by the same dark images of 2012 — oil stains on their fishing traps and open black spaces where mangroves once flourished.
On the eve of Christmas, the village spokesman who is also the chairperson of the iqoliqoli or fishing grounds, Asakaia Balawa said the villagers' food supply had been compromised because of oil leakages throughout the course of last year.
"It's terrible and it's not getting any better," Mr Balawa said.
"Our lands and sea were much healthier before this, especially our mangroves. Now, they're being poisoned by the oil â€¦ this year (last year) we have noticed that there is hardly any fish around," he said.
Within their iqoliqoli are 22 fish traps which were constructed by the villagers themselves from which they gather daily when the tides are low.
"It is our lifestyle," Mr Balawa noted.
They also sell many of the fish for extra cash.
With the oil having drifted and poisoned mangroves and these very fishing traps, many of the fish species and small crabs caught have been contaminated and unhealthy for consumption because of the potent stains on the traps.
"This has been difficult because we have found that many of the fish have been poisoned or our traps just ruined from all the oil soaked up in it," he explained.
An official from the Department of Environment's inspection team, Livai Nadore, confirmed that a clean up of some kind was scheduled to take place in the Waiqanake area.
"Please be informed that the team agreed to inspect the mentioned place when the tide is low," Mr Nadore said.
But in a follow up interview on Wednesday, Mr Nadore, who was part of the initial inspection team from the department, said the day the team was scheduled to go to the site, the tide was too high for any inspection.
"Because of the tide, we couldn't carry out any kind of inspection that day. But also, we could not detect any evidence from the villagers that there was an oil spill.
"The villagers then agreed to let us know when to come back and inspect, but we are yet to hear from them. So there hasn't been an inspection," Mr Nadore said.
Although Mr Nadore told this newspaper that their inspection was a joint one with the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji (MSAF), the MSAF communications officer said their agency was not aware of it.
The mangrove swamps have been victims also. As well as a source of income and food, the oil also destroyed stretches of mangroves which cover the shores of Muaivuso, Nabaka and Namakala settlements.
Many of the mangrove patches showed signs of substantial reduction, posing yet another problem for the villagers as well as for the marine wildlife that once called those mangroves home.
"Mangroves are known fish nurseries and oil spills in and around these ecosystems will likely affect some species at their most vulnerable stage," explained World Wide Fund for Nature South Pacific's (WWF South Pacific) communications manager, Patricia Mallam.
"In large spills, the exposed air-breathing roots of the mangroves themselves can become coated in the oil making it difficult for them to breathe and eventually die-off," Ms Mallam said.
Clearly there is simultaneous suffering for human settlements and marine ones too, which is caused by these irresponsible spills.
On that same note, motorised vessels require oil in order to run and this must be replaced periodically —this is where the situation becomes somewhat sticky.
There is a need to come up with some kind of agreement about the maintenance of these vessels so that it minimises the risks posed to human and marine environments alike.
These spills have proven to also affect those who take to the sea for fun, particularly surfers.
"As veteran surfers know well, there are frequently discharges of oil and other contaminants from the vicinity of the dock area, possibly the anchored fishing vessels or the Walu Bay dry dock facilities," said marine biologist Dr Hugh Govan.
Dr Govan told this newspaper there were various contaminants associated with shipping vessels and these needed to be controlled if any kind of 'clean-up' were to be successful.
"Of more concern are the less visible pollutants that may enter the sea in the same processes of bilge pumping, ship cleaning, refurbishing or illegal dumping.
"A variety of very toxic compounds are associated with shipping — one of the most poisonous of which could be the anti-fouling paints that are used to cover the ship's hull beneath the waterline.
"These paints are highly toxic to marine life (that's why barnacles etcetera, don't stick to them)," he said.
Tighter enforcement as well as steep fines could be a revenue stream to finance the Ports Authority's pollution control efforts and would act as a deterrent, Dr Govan concluded. Adding to this was another marine specialist, Edward Lovell who said: "With the tidal currents running through the Suva Harbour and no disposal facilities on shore, the most convenient way to deal with it is by dumping it over the side. Every night fall is an opportunity for such illegal discharge," he said.
"The fouling of the fish traps is evidence that it is not without undesirable consequences â€¦ Viseisei Village (in Vuda) has existed next to the fuel tank farms â€¦ and with every transfer of fuel there is some spillage which is washed ashore by wind and wave. This has resulted in a 'kerosene taint' flavour in the local fish, shell fish and other items from gleaning," Mr Lovell said.
He said much of the excess oil eventually made its way across the harbour and out through their surf spot.
"To see where the many sources of harbour pollution are, go to the look-out over the harbour at the top of Reservoir and Nauluvatu Rd, adjacent to the Australian High Commission," he noted.
At present, Mr Lovell said there was nothing done to increase public or port industry awareness, or any facilities for disposal. This, he added, was coupled with a recently revised pollution legislation which was not being enforced.
Statistics reveal negligence
What Mr Lovell's responses also indicated, among other things, was that more is needed to be done not only in the Waiqanake area, but also in the more central areas of Suva, which many people pass every day.
"Oil is the most visible pollutant going into the harbour, but what about the extremely high coliform count coming from Nubukalou Creek and draining into the harbour," he posed.
Coliform, as defined by Mosby's Medical Dictionary is a "species of microorganisms â€¦ the presence of coliforms is used as a standard indication of water pollution with faecal matter".
Mr Lovell noted that those waters contained high amount of toxins, measured by those coliforms.
"This pollution is full of all of the toilet disposed effluents (eg cleaners, etc) and from septic tank drainage.
"USP (University of the South Pacific) conducted a water-sampling survey to determine if the coliform in the harbour was above the World Health Organisation level for safe swimming (200 coliforms /100mls).
"An abundance of over 1,000,000 coliforms/100mls were found in the main anchorage and 10,000 at our surf spot at the mouth of the harbour.
"Of course, one wonders how much bleach and other toxic solutions are being disposed of," Mr Lovell said.
With no facilities for disposal on shore, most shipboard toilets empty into the harbour, concluded Mr Lovell.
There is a serious need to address this issue before it becomes any worse than it currently is and Dr Govan explained the benefit of this in his interview.
"Given the government's drive to increase various sort of industry, it would be timely to institute rigorous pollution control procedures now if the bay is to prosper with its diversity of subsistence, commercial and industrial livelihoods," he said.