TWO oil spills in two weeks have brought to light the concerning issue of pollution in the Suva Harbour.
On August 12, thousands of pieces of insulation foam, accompanied by oil, greeted tourists who were visiting Suva aboard a cruise liner.
The dean of USP's Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment, Dr Anjeela Jokhan, said such foam could be damaging to the environment as it choked marine life which tried to eat it, which could have many repercussions for the ecosystem's food web.
Dr Jokhan added that oil, which floated on top of water, prevented gas exchange and could lead to a reduction in oxygen below the water's surface, which would lead to suffocation.
World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) South Pacific communications manager Patricia Mallam added that some toxic chemicals in oil were bio accumulative.
This means that these chemicals will not break down but simply pass up the food chain where it can end up affecting humans.
Eight days after this first incident, a large amount of oil in the harbour was reported to The Fiji Times by an American yacht owner.
Barbara Ballinger and her husband Peter Tarbox had been in Fiji for two months at the Royal Suva Yacht Club and they said this was not a one-off incident.
"We have experienced oil and debris in the water for the last couple of months. It's been an on and off issue, although this last incident is much worse," Mrs Ballinger said.
Scrap metal company South Pacific Metals was responsible for both incidents, which were caused as they were taking apart a boat to clear part of the wharf.
The company has since apologised for the incidents, and promised to remove the oil using a "chemical degreaser", which it claims removes oil from water.
According to Joeli Veitayaki, a lecturer of marine studies at USP, degreasers work by breaking up the oil slick into more soluble parts, to be diluted into the water column.
"Basically this allows for the natural decomposition of oil by micro-organisms in the water to occur more rapidly," he said.
It is a controversial solution to getting rid of oil from the water, however.
According to Prof Veitayaki, while they break up the surface oil slick, these degreasers do not remove the oil from the water, but rather mix it into the water where it remains, out of sight.
"Most modern degreasers have in themselves a very low environmental toxicity. However, the toxicity of the oil on the marine food chain and organisms is poorly understood," he said.
For Prof Veitayaki, prevention is better than cure.
"One effective option for treating oil in protected bays such as Suva Harbour is to contain the oil with floating booms and before removing it with devises such as surface skimmers," he said.
"This actually removes the oil from the seawater rather than transferring it from the surface to the water column and bottom sediments."
Adam Walters, Greenpeace Australia's research and investigations co-ordinator, told The Fiji Times that oil booms should always be in place wherever there is a risk of oil spilling into the ocean.
Inevitably, it is not only the environment that suffers; tourism, fisheries and landowners also suffer from the effects of marine pollution.
Villagers of Suvavou Village in Lami say that rubbish from the Suva Harbour ends up on their shore, and their food supply in their qoliqoli (fishing ground) was affected.
Royal Suva Yacht Club events manager Bimlesh Prasad said the pollution portrayed a very negative image of Suva to visiting yacht owners.
"We think it's a shame for such a beautiful country and beautiful environment to be damaged by people who are just making a profit," said Mr Tarbox.